Ohio has a lot to offer for cavers, but where can you find all these caves? In this article, I give a list with known and unknown caves, and also a map.
Where can I go caving in Ohio? For experienced cavers, there are multiple caves on Green and Kelleys Island. For a family field trip, Crystal Cave and Perry's Cave are great, both on South Bass Island (across the street). You'll find the most caves in the center of Ohio.
Ohio is home to about 500 caves, with the majority of limestone caves located in western Ohio. For cavers, there are plenty of wild caves. However, most of them are not open to the public. You will need to contact private property owners. The majority is on private property or is closed down by the ODNR (Ohio Parks Service), in order to protect bat species and prevent the spread of white nose syndrome. Read on to find some cool ones that you can actually access.
Where to Go Caving in Ohio?
Family trip - Ohio has a couple of well-known show caves which are open to the public and offer guided tours. For example, Crystal Cave or Perry's Cave. To be honest, these aren't great for die-hard cavers. They are, however, great for a day trip with family.
For cavers, there are hundreds of wild caves - most of them on private property.
Beginner cavers - Ohio Caverns is great for beginner cavers. The Saltpetre Cave Preserve is a great hiking trail with lots of caves.
Experienced cavers - For experienced cavers, there are multiple wild caves on Kelleys and Green Island. Another great tip is to head south to Kentucky, where there are even more caves.
South Basis Island has around 30 known caves, with possibly 30 more entranceless caves beneath the surface. There are two caves open to the public here, which are popular show caves.
The most cave-dense area is the center strip of limestone running from Sandusky to Columbus.
Regardless, I've tried to add as many caves that are interesting for cavers to this list (& map further down). Make sure to ask for permission to the proper authorities or owners before entering.
Most caves are found in western Ohio (about 211 caves).
Map of Caves in Ohio
Geology of Ohio
East Ohio: Shale - A large part of the Ohio soil is made up of shale: this is a clay rock formation, which is fragmented and soft - not great for caves to form. Especially eastern Ohio is largely shale.
Central & west Ohio: Limestone - There is a strip of limestone running through the center of Ohio. There's also some in the southwest. Limestone is the best type of rock for caves to form.
Central Ohio: Sandstone - Parallel to the limestone strip, there's a strip of sandstone. Sandstone holds caves but is not as solid as limestone or dolomite.
West Ohio: Dolomite - Western Ohio is largely made up of dolomite, which is also good soil material for caves to form. In western Ohio, we find roughly 60% of the caves. Most of the caves however are located in the limestone strip.
List of Ohio Caves
Show caves are popular caves with guided tours or basic facilities. These caves are surveyed, documented, and generally have some facilities like paths, lighting, etc. Safe caves that are good for beginners.
- Crystal Cave - 41°38′49″N 82°49′41″W
- Perry's Cave - 41.64752, -82.8292a
- Seneca Caverns - 41.22603, -82.87451
- Ohio Caverns - 40.23756, -83.69666
- Old Man's Cave - 39.43754, -82.53805
- Olentang Indian Caverns - 40.19223, -83.06282
- Ash Cave - 39.39694, -82.5457
- Mary Campbell Cave - 41.12199, -81.49394
Virgin caves are mostly unexplored, undocumented - and their locations are mostly unknown to the general public.
- Saltpetre Cave - you will need a permit
- Zane Shawnee Caverns - 40.37824, -83.63555
- Roch House Logan Ohio - technically not a cave but an arch.
- Kelleys Island - 41.61721, -82.71156 - holds two wild caves, discovered by the Cleveland Grotto. My guess is on the northwest on the island, near the glacial groove.
- Green Island - 41.64536, -82.8655 - Documented by the Cleveland Grotto
- Whispering Cave - 39.42352, -82.55289
These caves are undeveloped and can be dangerous. Never go in alone and follow caving best practice.
If you're new to caving, and want to know more about your first caving tour, please read my beginner's guide.
More Info on the Caves
Kelleys and Green Island Caves
If you're an experienced caver, I recommend going to one of these two islands. The Cleveland Grotto has discovered three wild caves on Kelleys Island and has documented two on Green. There is no information about these caves online, but I've put my best guess on the map. If you want to explore these islands, you can contact Cleveland Grotto for more information.
Ohio Caverns is the largest known cave system in Ohio, at about 2 miles long (explored). It has lot's of beautiful formations, cave pearls, stalactites and stalagmites, and crystals. It's a show cave that offers guided tours. That means that the cave has paths (concrete), is dry, and lighted. The Natural Wonder Tour is recommended by many people. This tour shows you great formations, and most of them are still active (which means the stalagmites are still forming today).
Whispering Cave is a recess cave and is not great for cavers, but it is a great hike.
Want to learn how to find caves yourself? I've written an extensive guide on it. Read more on how to find caves yourself here.
Saltpetre Cave is part of a preservation with great hiking trails, cliffs, caves, and so on. It's a small preservation but the hike is pretty hard and the caves are well worth it. The caves are recess caves, mostly single chambers instead of systems, so this area is not recommend if you want to do some die-hard caving.
You need a permit for this area. You can request one at ODNR. You will probably get one, but please note that it takes roughly two weeks. You can apply for a permit here.
Has a guided tour. Large cave system with cave formations, and of course, beautiful and large crystals (up to 3 foot). It was a small natural cave but is a lot bigger know because of excavations. The cave was discovered by a wine trader (Gustav Heineman) who wanted to build a wine cellar.
Old Man's Cave
Old Man's cave is a large recess cave. It's named after the hermit Richard Rowe, who lived there two centuries ago. It's a beautiful cave but not great for cave exploration. It's mostly a good hike and nice day away in nature. Old Man's Cave is a wild cave.
Ohio's Caving Laws
A lot of caves are closed to the public. In Ohio, there are several endemic species found in the caves. Also, there are a lot of large grey bat populations, which needs to be proteted. White-nose Syndrome did occur in Ohio and cavers need to make sure to not spread the disease.
Ohio's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (ODNR) is charged with protecting the caves.
For some caves, you need a permit. Most permits are easy to come by, but apply for them in time. They take roughly 2-3 weeks to get.
You can request one here.
Local Grotto and Caving Organizations
Grottos are local clubs of cavers: they organize caving trips and teach basic caving and preservation skills. Joining a grotto is the easiest way to get into caving.
- Central Ohio Grotto
- Cleveland Grotto
- Dayton Underground Grotto
- Greater Cincinnati Grotto
- Wittenberg U. Spel Soc (Stu)
On their website, you can find all the local grottos in Ohio, with address and when they meet.
Most of these grottos hold weekly or monthly meetings - just e-mail them and you're probably okay to join.
For a full list of grottos per state, check out the NSS database
The different parks:
How many caves are in Ohio? Ohio is home to almost 500 known caves. Of these caves, 400 are well-known and documented by local authorities. 189 caves are found in east Ohio and are formed in sandstone. 211 are found in west Ohio, in limestone and dolomite.