A giant cephalopod fossil, underground ponds & cave crystals: Things you'll see at Cave of the Mounds
Wisconsin is home to 50 state parks and 18 National Natural Landmarks. We’ve also got a village known as the troll capital of the world! With so many unexpected adventures and places to discover, why not plan your next vacation right here in our home state?
We’ve teamed up with Travel Wisconsin for a monthly conversation where we bring you suggestions for great places to visit throughout the state.
This month we’re talking about one of the state's National Natural Landmarks, Cave of the Mounds. It was discovered by accident in 1939 during a routine quarry blast.
"So [the quarry workers] drilled their holes to insert the dynamite and they got some distance away and they set off the charge. And lo and behold, when the dust settled there was a big gaping hole where they expected this big pile of rubble to be, so they had accidentally discovered the cave by blowing up this 40-foot section of the cave ceiling," explains Joe Klimczak, the general manager of Cave of the Mounds.
The cave opened to the public the next year and in the first two months of being open, nearly 60,000 people visited. Now, the cave offers tours daily all year round, making it a perfect destination for a March trip.
"I love that it's a year round destination. You know, you don't have to think about the weather. It's a great opportunity to connect with nature in any season so it's especially true for months, like March, when maybe we don't have enough snow for winter activities, but it's not quite warm enough for that kayak or hiking trip that you want to take. So it's just a really fun option," Amanda Weibel of Travel Wisconsin says about why she loves Cave of the Mounds as a March destination.
Inside the cave visitors will find formations from the floor to the ceiling of the cave that took millions of years to form. Some look like they're from another world and some are from our ancient past.
"As they pass along the trail in the cave they'll see wonderful crystal formations, calcite crystal formations that are made drip by drip over hundreds of thousands of years as water is then dripping into the cave. There are still pools underneath and underground pools, there's underground streams, and we even have a giant cephalopod fossil that can be found in the ceiling of the cave," Klimczak says.
It's about 50 degrees inside the cave, no matter the time of year and although rainfall impacts some of the cave's ponds and streams you can take the tour in the rain or snow. The path through the cave is lit and there are parts of the cave that people can avoid if they don't like tight spaces.
Klimczak says this to those who might be hesitant about venturing underground, "I can say this, there have been many millions of people that have come to see Cave of the Mounds over the years and we've never lost any of them. So while it is adventurous it is something that most people are able to do."
There are specialty tours being offered this month including a History Tour and a Guided Black Light Tour. There are also opportunities for VIP tours and other special events in the cave. Above ground, there are picnicking opportunities in prairies and hiking trails to explore.
"There really is a whole full day of activities to do while on site here at Cave of the Mounds and we are in a fantastic neighborhood in southwest Wisconsin that there's not only, you know, this cave, the wonderful cave to come and see, but we have some state parks in the area. We have some other charming little villages, all the great attractions nearby," Klimczak says.
One of the nearby villages is Mount Horeb, known as the troll capital of the world. Weibel explains, "It all started in the mid-1970s when Open House Imports, which is a Scandinavian gift shop, put out troll statues on their lawn to draw in business. They caught the attention of everyone passing by including the truckers who would actually indicate their location over CB radio by referencing the trolls," Weibel explains.
A local carver was later commissioned by village officials to create troll statues to bring people to the village and today you can find more than 20 of them throughout the village.
"Downtown Mount Horeb is a great place to do some shopping! So that business that kicked off the troll craze decades ago that I mentioned, Open House Imports, it's still around so definitely stop in to find some unique Scandinavian gifts, including, of course, some troll-themed goods. Another shopping stop is Duluth Trading Company. So that apparel manufacturer is actually headquartered in Mount Horeb and they operate a retail location on Main Street. So check out their great selection of apparel and other gear," Weibel says.
"[At] Sjolinds Chocolate House they have a fantastic breakfast and lunch menu and of course you have to get dessert. Sjolinkds makes delicious chocolates and a wide range of baked goods and they have a really fun variety of flavored hot chocolates from around the world that are super," Weibel says.
"Another option is Brix Cider and they produce small batch hard ciders made from apples from local orchards. But they also have a great food menu that focuses on scratch made meals that highlight other locally grown produce and locally made ingredient," Weibel says.
Places to Stay
"There is so much to see and do around Cave of the Mounds and Mount Horeb that a trip is definitely worth a stay overnight. So a great option for families is the Deer Valley Lodge. This is just minutes away from Cave of the Mounds...Deer Valley Lodge has fun amenities year round. They have a small indoor water park with a great activity pool, some fun water features for kids to play and body slides to zoom down and a so great way to spend a few hours after visiting the cave," Weibel says.
"Blue Mountain State Park is a great option if you're looking to camp. It's the highest point in southern Wisconsin, so great hikes with spectacular sweeping views and this sate park actually has a swimming pool and a splash pad open in the summer months, so a great way to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the park. And another highlight is its rustic accessible cabin available for rent that's designed to accommodate wheelchair users. It has a paved driveway and an accessible picnic table," Weibel says.