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Bonnechere Caves

by Andrea One of our best summer adventures took place at Bonnechere Caves outside of Renfrew and I wanted to share it with you before it's too late. The caves close for the season the week of Thanksgiving, so if you're going to check it out, do it now!

The Caves were on our List of Things to Do This Summer, and since we were looking for something unique to do on a sunny Sunday we decided it would be a good time to go spelunking.

Sidebar: little did I realize that as I get older, my ability to deal with things like fairground rides, people who pick their teeth, and small dark enclosed spaces have dwindled to an all time low. I guess I’m turning into an old lady! More on that in a bit.

The Bonnechere caves are a scenic 90-minute drive from Ottawa, and claustrophobia aside, it’s worth the drive. I was so glad we took the plunge (no pun intended).

This was the scene when we arrived. I don’t think it’s normally this busy. There was a cycling event going on and I think a lot of the cars belonged to the cyclists converging there. Parking lot outside Bonnechere Caves

We bought our tickets. Tours leave every 15 minutes or so and ours was going to begin very soon so we went to use the facilities before heading underground. Plug your nose! (I had to laugh at myself. The three of us girls went into one restroom and the girls started gagging. I snapped at them and asked them to stop, because making gagging sounds in someone’s lavatory is rude. But, whatever.) The place is built in an environmentally sensitive area so their septic system isn’t what we’re used to. There’s a sign up in the restroom explaining the whole story and I debated mentioning it here, but hey, someone might want to get some warning. :)

We escaped the lavatory and made our way to the beginning of the tour. It’s a guided tour (unlike Lusk Caves, which I wrote about here). I wasn’t sure if I was keen on this fact - I like going through a place at my own speed - but in the end I was very glad it was a guided tour. We learned so much.

The tour began outside. Our guide talked about the significance of the area and gave us the rundown of its geological history, which is pretty amazing, even if you’re not a science nerd. The area used to be a tropical sea about 500 million years ago, long before the age of the dinosaurs. There is a lot of evidence showing that the area was abundant with sea creatures:

Gastropod

Carved by water in limestone over millions of years, there are tunnels, stalactites, and many fossils… and thanks to our guide, there were many great stories to be heard about how the caves were discovered and turned into what it is today. (The story involves an enterprising fellow, a rubber dingy, a rope and a flashlight. Gah!)

The caves are a very easy walk, and are very accessible. It’s about a 60-second walk to the start of the caves:

No smoking

… and a small flight of stairs going down. There’s no climbing over slippery rocks either: Going down into the caves

The Bonnechere Caves would normally be full of water, but the water was blocked off by a dam and is now pumped out of part of it. Inside the caves (again, unlike Lusk) there is a wooden boardwalk throughout, which makes it an easy stroll for visitors of all ages.

It was challenging to get a good pic without people’s heads getting in the way, but this is what it looks like inside:

Inside the Bonnechere Caves

Here’s a different view.

It really is a great little explore, and the learning is fun. The stalactites pictured below are formed at the rate of one cubic inch every 150 years. It’s an odd feeling to be in the presence of something that was here long before we were, and will remain there long after we are gone.

Stalactites

I had two noteworthy moments during our time in the caves, which proved why I will never amount to much of a cave explorer.

1) We had the option of taking a side passage. Most people took this option. (The girls certainly did. They were the first to go!) I entered at an angle so I couldn’t see what it lay ahead. We were told that the adults would have to bend at the neck a little to get through. That was an understatement. It was dark and cramped, and much narrower around the head, getting narrower as we went. By the end of it I was totally hunched over, trying to get though. I had to catch my breath because I started to panic a bit. HELLO CLAUSTROPHOBIA!

2) At one point our guide thought it’d be fun to turn out the lights for 30 seconds so we could get an idea of (a) how dark it was in there and (b) what it must have been like for the first guy who explored the cave and made it visitable. I didn’t think I’d have an issue with this. I haven’t been afraid of the dark for a long time! Ha ha! Well, I hate to admit this in public, but it was actually pretty scary. The dark was the blackest I’d ever experience. We were totally engulfed. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. By the end of (the very long) 30-seconds I’d had quite enough.

But don’t let those things deter you! I am still really glad we went. Honestly truly. My family had no issues whatsoever, and there were some really young kids who were part of our group… maybe even as young as 3 or 4. Yes, four-year olds are braver than I am!

Soon it was time to depart:

The tour is over

Here’s a shot looking back from whence we came:

Outside the cave exit

There is an easy little trail right outside that goes around a sinkhole (a hole in the earth’s surface that leads to the cave), which was neat to see:

The sinkhole

There are other entrances to the Bonnechere Caves off the river side, and it’s all very scenic in its own right:

Bonnechere River

Outside Bonnechere Caves

I have a few extra photos on my Flickr page, and you can view them here.

As you can see, it was pretty amazing. Tired and hungry we left Bonnechere and grabbed lunch in a tiny restaurant on the way home called the Top O’ Morning Cafe on Hwy 60 in the town of Douglas. (I recommend the fish and chips!)

If you’re keen to see a bit more about the Bonnechere Caves, check out this informative YouTube video I found online. Do note that there were no bats in the cave during our visit! Phew. :)

What about you? I’d be curious to know who out there would make a hardy cave explorer and who would not. :) -

Andrea Tomkins likes to write about her family adventures at her blog, a peek inside the fishbowl. You can also follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.
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