Explore Bonnechere Caves, an Underground Wonder in the Ottawa Valley

Bonnechere Caves

Bonnechere Caves is one of the most fascinating caves in Ontario and all of Canada. I have always loved visiting caves. It’s always amazing to travel below the surface of the ground to see the wonders that lie beneath. At Bonnechere Caves, you’ll get a history lesson, a cave exploration, and an entertaining tour all in one place. It’s certainly worth the drive to the Ottawa Valley near the small town of Eganville, Ontario.

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Taking a Tour of Bonnechere Caves

Taking a tour of Bonnechere Caves in Ontario, Canada

It was raining a bit that day, but the weather doesn’t really matter when you’re visiting a cave. Rain or shine, Bonnechere Caves is always open. I recommend bringing a light sweater even on the hottest of days as it is always cooler underground.

Sign post of the Ottawa Valley

Bonnechere Caves offers guided tours every hour on every day. They open on the Victoria Day long weekend and close after Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. The tour begins under a small sheltered area at a table. Your tour guide will provide a short introduction to the region, giving more detail about the kinds of fossils discovered inside and outside of the cave.

Learning About Fossils

Fossils of the Ordovician Time Period

There are a couple of charts displaying both a “Record of Life through Geological Time”, as well as “Fossils of the Ordovician Time Period”. We learned that the limestone at Bonnechere Caves was deposited as layers of mud and silt during the Ordovician time period. The Ordovician time period happened around 400-500 million years ago, long before the evolution of fish or a time when dinosaurs walked the globe.

A record of life, through geological time
Fossils at Bonnechere Caves, Caves in Ontario Canada
Fossils at Bonnechere Caves, Caves in Ontario Canada
Fossils at Bonnechere Caves, Caves in Ontario Canada
Justin holding a fossil from the Ottawa Valley, Ontario
Fossils at Bonnechere Caves, Caves in Ontario Canada

We were shown many actual fossils of creatures from the Ordovician time period, including many in the chart above. 500 million years ago, our part of the world was located in the tropics. Many of the fossils buried in the walls of these Ontario caves are coral and sea creatures that once existed in a tropical climate. Our guide passed around the smaller fossils so we could take a closer look. The experience is educational for both children and adults. We all tried to guess the creatures preserved in each rock.

Venturing into the Cave

Entering Bonnechere Caves, Caves near Ottawa

After the brief lesson in fossils, it was time to enter one of the most famous caves in Canada, Bonnechere Caves. One by one, we descended down a wooden walkway into the cave. Immediately, I felt the temperature fluctuate. It’s cool down there!

The cave is very well lit. While your guide will have a flashlight, there are lamps set up along the path that illuminate the rock formations. Stalactites hang like icicles from the ceilings above. They grow very slowly at a rate of about one cubic inch every 150 years. Visitors should take care not to touch the stalactites as this can disrupt their growth or kill them entirely.

Bonnechere Caves, famous caves in Canada
Bonnechere Caves, famous caves in Canada
Bonnechere Caves, famous caves in Canada
Bonnechere Caves, famous caves in Canada
Bonnechere Caves, famous caves in Canada

We learned all about the history of the cave itself and how it was discovered by the owner. It’s a fascinating and funny story. I won’t completely spoil it for you .The owner went through many trials and tribulations many years ago when initially discovering the cave. You’ll have to visit these caves near Ottawa to hear the whole story for yourself.

After seeing fossils above ground before entering the cave, it was really neat to see fossils within the cave itself. Many fossils are embedded into the cave walls.

Fossils in the cave walls

Becoming “Spelunkers”

At one point, our guide asked if we wanted to explore a separate, small tunnel within the cave that looped back around towards the entrance. Justin, myself, and a group of the younger kids decided to walk through the narrower passageway (I can’t believe that so many people decided not to do it!).

Spelunking at Bonnechere Caves

Our shoes got a little bit wet, and Justin had to duck down quite a bit to make his way through, but it was really fun. Our tour guide said that we were now “spelunkers” as we ventured through part of a cave without a guide. Well…I somehow don’t think that really counts, but I happily agreed to have the title at that moment!

Turning Off the Lights

Next, our guide turned off all of the lights in a section of the cave so we could see just how dark it was down there. It was pitch black. We couldn’t see anything at all! It certainly provided some insights into how challenging it is to explore an undiscovered cave. I had new appreciation for all of the carefully placed lights all around.

Things to do in the Ottawa Valley, Ontario Canada
Things to do in Eganville Ontario
Things to do in Eganville Ontario
Things to do in Eganville Ontario
Ontario Caves

We descended deep into the bowels of Bonnechere Caves. Sometimes the rocky ceiling was directly overhead, and on other occasions, it extended up high. Sometimes we explored narrower passages, and at other times, we gathered in larger rooms. It was fascinating to discover the interesting patterns carved over millions of years into the limestone walls.

