Destination: Cave River Valley Nature Preserve

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Just downstream of River Cave

There is something about caves, spring creeks, steep rocky valleys and unknown places that inspire the imagination.

Imagine a spot where a large stream emerges cold from the rock, yawning hidden caves can be discovered around nearly every turn, ruins dot the landscape yet you have the place all to yourself. Moreover, imagine such a place is located within Indiana.

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The dam at the mouth of River Cave. Be extremely careful if you choose to climb it! Also keep in mind the water in the cave is 6′ deep.

If you’ve visited Cave River Valley (CRV) Nature Preserve, you know this isn’t a dream but a reality at one of Indiana’s newest, and least publicized, public properties. In our reasonably-well-traveled opinion, it is also one of the most special places in the entire Hoosier state.

This 300+ acre property was initially purchased by The Nature Conservancy, then by the state of Indiana through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species grant in 2008. Since that time, plans to further develop the property to include trails, a small primitive campground and restoration of natural features have stalled due to budget problems. However, in some ways this neglect actually adds to the charm and wild feel of the place.

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Spring-fed Clifty Creek tumbles down the valley.

Located north of Campbellsburg and 18 miles east of Spring Mill State Park, CRV is tough to find (see WildIndiana.com for a detailed location map) as there are no signs directing visitors to the place until you actually arrive on-site. Once there, aside from a new gate, some road improvement and three new interpretive signs, the property isn’t much different than when we first discovered it 15 years ago when it was a ramshackle privately-owned caving park open to the general public.

The road leading down to the valley has been improved with a load of gravel and on a recent visit, the open gate at the entrance allowed our high-clearance vehicle to park near the next gate blocking the road into the valley. The road splits and also continues straight from this point but all the interesting scenery lies down the closed road.

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The yawning entrance to Endless Cave

After taking the downhill hike on the road, you arrive at a scraggly grass meadow surrounded by steep limestone cliffs and dotted with spooky ruins that give the appearance of someplace you shouldn’t really be.

The area was once a thriving business and tourist destination. It has been the site of several mills and later became a tourist destination when the owners built a dam and charged 10 cents for a boat ride into River Cave. There is even the mosquito-infested remains of a trout pond that was fed by the waters of the cave.

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A bat taking a daytime siesta in Endless Cave

The two biggest caves on the property are River and Endless Caves. River cave lies at the head of the valley behind the dilapidated and vandalized log cabin. As you get close, the roar of water pouring over the ramshackle dam is a siren song as you pick your way upstream on slick moss-shrouded rocks that are reminiscent of a trout stream in the Smoky Mountains. Be very careful as taking a spill is quite likely.

River cave supposedly has one of the longest straight cave passages in the world at 600 feet and is home to several endangered species including blind cave fish and blind crayfish.

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Dilapidated structures dot the valley at CRV

After (carefully) exploring, head back downstream to the open-air shelter house to find an interpretive sign discussing the endangered Indiana bat. Beyond the sign there are old stone steps that lead up the hill a short distance. Just over the ridge, you’ll find the yawning mouth of Endless cave, one of the state’s largest with nearly 7000 feet of mapped passageways.

Endless cave is one of the largest and most important wintering sites for the Indiana bat in the state. Both River and Endless cave have been closed due to the threat of White-Nose Virus (WNV) but recently re-opened for tours during the summer months by private groups that receive a permit from Spring Mill State Park.

You can enter the mouth of the cave for 30 yards until calf deep water and ultimately, a steel gate stops your progress.

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Steep rocky cliffs hem in CRV

The valley itself continues downstream for a distance, eventually leaving preserve boundaries. A major side valley holds the remains of a lake that provided recreation for early park visitors. The lake’s levee was breached years ago and the valley is undergoing natural succession to forest.

Though quite exceptional, the nature preserve is seldom visited. In our five trips there over the years, we’ve run into exactly three people, one of which was a trout fisherman on our first visit who claimed the stream held a few brown trout. Considering the water source, it certainly seems possible though it is likely the stream couldn’t support much angling pressure.

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The old cabin- we can imagine that it is a veritable copperhead snake spa!

Be careful at CRV. Exceptionally slick rocks around the caves and stream invite trouble, as do the caves themselves. Do not enter any cave without permission, proper training and equipment. Most are closed anyway due to the threat of WNV.

The area is home to copperhead snakes and the old cabin and other building ruins look marvelously “snaky.” The stream areas are also home to literal clouds of flying insects that are only bothersome but at times can be overwhelming.

We hope that the property eventually does get its long-planned makeover and is finally spruced up so more folks can enjoy this unique area. Until that time, however, if you’re looking for an adventure that really feels wild and unique, CRV awaits.

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Brent Wheat
A well-known and award-winning writer/photographer/radio & television talent/speaker/web-designer/media spokesperson/shooting instructor/elected official/retired police officer/bourbon connoisseur/cigar aficionado/backpacker/hunter/fisherman/gardener/preparedness guru/musician/and jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none, Brent Wheat is the editor and publisher of WildIndiana.com

16 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Wheat, Greetings. I was so excited to see the new page about River Cave Valley. My family visited quite often when I was a child in the sixties. We enjoyed picnics, hiking and exploring the caves.
    An interesting note, my father David George, first learned of the cave from his father, Winfred George, born in Campbellsburg, who was a songwriter and inventor. My father told many stories about the area, and the lost river legend. I hope to come visit soon.
    A retired newspaper editor, I may have to come out of retirement and write a story about this beautiful valley and the cave system. Thank You!

