Photo Credit: Joe Guetzloff
It’s hard to find a place that you can truly call paradise, but Bear Lake, Idaho, is one of them. Nestled between Utah and Idaho, Bear Lake is a beautiful body of water that offers a myriad of activities for everyone.
Nearby Minnetonka Cave is a can’t-miss day trip for the whole family when staying at a Bear Lake vacation rental. As one of the more unique destinations for a day trip from Bear Lake, Minnetonka Cave is one of the largest limestone caves in the state.
It features multiple cavernous rooms and a variety of natural rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites, making this an excellent spot for both photography and exploration.
Here is your guide to exploring this half-mile geological wonder!
Photo Credit: SevenMaps
The cave is approximately 20 miles from Bear Lake, and there are several trails and points of interest to explore nearby, making it perfect for a mini road trip.
Located 35 minutes west of St Charles, Idaho, the cave can be found at the end of Minnetonka Cave Road. Parking is available at the road’s end near the entrance to the cave.
About the Caribou-Targhee National Forest
Photo Credit: Kevin Shalkowsky
The Minnetonka Cave is nestled within the expansive Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
This massive forest encompasses over three million acres of land with breathtaking landscapes and extraordinary Idaho terrain stretching to the borders of Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.
The area offers ample outdoor activities like snowmobiling, horseback riding, and all manner of fishing, from trout to steelhead, in nearby streams and rivers.
The national forest also has its own unique history. It was created in 1908 when President Roosevelt set aside 168 million acres of untamed western land to create the first National Forest Reserve. There are also several hiking trails that you can explore within the park near Minnetonka Cave and St. Charles.
Touring Minnetonka Cave
Photo Credit: Matt & Tofu (Jennifer) Straite via Flickr CC2.0
- Location: Minnetonka Cave Rd, St Charles, ID
- Website: fs.usda.gov
- Tours: recreation.gov/ticket
- Tickets: $12 for adults, $9 for kids aged 6 to 15, and free for children five and under.
Minnetonka Cave is a premier limestone cave located in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Idaho.
Tour guides offer a wealth of information about cave formation, its natural history, and the unique wildlife that calls this underground environment their home. Each year over 40,000 visitors tour the cave. The guides stop in five or six locations to explain the various geological formations and cave dwellers, including stalactites, stalagmites, towering columns, and five different species of bats!
Tour sizes vary, but usually, the tour guides support groups of up to 30 visitors per tour with opportunities for visitors to stop, explore, and take photos. The lights inside the cave will illuminate the amazing beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites, making for great photo opportunities.
The cave is open each year for guided tours after Memorial Day. Tours are typically 80 minutes and can be booked separately for larger groups. These tours are generally available on the weekends but can be booked throughout the week.
Pro Tip: This cave tour is very popular during the summer months, and reservations, which can be booked two weeks in advance, are highly recommended to avoid a long wait.
Keeping Bats Healthy
Due to the westward spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats, certain restrictions are in place at Minnetonka Cave. Adhering to the restrictions set in place by the caves helps to preserve the cave’s condition and protect the bats from White Nose Syndrome.
Visitors are prohibited from bringing any articles of clothing or backpacks. This helps to prevent the WNS from spreading and affecting the bats.
Planning A Succesful Trip to Minnetonka Cave
When planning a trip to Minnetonka Cave, visitors should make note of the particular limitations and protocols put in place to ensure the cave stays preserved.
- Photography: Visitors to the cave need to be aware that cameras are allowed, but not tripods. It is also important to note that the cave is well-lit, so no additional lighting is necessary.
- Clothing: The cave can get fairly cold, so visitors should be sure to dress appropriately. Pack long sleeves and pants for the 80-minute tour.
- Exercise Caution: Lastly, please use caution when traversing the stairs, and wear appropriate shoes with good traction and ankle support.
- Pack Snacks: Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for before or after the tour as there the closest dining is back in Bear Lake!
The cave is unfortunately not amenable to those with physical disabilities or mobility issues because of uneven ground and slippery surfaces.
It requires a trip down 896 steep stairs, and these steps can be wet and slippery in places. To ensure safety, visitors are advised to take great care when navigating the stairs and use the available handrails.
For those unable to make the journey, there is an observation area with a spectacular view of the cave entrance to enjoy.
The tour will take you on a challenging yet rewarding journey deep below the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. You’ll navigate nearly a thousand stars roundtrip and a total length of 0.8 miles. Although this is considered a strenuous tour, your experienced guide will stop and provide rest stops every five to six locations to make the trip enjoyable.
Though it would be fun to take fido down into the depths, pets are strictly forbidden inside the cave. The cave is considered a precious natural wonder of the area, and follows protocol to keep it pristine and preserved.
Foot Washing Procedures
At the entrance of each cave, visitors will be guided to the foot wash station. Here you’ll remove any footwear and wear the provided booties after washing your feet with the provided solution.
This foot-washing procedure must be completed before each cave visit to ensure the safety of the caves’ species.
Explore Nearby St. Charles, Idaho
St. Charles is just a 35-minute drive from the Minnetonka Cave. It is the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat and stroll this charming Bear Lake town.
This quaint spot offers visitors picturesque landscapes and plenty of outdoor recreational activities, from boating and fishing on Bear Lake to cycling or riding an ATV through the Green Canyon Trail. St. Charles is also a great jump-off point to explore Bear Lake’s many beautiful beaches.
After exploring the great outdoors, visiting one of the many unique local eateries downtown for one of the best meals you’ll ever have is also worth doing. The Minnetonka Market and Cafe is a favorite for all Americana burgers, shakes, and fries, while Float On is a sure crowd-pleaser for ice cream and loaded french fries.
Idaho’s Geological Gem
If you’re staying around Bear Lake and looking for an unforgettable adventure, a visit to Minnetonka Cave is a perfect choice.
With plenty of opportunities for exploration, photography, and hiking, visitors to this unique destination can experience all the area has to offer while staying at a Bear Lake vacation home rental.