Out of the Caves: The Lush Forest

After an hour, our tour of these caves in Ontario near Kingston ended. We exited the caves into a very lush forest. From there, you can go for a longer hike around the property at your own leisure. At the very least, you should take a look at the giant sinkhole near the cave.

Forests around the Bonnechere River, Bonnechere Caves
Hiking through the forest after the cave tour
The sinkhole near the Bonnechere Caves
The sinkhole near the Bonnechere Caves

We had a fun and memorable time at Bonnechere Caves. Even though it’s relatively close to home, we learned a lot about the history and geology of the region. It’s educational for people of all ages, but never boring. We walked around examining all of the patterns and grooves in the rocks, and admired the stalactites that have been growing for thousands of years. I highly recommend checking out Bonnechere Caves, especially if you’re looking for a fun activity to do on a rainy day (or a sunny day, too!).

What to See in the Ottawa Valley

The Bonnechere River

You’ll find Eganville in the Ontario’s Highlands tourism region. It’s part of the Ottawa Valley, an hour and a half west of Ottawa and about four and a half hours northeast of Toronto. I suggest combining your visit to Bonnechere Caves to other nearby tourist attractions and activities.

On this visit, we went to Bonnechere Caves on our way to an overnight stay in Pembroke to visit a friend. The next morning, we woke up bright and early to go white water rafting down the Ottawa River. While Bonnechere Caves seems to be in the middle of the country, the Bonnechere River flows right past the site.

The Bonnechere River
The Bonnechere River

It’s also possible to plan a trip to Bonnechere Provincial Park in the same holiday as these Ontario caves. Bonnechere Provincial Park has fantastic opportunities for canoeing and hiking trips. You can go camping or sleep in one of their rustic cabins.

Obsessed with caves? You should check out Hell Holes Nature Trails and Caves west of Kingston, near Napanee. Here are the top 10 caves in Ontario that you need to explore.

Next, you can plan a getaway to Lanark County. I stayed at a cozy B&B that’s a renovated church with a day spa. Spend your days visiting farmer’s markets, local festivals and museums, and wandering around the town of Perth.

Last, you can stop by Bonnechere Caves on your way to the city of Ottawa. There are so many fun things to do in Ottawa whether you’re visiting Ottawa in the winter, doing a coffee shop hop around Ottawa, playing arcade games, or planning your stay at a downtown Airbnb.

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Have you explored any caves in Ontario or Canada?

40 Responses

  1. Rachel
    |

    I have a love for caves too. There is something so moreish about wanting to delve deeper into the dark secrets of the other world…. seeing what is in the next cavern, looking at the rock formations and sculptures…. and for me, as an ecologist, I am always on the lookout for bats! I can’t help myself :P

  2. Jon @ jonistravelling.com
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    This place looks awesome. I’ve visited a lot of caves in Southeast Asia – they are always fun to explore.

  3. Stacey Veikalas
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    Wow these caves are really cool something my kids would also love to explore. The fossils in the rock and pretty amazing and how they are just out there in the middle of nowhere makes them even cooler. Growing up in Colorado I am a cave fan love them – thank you so much for sharing – cool story and great photos.

  4. Cory Lee
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    this cave looks so cool! I love all of the fossils. I would love to do this, but it doesn’t look very wheelchair accessible. Lol

    • Lauren
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      Unfortunately, it was not very wheelchair accessible…there were many stairs to go up and down. Although since reading your blog, I have thought more and more about which places are wheelchair accessible or not – I’m happy to see when places are accessible to all!

  5. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling
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    That is SO cool that you were in a place that formed before dinosaurs had even evolved! :D

    • Lauren
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      Oh I know! It is awesome to think about. It’s also cool to think that the area used to be so tropical!

  6. Veronika
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    Wow, you got great photos from the caves – I imagine the light conditions were not ideal but you nailed it! Canada has so much to offer.. I wasn’t aware there are stunning caves there as well. Good to know!

    • Lauren
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      The lighting conditions were less than ideal but we were able to snap some photos! There were many that didn’t turn out, too, so I’m thankful that a few did!

  7. Allison @ A Foodie in Europe
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    Great post! I love going in caves. I like that they showed you some fossils before you went it, I think it makes the tour a little more exciting when you know what has come out of that cave. So many of the tours I have been on are like “this is a cave, let’s walk through it. Ok any questions?” It sounds like this one is really interested in educating their visitors.

  8. Adrian of Adrian's Travel Tales
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    Wow, who would of thought that caves like this were in Ontario. I guess I just never associated fossils and caves like that with Canada. I need to expand my horizons! :) The pictures are beautiful! Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely have to make my way up to that part of Canada soon.

  9. Brianna
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    Wow, I love that you can see fossils still in the rock!

  10. Karen Warren
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    I don’t really like caves – I felt claustrophobic just looking at your pictures – but I can see that these ones must be very interesting.