One of the best ways to beat the summer heat and have a little adventure is to visit a cave with year-round sweater weather.
There's the well-known Timpanogos Cave in American Fork Canyon, but that requires a 1.5-mile hike up the mountain before you even reach the entrance. There's also the Logan Canyon Cave, but that trek is too primitive and rugged for most people. A suitable alternative may be Minnetonka Cave, west of the north end of Bear Lake.This cave features an 1,800-foot-long tour. Although this makes it slightly shorter than Timp, Minnetonka is usually not as crowded as Utah's premier cave, and it's only a 200-foot walk from your car to the cave entrance.
Minnetonka Cave is on a lofty ledge (7,700-foot elevation) at the top of St. Charles Canyon. It's about 165 miles from Salt Lake City, 10 miles west of Highway 89 via a paved road.
According to Eric Mattson, a forestry technician with the Montpelier Ranger District that supervises the cave, it has 20,000 to 30,000 visitors a year - most of whom come from the Wasatch Front.
Visitation varies from year to year; and while 1993 was a slow cave year, the annual trend is an upward climb of more visitors.
The cave, one of the nation's coldest, has a constant year-round temperature of 40 degrees. (One cave room is only 36 degrees.) It is open seven days a week from mid-June to Labor Day.
Mattson suggests visitors wear jackets and sturdy walking shoes. Flashlights are not necessary, since there are ample electric lights scattered throughout the cave.
"Visitors need to be able to climb stairs," Mattson said, explaining there are 448 stairs in the cave that visitors must climb twice - once on the way in and again on the way out.
The stairs make for a moderately strenuous outing, but the tour group stops frequently. Elderly guests may want to turn back after taking just a portion of the cave tour.
Mattson said young children are allowed in the cave, but should be supervised well. Although there are no cliffs in the cave, wet, slippery, steep stairs do present a hazard. Younger children may have to be carried.
Each guided tour lasts 90 minutes, with the tours (30 people maximum) leaving every 30 minutes.
The cave, the premier cavern for southern Idaho, contains the usual stalactites and stalagmites. It also has fossils of plants and marine animals from prehistoric times. There are numerous shapes to inspire the imagination, too.
The cave has nine rooms with the largest - the Ballroom - being approximately 300 feet in diameter and 90 feet high. There's also the Dwarf Room and the Devil's Kingdom/Office.
Various shapes on the cave tour have been incorporated to entertain young children. There's a Casper the Friendly Ghost shape, a Miss Piggy's tail, Kermit's Castle and the faces of two U.S. presidents.
There's a place at the end of the cave - Elephant Ear Pass - that could someday be opened up to create a rear entrance to the cave from the mountain above.
After the Wedding Room, the cave continues, but the tour ends. The additional 1,200 feet of narrow cave is undeveloped not only because of a lack of funding but because making it accessible to the public would destroy its few scenic features.
There are also other caverns below the main cave. They are visible through at least one hole along the tour route. Springtime water, seasonally found at the rear of the cave, quickly disappears below to some of the these lower levels.
A branch of the Logan Fault, which runs north to Grace, Idaho, also is visible along the cave ceiling. Geologists have identified several large portions of the ceiling that fell during a major earthquake about 2,000 years ago.
Most cave guides also turn off the lights briefly at the back of the cave to show visitors what total darkness looks like.