CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Most people know about West Virginia’s biggest cave attractions, Smoke Hole Caverns, Lost World Caverns and Organ Cave, but for those who want to explore more freely (and without paying), there are places to go spelunking for free and without a guide in the Mountain State.
Good for Beginners
Donaldson Cave – Berkeley County
This cave is about three miles from Hedgesville in Berkeley County, located near Little Georgetown Road and the B&O Overpass south of WV Secondary Route 2/4, according to The West Virginia Cave Conservancy (WVCC).
The conservancy website says that it is “an excellent introductory cave because it contains enough novice challenges to be interesting, but not enough to be daunting.”
This cave is considered open but it is gated and cavers will need to contact the property manager Bob Bennett at DonaldsonPreserve@wvcc.net to get permission, the gate combination, which is changed every few months, and directions, according to WVCC. Cavers will need to provide the following information:
- Date of the trip
- Time of the trip
- Name of person requesting/leading the trip
- NSS number (if available)
- Group name (caving group, friends, family, other affiliations, etc.)
- Cell phone number
- Email address
- Home address
- Number of people on trip
Harr Cave #2 – Tucker County
Located west of the town of Laneville, this cave is the largest of the Harr caves and was gifted to the WVCC after it was discovered by the original landowners. It is smaller compared to some others on this list at 1,141 feet long and 19 feet deep. There is no active stream in the cave, but it does have several formation galleries, according to WVCC.
Although it is not locked, the entrance, which is an 8-foot pit, is very close to property manager Rob Coleman’s house and does require permission to enter. You can reach him at HarrPreserve@wvcc.net to get permission, descriptions and directions.
Lost Cave – Greenbrier County
This cave is open to the public and does not require any permission or prior contact, according to WVCC. Located approximately 2.6 miles east of Anderson, the cave is immediately adjacent to WV Route 63. The name “Lost Cave” came after it was used for saltpeter mining during the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War, but could not be located during the Civil War, according to WVCC’s website.
The cave is 3,735 feet deep but with the lack of significant obstacles, the Lost Cave is a great option for people new to caving, according to the WVCC. It also has a “picturesque” entrance for anyone interested in documenting their adventure.
No permission is needed to visit the cave. While there are “No Trespassing” signs near the entrance, the WVCC says this is to warn visitors not to wander onto the Anvil Rock Enterprises’ nearby shooting range. Parking is not available on the preserve, so cavers should park on the right side of Route 63 on the shoulder. For more information contact the property manager Mystik Miller at LostPreserve@wvcc.net.
Benedict Cave (Persinger Entrance) – Greenbrier County
This cave is near Lewisburg in Greenbrier County near the Greenbrier Valley Airport. It is off Benedict Lane approximately one mile from U.S. Route 219. It has approximately 14 miles of surveyed cave. In total, there are 22 interconnected creeks and streams in the cave system and numerous faults and folds and ” interesting passage morphology.”
The cave is open for visitors without permission or a release form. It also has a large parking area in a field marked by tall pine trees that were planted by volunteers in 2004. The WVCC website says there is also an enclosed gazebo that serves as a changing area to provide privacy since it is in the middle of a housing development. For more information, contact BenedictPreserve@wvcc.net.
Experienced Cavers Only
McClung Cave (Lightener Entrance) – Greenbrier County
This cave entrance is owned by the West Virginia Cave Conservancy and is approximately one mile north of U.S. Route 219 at Maxwelton, West Virginia on Vago Road in Greenbrier County. As of publication, the cave is open to anyone over 18 who wishes to visit and no release form is required, but the 60-foot drop at the entrance does require gear and ropes to get down.
The entrance connects cavers to the Great Savannah Cave System, which is the eighth-longest cave in the U.S. To date, approximately 17 miles of passage have been surveyed in the historic part of the McClung part of the cave system, according to the WVCC. “Although not highly decorated with speleothems, certain areas of the cave contain nice formations,” says the WVCC website.
Parking for cave visits is at the end of the 1,700-foot access drive from Vago Road. It is past the property gate and it is marked by an information kiosk, according to WVCC. “Make sure that the gate is closed at all times as there are cattle on the property.”
Maxwelton Sink Cave (Scott Entrance) – Greenbrier County
This Lewisburg area cave is owned by the WVCC and is located across from the Greenbrier Valley Airport behind Union Concrete along the Industrial Park Road. It originally had three entrances but the others have been sealed off. The cave has two streams and “numerous faults and folds,” according to WVCC, and parts of the cave have lots of formations.
The cave is considered open but is gated and requires permission and advance notification from property manager Nick Socky, MaxweltonPreserve@wvcc.net. This is not a cave for beginners and requires “vertical competence,” according to WVCC.
Haynes Cave – Monroe County
According to the WVCC, this cave is located about 0.8 miles south of Patton in Monroe County. It is an extremely historic cave, and bones found in are now the official state fossil “Megalonyx” or giant claw and were presented by President Thomas Jefferson around 1800, according to WVCC.
The cave is considered dry and dusty, so there are very few formations. Because it was also previously used for saltpeter mining, there are also crude plank bridges throughout the cave, which can be dangerous.
“The only other significant low spot is near the end of the cave, where a short and very dusty belly crawl leads to the Signature Room,” says the WVCC website. “Here the walls and ceiling literally are covered with signatures and comments left by visitors. Unfortunately, this practice, now very much frowned upon, does not seem to have stopped.”
The cave was gated in 2015 and does require permission to access, but it is open to groups with at least one experienced caver, according to WVCC. The property manager is Ed Saugstad who can be reached at HaynesPreserve@wvcc.net. There is parking for two vehicles at the cave site and opportunities to carpool from a local church or gas station.
Bone-Norman Cave System (Norman Entrance) – Greenbrier County
Although no permission is needed to access this cave, the WVCC says that only “experienced cavers” are allowed in. Located several miles from the town of Renick along Brownstone Road in Greenbrier County, the 14-mile cave has a major stream running through it, as well as waterfalls and many large formations.
“The Bone-Norman Cave System can be characterized as a series of long, mazy breakdown-filled canyons and is not recommended for the novice without an experienced guide,” says the WVCC website. And several “No Trespassing” signs have been placed on the property boundary to discourage novice cavers. Parking is only available along the shoulder of Brownstone Road, according to the WVCC, and any gates should not be blocked and be closed to ensure that cattle do not escape the working farmland. For more information, contact the property manager Cliff Lindsay at NormanPreserve@wvcc.net.
Rules for Caving in West Virginia
The above are just some of the caves protected by the West Virginia Cave Conservancy; visit the group’s website for a full list. Even open caves maintained by the WVCC have the following rules for visitors:
- No camping or fires will be permitted at this time.
- All trash and human waste must be packed out.
- ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles are not permitted on the preserve.
- Collection of rocks, flora, fauna, etc. on the surface is prohibited. Any collection underground must be done in accordance with West Virginia laws, which require a permit from the state, based in part on permission from the Board. The Board will approve such requests on an individual basis, based on scientific need.
- No placement of permanent bolts or anchors is allowed. No other defacement of the cave is allowed.
- Parking is allowed only in designated areas.
- No hunting will be allowed on the property. No fireworks or firearms will be allowed on the property.
- No commercial activity, including cave-for-pay, will be allowed on the property.
- Visitors’ conduct should conform to National Speleological Society conservation guidelines and to NSS Safety and Techniques Committee recommendations.
- Visitors are expected to comply with all applicable state and federal laws.