A day off, sun, heat. The perfect conditions to hit the road and go explore a new place! And since it was almost 30 degrees Celsius for the first time this year, why not take the opportunity to go underground, far from the sun and the heat?
In fact, one of the reasons for which I wanted to visit the Bonnechere Caves was that the attraction had been on my radar screen for a long time and it has finally opened its doors to tourists for the summer season last weekend. And my boyfriend accepted without complaining too much to do the nearly two-hour drive with me to get there.
The Bonnechere Caves are located near the Bonnechere River, which extends from the limits of Algonquin Park to the Ottawa River. It is the river that dug into the limestone rock this network of underground tunnels that was explored for the first time in the 1950s. The man who first explored it, Tom Woodward, is the one who also set up the caves so that they can be visited each summer.
The Bonnechere Caves tour is done with a guide and we arrived just in time to join a group that had just started the tour. After a short introduction to the geological history of the place and the type of fossils that can be found there, we followed the guide inside the cave. Fortunately, the tunnels are high enough that we can stand up, so even if I’m a bit claustrophobic, I was not too anxious! (But the guide told us that anyone suffering from claustrophobia could interrupt their visit, turn back and demand a refund).
Inside, we had a real geology class. Strata, fossils, formation of stalactites and stalagmites (there are some in the cave, even if it is relatively young, geologically speaking), all punctuated by anecdotes about the explorer Tom Woodward, who first explored the caves with a half-deflated inflatable boat and a flashlight that he eventually lost. After exploring it, Tom Woodward bought the property on which the caves are, built walkways and even pumped some of the water inside (however, water is allowed to return to its normal level when winter comes). The caves and the property were sold in the 1990s to another family that has been taking care of it since then.
Are the Bonnechere Caves impressive? It’s hard to say, since it was one of the first I visited, so yes, the network of underground tunnels dug by the river impressed me. But the visit has definitely been made more interesting by all the stories told by the guide. When we came out of the caves an hour later, my boyfriend and I both agreed that the nearly two-hour drive we had made was worth it.
The caves are located approximately 1 hour 15 minutes north-west of Ottawa (follow Route 17 to Renfrew). Guided tours usually depart every 20 to 30 minutes. Even when it is very hot outside, it is rarely more than 10 degrees inside the cave. Bringing a jacket is therefore a good idea! And even if boardwalks in the cavern help avoid getting your feet wet, you can still walk in puddles and on a wet (and therefore slippery) surface, so wear appropriate shoes!