The Weekenders

Cave in Indiana

Back in 1883, Blanche Hiestand and her little brother, Orris, wandered into a cemetery on Samuel Stewart's property in Marengo, Indiana, about 40 minutes west of Louisville, Kentucky, slid down a sinkhole, and fell into Marengo Cave. A week later, old man Stewart was charging folks a quarter for a peek at the Hiestands' discovery. The cave was designated a national landmark in 1984, and today admission for a spelunking tour has jumped to $18 per person (equipment and guide included). But Marengo remains a kid's best bet for exploring the limestone underworld of southern Indiana.

Guides for Marengo's Underground Adventure provide helmets, lights, and knee-pads, and show you how to scramble over boulders, wade through underground streams, and squirm through crawl spaces with only the wavering light from your helmet to part the darkness. You'll even learn a thing or two about cave ecology and conservation. Your kids will rave breathlessly about the epic nature of this safe, two-hour trip—and you'll all be wet and muddy by the time you're through.
Two other caves within 40 miles of Marengo offer additional guided tours. Squire Boone Caverns, discovered by brothers Squire and Daniel Boone two centuries ago, is one of very few caves in the country with rushing rivers and waterfalls; Wyandotte Caves is noted for its exceptionally large chambers and passageways. Like Marengo, these caves offer a variety of programs for different ages and levels of adventure.

If one day of caving is enough, spend the next day canoeing along the Blue River, which is three miles east of Marengo. Explored by the Boone brothers in the early 1800s, the waterway along limestone bluffs and through deciduous forest is calm enough to paddle on your own. When it's time to get wet, the campground at Patoka Reservoir, 20 miles east of Marengo, has options for swimming and fishing, too. You'll also find many hotels in the area.

Details
DRIVE TIME FROM CHICAGO: five hours
WHO CAN GO: Kids age ten and older can take an Underground Adventure tour.
COST: Cave admission, $18 per person; canoe rentals, $21 per person per day. Drive-in campsites at Patoka Reservoir, $16. Reservations are strongly recommended for all Marengo activities.
CONTACT: Marengo Cave National Landmark, 888-702-2837, www.marengocave.com; Cave Country Canoes, 888-702-2837, www.cavecountrycanoes.com; Squire Boone Caverns, 812-732-4381; Wyandotte Caves, 812-738-2782; Patoka Reservoir, 812-685-2464

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