    • Hi Vicky Taylor, My daughter and I have put a lot of time into researching this place…plus I was married to Vic Green’s grandson and my daughter is his great-granddaughter. We wrote a book that might help you in your article called Cave River Valley Park. It is available on Amazon or at the Salem Apothecary and the coffee-shop in Pekin – the Silver Fox…and at Spring Mill in the Nature Center. If my daughter and I can help you in any way, don’t hesitate to ask , Michele Dutcher

  2. my family and aunts and uncle and cousins used to camp here in the early 60s, the old log cabin was run by, i think senator green. I found an old burial mound up on a hill, found spear points and a clay basket that i took to the senator. He gave me a spear point. The cabins were small but just right for the fun of camping. The caves were always being explored by spelunkers, i learned a lot about caving from here. So much fun fishing to, the creek was stocked with trout.

    • Hi Mike, My daughter and I have put out a book called Cave River Valley Park – and are interested in finding this burial mound. We are attempting to authenticate some of the Indian Rock Carvings found on the ridge between River cave stream and Endless Cave Stream.
      Perhaps we could all meet up sometime this Fall (2017)? Or could you tell us where the burial mound was? – Did you leave it with rocks over it? was it near Bear Den Cave? …any additional details would be helpful. Thanks, Michele Dutcher

  3. Some of the best memories of my childhood and my father were at cave river valley for my uncle was the most privious owner. We had our company picnics there and I remember playing in the water with all of my cousins. This place is so special to me. I can’t wait to go this summer.

  4. We were just there 2 Days ago. This place is so awesome. There are many caves in southern Indiana,.but all have many visitors. These caves truly are off the beaten path. We were there for 3 Hours & only seen 2 other people,.that were leaving when we got there. I Hope The Cabin & Caves don’t succumb to vandals. This Place Has so much history,.it would be a shame if people didn’t show it proper respect. My Family Really enjoyed checking out the mouths of each cave & that cool moist air & the cold water pouring out of the caves. It felt so good in the 85 Degree weather we had that day. Next Time we go next summer,.we are going to apply for a permit,.to further explore these caves. The old storage shed has a honey bee hive in it,.that is quite large. One side of that storage shed has a exterior wall that fell,.exposing a VERY Large,.honey bee hive that was abandoned. It was just another cool nature experience that we all enjoyed. Looking forward to going back!!!

  5. Greetings, CRV Enthusiasts!
    My Mom and I have written a book called Cave River Valley Park – it’s available in the Salem Apothecary, Silver Fox Cafe (Pekin), Salem Library, Spring Mill Nature Center, and the John Hay Center, as well as Amazon.com. It’s about 200 pages, but we’re currently looking to expand it. There are so many great stories here – if anyone is willing to write a few paragraphs (or more) about their CRV experiences, we’d happily include it in the new book! Thanks in advance!! Contact me at vicky@haralovich.org with your memories!

  6. My first visit to cave. River valley was about 60 years ago when I was still a kid after I got married I took my bride down there and we rented the cabin on the hill behind the main building. Mr green who was the owner at that time and also the state representative was staying there in the main building and he asked use to join him for supper which we did.It was truly wild back then and creek was full of trout.there is a place in the park where the Indians had something hidden in a cave that had a rock in the intrance way the reason I know this is because of an Indian marker which I found.I was asked if I would try to inter the cave but the rock was blocking the intrance so tight. I cold not squeeze in even though I was very skinny the Indian sign ment something important was hidden in the cave.l am probably the only person alive who knows where the cave is today.I truly would like to know what they hid there possibly treasure according to the sign or important burial of somebody

  7. John Rose, I am more interested in the Indian Mark than anything possibly inside the cave. My daughter and I continue to collect drawings and photos of Indian Marks (petroglyphs) in Washington County. Please contact me at micheledutcher@yahoo.com

  8. I was there back in the mid 70s with a group of Girl Scouts and Explorers
    Some of the best memories of my teen years all the adults ( including my father) are gone now . But the memory remains
    Thanks

  9. Glad I found this. I’ve been exploring every nature preserve I can find because I’ve just about explored all of Indiana there is to explore. I have not heard of this one. Thanks:)

  10. I understand that “Dry Clifty” has become mostly prohibited due to bat safety. I appreciate the efforts to save our Indiana Browns, as I’ve had the pleasure many times to observe them as close up as one should be able, so when I heard Endless was to be closed, the feeling was for lack of a better term bittersweet. Now there are tours happening? How would one go about obtaining one of these special permits? Are the tours guided, is there a predetermined stopping point?

  11. My father lived in cabin and ran the park for mr green in the 70s and i was always told and seen a rock that was suppose to be carved by tje indians of map of the caves and it was on trail above bear den

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