Where is Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Located in Jefferson County, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park resides entirely within the state of Montana. The park’s most notable feature is the series of limestone caverns it contains. However, the park also contains two visitor centers, miles of hiking trails, and a campground. The closest city to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is Whitehall, Montana. The state park is located 212 miles (a three hour and forty-five-minute drive) north of Jackson, Wyoming. The Park is also 70 miles and (an hour drive) south of Helena, Montana. And 50 miles (fifty minute drive) west of Bozeman, Montana. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is also located near several other outdoor recreation areas. These outdoor recreation areas include Helena National Forest, the Potosi Campground and Picnic Area, and Yellowstone National Park.
How Large is Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park covers a total of around 3,000 acres. The park’s geography mainly consists of underground limestone caverns that contain various geologic formations, and rocky outcroppings, acres of Montana forest, and open meadows on the surface. The average elevation of Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is 4,921 feet. The limestone present in the caverns found in the state park formed over 320 million years ago.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park Weather
The weather at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park varies frequently throughout the year. In the summer, temperatures in the park average between 40- and 90-degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, these temperatures cool considerably and average between 5- and 45-degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest temperatures of the year arrive at the park in June, July, and August, and the coldest temperatures find the park in December and January. On average, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park receives around 60 days of rain per year. These 60 days of rain accumulate to a yearly average of around 15 inches. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park also experiences snowfall throughout every year. Snowfall in the park is normally heaviest in the winter months of December, January, and February. The park’s yearly snowfall totals average around 80 inches per year.
When did Lewis and Clark Caverns Become a State Park
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park was first established in 1938. The park was originally named Morrison Cave State Park and was the first state park established by the state of Montana. Before, the land encompassed by the state park was owned and operated by the United States federal government. The land was established as the Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument in 1908. While Lewis and Clark never actually traveled into the cavern, the trail they followed throughout their journeys in the west extends a only a few miles from the cavern. The exploration pair did travel through several portions of the now known Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. The park is currently managed and maintained the Montana Wildlife, Fish, and Parks department.
Things to do in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore the great outdoors and underground caverns of Montana. The most popular adventures and experiences visitors can find in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park are listed below:
Explore the Visitor Centers
The two visitor centers located in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park are the perfect place for visitors to start their Montana state park adventure. These visitor centers contain several education exhibits and displays that discuss topics related to the park’s geology, geography, and wildlife. Each visitor center also contains park maps and several other brochures visitors may want to obtain to orient themselves with the park’s layout and amenities. Park staff working in the visitor center can assist visitors who may have specific questions or concerns about the park or their trip.
Participate in an Interpretive Program
After leaving one of the park’s visitor centers, visitors who wish to learn more about Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park should look to participate in one or more of the interpretive programs offered. These programs will provide visitors with an education on the park’s ecology and history. All interpretive programs offered at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park are led by knowledgeable park staff or experienced volunteers. The schedule for these programs varies from week to week but is normally posted within the park’s visitor centers.
Take a Tour into the Namesake Caverns
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore the park’s namesake caverns through a series of cavern tours. The various tours offered at the park are the Classic Caverns Tour, the Paradise Caverns Tour, and the Wild Cave Tour. The classic and paradise tours involve a led walking tour through the caverns that lasts for one to two hours. The Wild Cave Tour involves two hours of strenuous cave crawling as visitors are led off the guided path.
Hike one of the Park’s Trails
Aside from the trails underground that lead cave tours through the caverns, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park also contains around 10 miles of above ground hiking trails. These hiking trails meander throughout the surface of the park, and grant visitors the opportunity to become introduced to the various above ground ecosystems of the park. Trails in the park vary in difficulty and length. Updated trail conditions can be found on the park’s website and in the park’s visitor center.
Wildlife Viewing in the Park
Wildlife in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is abundant and active. The state park provides a home to a variety of wildlife species. The species most commonly spotted by visitors of the state park are mule deer, coyotes, racoons, squirrels, and other woodland species. The park also contains a variety of avian species including songbirds and various birds of prey.
Camping in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
The campground at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park contains campsites suited for recreational vehicles and tent campers. The campground also contains three reservable cabins. Visitors looking to stay in one of the park’s campsites or cabins can make reservations online through the park’s website and reservation portal.
When to Visit Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is open year-round. However, caverns tours are only offered by the state park from May to September. Visitors wishing to explore all the state park has to offer should look to plan their trip during late spring or summer. These season’s not only grant access to the park’s caverns, but also bring warmer temperatures to the park. These temperatures will allow visitors of Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park to explore the park’s surface as well. Visitors looking to camp within the park in the summer months should make their reservations several weeks in advance.
Must Have Items to bring to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Visitors looking to plan a trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park will want to keep a few items in mind while packing and planning. The following list includes several essential items visitors won't want to forget when they visit the park.
Water & Snacks
Water and snacks are two essential items every visitor should make sure they bring along with to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. The average person should pack one to two liters for every hour they plan to spend recreating in the sun. The best snacks for hiking and other outdoor recreation activities are lightweight, easy to consume, and energy packed. Beef jerky and trail mix are great options.
Sturdy Hiking Boots
Every visitor planning to hike down a trail at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park should come prepared with a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Visitors looking to go on a cave tour should also bring a sturdy pair of hiking boots to keep them safe while traversing the slick terrain of the Lewis and Clark Caverns.
Wildlife Field Guides & Binoculars
Visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the various wildlife species that call Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park and the surrounding area home will want to bring along a Montana or North America specific field guide. The best field guides include color photos and lengthy descriptions that make identification simple, effortless, and educational.
Visitors planning to embark on one of the cave tours offered at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park will want to bring a set of old clothes to the park. The cave tours at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park (the Wild Cave Tour especially) can leave visitors with stained shoes and clothes. These old clothes will come in handy and ensure nothing valuable gets damaged while exploring the cave.
Where to Stay Near Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Visitors looking to stay within Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park can make a reservation for one of the park’s campsites. These reservations can be made online through the park’s website and reservation portal. Visitors looking to stay in a hotel in the surrounding area can first look for options in Whitehall and the surrounding area. Visitors looking to stay in a larger city can make the drive to either Bozeman or Helena.
Food Near Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
The closest food to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is located in Whitehall. This small city contains a host of restaurants and a few grocery stores that visitors can visit to grab a meal or stock up on supplies. Visitors looking for a larger culinary scene will want to make the drive to Bozeman or Helena. These cities contain a larger variety of restaurants, bars, and grocery stores.
Airports Near Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
The closest international airport to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is located in Bozeman. The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is 42 miles and about a forty-five-minute drive away from the park. The next closest airport to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is located in Helena. The Helena Regional Airport is located 72 miles and about a one hour and thirty-minute drive north of Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.