Caverns by Candlelight

Touring Lewis & Clark Caverns this holiday season.

Looking for something totally different this holiday season? Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park offers candlelight tours on select weekends in December. Although Lewis and Clark never actually explored these caverns, you can... and by candlelight! If you haven’t visited Montana’s first state park created in 1937, I highly recommend this fantastic and unique holiday adventure.

With family in tow, I visited the caverns on a beautiful December day. It was a nice drive out to Three Forks, then south along the Jefferson River and up to the state park. The visitor center was dressed for the holidays with a roaring fire, hot coffee, chocolate, tea, and cookies awaiting the guests.

After enjoying the refreshments and holiday spirit, we gathered outside to pick out our own punch-tin lantern with candle, and get a brief talk from the ranger. Then it was off up the paved path and hundreds (!) of steps to the mouth of the caverns.

There were many photo ops along the way, with beautiful views across the mountains and down into the canyon. You may be fortunate as we were and have a pleasantly mild day with bright sunshine and blue sky, or, you may need to prepare for snow and colder temperatures.

Once everyone arrived at the top entrance, it was time to light our candles and enter the caverns. Immediately enveloped in the cool darkness of the caves, our flickering candles soon revealed the astoundingly beautiful treasures surrounding us. My family and I trailed along near the back of the group and chatted with the ranger, learning more about the history and the formations of the wondrous calcite columns, stalagmites, and stalactites. 

At points, the path became slippery and steep as we descended hundreds of steps, so be sure to wear shoes with good tread. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but you'll shriek with delight over the smooth ribbons and sheets that form Beaver Slide and be awed by the majestic Cathedral room—all the more awesome lit only by candlelight. You will see the caverns the way the early visitors viewed these mysteries at the turn of the century.

Although this is a great adventure for the family, children five and under are discouraged from attempting the tour. As well, the low overhead and slippery path make it difficult to safely carry a small child or infant. Dress for the weather, but rest assured that the caverns remain a constant 50 degrees inside. The tour is two miles long and takes about two hours roundtrip, with a steep hike up to the mouth of the caverns.

This is a popular excursion, so call ahead for a reservation with the park office at (406) 287-3541.

The Lewis & Clark Caverns are located 14 miles southeast of Whitehall or 19 miles southwest of Three Forks on MT Route 2.