One fall weekend a few years ago, my oldest daughter went to a Scout camp at Warsaw Caves. This was the first time I heard about caves in Southern Ontario, so we decided to try something new as a family and joined our daughter in her Scouting adventure.
After our trip to Warsaw Caves, our family realized that Ontario caves are hidden gems and we became hooked on finding new caves to explore on our hikes. Some are quite well known, some require you to go on a treasure hunt to find, and others are known only by locals. The treasure hunt part is why we love it and we find it exciting to look for cracks in the limestone that might leads us to a cave. You never know what you’re going to find.
What to bring
Before you head out caving with your family, make sure you wear sturdy non-slip shoes and clothing that fully covers your body. Bring extra clothes to change into after your underground adventure in case you get dirty. Headlamps/flashlights are also necessary so you can see where you’re going. And always bring food, drinks and a first-aid kit with you.
Where to go to explore caves
Caves in Ontario are located where the limestone is exposed to the surface; like the kind found in the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory and Manitoulin Island. In addition to this area you can find caves east of Guelph and east of Peterborough and in the Ottawa Valley.
Warsaw caves | 2-hour drive from Toronto
I think Warsaw Caves is the best way to start with spelunking as a family in Southern Ontario. This is a great place because they have a detailed map of the area that shows the location of all the caves. You can usually find many families on the same adventure in there, so you can ask them for guidance. The caves are easily accessible from the road and not hard to find, and it’s a great way to be introduced to caving and crawling around in them. On top of all the cave fun, this is a very scenic park with lots of other things to explore.
Tyendinga Caves | 2 hours from Toronto
These caves are slightly different because Tyendinga Caves don’t involve any climbing and you’ll find more of a guided cave tour then an outdoor adventure. However, we loved our visit there and found it educational. The tour guides were great at explaining the history of the cave and the geological history that made them. My outdoor-loving kid enjoyed it, but she did not find it as exciting as climbing into a cave herself.
This place is perfect for people new to caving and very accessible for people of all fitness levels.
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park | Approximately 1 hour from Toronto
Photo credit: Ontario Parks
This park is its own special portion of the Niagara Escarpment with crevice caves and two masses of rock carved by ice age erosion from the main rock body. We walked the Cliff Top Trail and explored two lookouts, one staircase and a boardwalk. We followed the Walter Side Trail to the Carriage Side trail back to the parking lot. Near the end of the Carriage trail along the staircase, we found a particularly fun crevice to explore.
Eramosa Karst | 1 hour from Toronto
Out on a field in the suburbs of Hamilton, you will find a conservation area called Eramosa Karst. The park itself is not that remarkable, but this park is filled with 16 karst (topography made by dissolving of soluble rock) features including sinkholes, dry valleys and 2 caves; Nexus cave and Pottruff cave. Nexus Cave is the 10th largest cave in Toronto. It was dry when we were there, but heed the advice from experts that water levels can change suddenly.
Easy hikes make this great for families with small children. Make sure you follow the trail map to find the caves and you can combine this day trip with a visit to a waterfall in Hamilton.
Irvine Creek, Elora & Lover’s Leap Trail | 1.35 hours from Toronto
This area is best suited to explore on a warm summer day because you have to walk in the river to access the caves. It is a great trip to combine with a visit to the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. Park your car at Victora Park and follow the stone steps down to Irvine Creek. At the bottom of the gorge, walk towards the bridge and cross the river and you will see the caves. Make sure to bring water shoes and a swimming suit.
Mount Nemo Conservation Area | 55 minutes away from Toronto
Mount Nemo has a lot of crevices but there isn’t a map showing exact locations. Some of the crevices were too advanced for us to explore, as they are deep and advanced and for experts only with proper climbing equipment.
The trail itself is not that challenging, but there are sections of the trail that are very close to the cliff edge without any protective railings or fence. Follow the trail to the lookout and take a left and you will see a number of crevices near the trail.
You have to be mindful and supervise your children. I also think it’s a good idea that the kids are a little bit older and aware of their surroundings. Perfect for mature 6+-year-old kids that love to climb and are experienced, young hikers.
Did I miss any caves/crevices? If you know about any other great caving places close to Toronto please let us know in the comments!