WARSAW CAVES CONSERVATION AREA
When I woke my kids one morning and told them we were going spelunking for the day, their eyes grew round with excitement and they raced downstairs to see what I was packing: running shoes, flashlight, picnic lunch, bathing suits, insect repellant, sun block.
It wasn’t long before the inevitable question came out: “What’s spelunking mean?”
Spelunking is the exploration of caves and although I haven’t always known what the word meant, I have always been fascinated by caves. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by dark deep tunnels that lead underground, one of which has fossils embedded in the walls? You’d be surprised by how excited a six- and a nine-year-old can get about the possibility of climbing into holes in the ground. Even their grandmother was up and waiting in the car before I had the front door locked.
As we drove to the Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground, I answered a stream of questions, which were a pleasant change from the usual, “Are we there yet?”
“Will there be bats in the caves? Will there be bears in the caves? How big are the caves? How did the caves get there? Can we go INSIDE the caves?”
Just to put your mind at ease, we didn’t see any bats or bears, but we did go INSIDE the caves.
Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground, owned and operated by Otonabee Conservation, is located thirty minutes north east of Peterborough. There are seven caves to explore, the deepest of which stretches 91 metres below the ground. The caves are just beyond the parking area and set among one of the prettiest cedar forests I have ever seen. The enormous slabs of moss-covered limestone punctuated by the dark black mouths of caves, cracks and crevices transported us all to middle-earth. If Gollum had suddenly appeared, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
As we followed the trail, my six-year-old son was especially thrilled to announce the presence of each cave as if he was the first person ever to discover it.
“Here’s a cave! Here’s a cave! Here’s ANOTHER cave!”
When we heard excited voices coming from deep within the ground below us, we scrambled down to see what we were missing.
Besides caves, Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground has some of the most spectacular ‘kettles’ I’ve ever seen – holes created by a harder granite rock being swirled by a river against the softer limestone rock. Like a giant stone sink carved in the side of the limestone escarpment, one opens onto the ground below and offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce a little Geology 101 to the kids. While I expected the caves and kettles to provide an adrenalin boost to my family, the underground river channels rushing beneath our feet were a pleasant surprise. And with the possibility of perhaps another cave, kettle or river rumbling up ahead, my kids walked happily to the spectacular lookout over the Indian River and back, without even realizing I had taken them on a ‘hike’.
Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground offers a family plenty to do and see. With three group campgrounds, 50 family campsites tucked into the forest, washroom and shower facilities, you can easily make a weekend of it. You can use one day to explore the caves and hike some of the 13 kilometres of limestone-studded trails, and another to rent a canoe for a paddle down the Indian River to the Village of Warsaw (about a four-hour return trip) past islands, through a marsh, through a steep gorge that rises 36 metres above the river and through an old limestone quarry. And if the kids still have energy left, there’s a sandy beach and picnic area on the bank of the Indian River.
If you do decide to take the family spelunking, be sure to bring flashlights or headlamps. The caves are refreshingly cool, but also very dark. As well, some of the caves have narrow openings and passages so don’t wear your good clothes. The families we saw emerge from deep within the ground came out wide-eyed and smiling, but dirty as well. Still, a load of laundry is a small price to pay for an experience you won’t forget. As we left, my nine-year-old asked when we would be coming back the next time.
For more information on the Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground go to www.warsawcaves.com or contact Otonabee Conservation at 705- 745-5791.
Christina Kilbourne is an avid outdoor enthusiast and writer. She is the author of four novels, including Dear Jo, winner of the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award , the 2010 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award in 2010 and the 2010 British Columbia Red Cedar Award. She lives in Bracebridge with her family and various four-legged creatures.