Squeezing in Caves

Our daughter’s high school class visited Warsaw Caves Conservation Area north of Peterborough this term.  She wanted us to experience the kettles (a.k.a. rockmills) and caves in the park, so we headed up on a cold, wet, November day.  It’s an excellent experience and a nice day trip from the Toronto area to do something a bit unusual.

Getting There

The Warsaw Caves web site is well-laid out and everything you need is there.  It isn’t an Ontario provincial park, as I first thought, but is managed by the Otonabee Regional Conservation Authority.  There is a good guide with information about the caves themselves and a small map to get you there.  There is also a more detailed hiking trail guide.

Outtake from Warsaw Caves Hiking Trail Map
Outtake from Warsaw Caves Hiking Trail Map. The C marks the caves, which are at the end of an 800 meter trail. The kettles, or rockmills, are a bit further, at letter K, about 1.5 kilometers from the parking lot. If you go out of season, add another half kilometer or so, to walk from the gate to the parking lot where the trailheads are.

Our car GPS was a bit fiddly and in the end could not automatically find Warsaw Caves.  We ended up getting as far as Peterborough, and then zoomed in and followed Country Road 4 (start with Television Road) north to Caves Road and entering it using latitude and longitude.

The Kettles, or Rockmills

These were pretty remarkable.  I hadn’t seen anything like this before.  Where rocks get caught in a hole, the water spins them around, eroding the hole until it can become quite large.  Here are some photos of very small rockmills but there is also a massive one that you can climb down.  Well, the more intrepid among our group did but I just climbed down the easier way and took a picture looking up from the bottom of the hole.

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The kettles or rockmills are spread around fissure caves.  Here is an interesting geo-caching Web site with a good illustration of what this looks like.   The water has carved out the space underneath, and the rock on top has fallen in.  If you head down the path to the kettles (marked with a K on the trail), you will come to some very broken ground where large chunks have settled or tipped in.  There are lots of places to crawl around in and among the rocks.

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The Caves

We returned to the car park and headed down as second trail.  For those of you planning ahead, there is a toilet at the car park – and it looks like it’s being expanded and updated – which you might want to use before heading down over to the caves.

There are 7 caves.  If you’re not big on dark, closed spaces, you still may want to give these a try.  Our group ranged in height from just over 4 feet to over 6′ feet and we were all able to squeeze into a couple of caves.  We did not go through the passages from one cave to another, although that’s possible.  Our most adventurous spelunker found small caches of stickers awaiting the most intrepid.  There is a lot more to explore than meets the eye.

We all wore bike helmets, as recommended, which saved everyone from bumped heads as much as being prepared for something more painful.  We mostly had flashlights attached to our helmets, which made it easier to navigate.  This can be achieved with duck tape and a small mag light but you can also get inexpensive strap on lights.  Also as advised, we ended up dirty and wet.  But it was drier in the caves than outside and there was plenty to look at.  I have seen some people write about bats or guano but saw neither myself.  The adventure for me was just getting down under the earth and looking around a bit.  Here are some of the shots of us maneuvering around in the caves themselves.

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Our daughter had explained that these weren’t typical caves – dripping, pitch black, claustrophobic.  If you’re a bit wary of the dark, these caves actually have some light coming down into them both at the obvious entrances as well as occasional other places.  It can be utterly dark without lights, and obviously will be if you go down further levels in the caves, but you can experience the caves and still see the way out!

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It was a great day out and we all felt some muscles we hadn’t tried out before.  Our youngest is 7 and completely self-sufficient in climbing in and out.  The older kids were able to go into tighter spaces and, at one point, climbed through a cave passage by themselves.  But it’s a fun adventure for anyone who wants to try some easy-to-access caves with very little in the way of equipment.

The river running through the Warsaw Caves park
Large broken flat pieces of rock make the river side an unusual place to traverse as you head towards the kettles. It was a misty and rainy day in November when we came through.
David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.