Northern Michigan offers great opportunities for exploring natural wonders such as caves, waterfalls, sandstone cliffs and caverns. The Pine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula and the Lake Superior shoreline with its cliffs and natural caves provide many opportunities for exploration and adventure. The Keweenaw Peninsula and several of the nearby islands offer opportunities for rock climbing and caving.
For those of you looking to get a little practice in, there are many indoor rock climbing walls and gyms in Northern Michigan. For a complete list, click here.
In Iron Mountain you'll find a bat mine with a beautiful vista. The mine is an abandoned vertical iron mine that is now home to one of the largest hibernating/breeding bat colonies (up to 1 million bats) in North America. The mine shaft entrance is covered with a special steel grate to prevent people from falling into the shaft; but allows bats to come and go as they please. There is a self-guided interpretive program at the site to inform visitors on the benefit of bats. The best times to view bats is right at dusk in Apr/May and Sept/Oct when bats leave or enter the mine to hibernate. It is designated as an official Michigan Wildlife Viewing Area.
Bear Cave, downstate in Buchanan, is open to the public. It is not a karst cave, but a much rarer "tufa" cave. It has stalactites, flowstone, petrified leaves, and other strange shapes, all colored by metal oxides. In 1875, the loot from an Ohio bank robbery was hidden in this cave. Inspired by this event, it was featured in the 1903 movie The Great Train Robbery that is now considered a silent film classic. The cave is entered through the gift shop. Bear Cave has the only natural cave in Michigan. The cave was part of the underground railroad for slaves, and a movie location for the 1903 "Great Train robbery."
Skull Cave on Mackinac Island is a karst type of cave found on the Niagara Escarpment. According to tradition, this is the cave in which the English fur-trader Alexander Henry hid during the Indian uprising of 1763. He claimed the floor of the cave was covered with human bones. Possibly it was once used as an Indian burial.
Burnt Bluff Cave, AKA Spider Cave, in Delta County (in the U.P.), has some Indian pictographs (rock drawings) associated with it. This site is located on private property, and the pictographs appear at the base of a 140 foot limestone cliff on Big Bay De Noc. The small cave is thought to have been used in some ritual. Over 100 projectile points were discovered in Spider Cave, all with broken tips, suggesting they were thrown into the cave.
The 480 acre Fiborn Karst Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is owned by the Michigan Karst Conservancy. It includes an extensive karst drainage system with features such as sinkholes, caves and disappearing streams.
In eastern Alpena & Presque Isle Counties, exposed limestone bedrock is common and karst depressions or sink holes can be found in the Rockport area. The 31 acre Stevens Twin Sinks Preserve west of Alpena, purchased in 1990 by the MKC, contains examples of sinkhole habitats.
There are also underwater "caves" in the lakes. The Alger Underwater Preserve offers two main diving attractions: shipwrecks and sea "caves". The sea caves are portions of underwater sandstone cliffs where the softer sandstone has been eroded away by waves. Other "sea caves" are found along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The caves are found in water 20 feet deep or less. The Thumb Area Underwater Preserve has caves created by eroded limestone. The caves are located near the edge of the reef near Port Austin Lighthouse.