GPS Coordinates: (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
Park for Cavern tours: 35.96392, -92.17871
Park for Blanchard Springs: 35.95889, -92.17539, 439 ft.
Blanchard Springs: 35.95860, -92.17740, 483 ft.
Mirror Lake: 35.96349, -92.17094, 416 ft.
Gunner Pool: 35.99507 -92.21349, 461 ft.
Pet-Friendly: No dogs allowed in the cave.
Hiking Statistics: For the first time in seven years, I have no idea. There is no way to get a GPS track, so all I know is we were in the cave system for just over six hours. Our guide said the Titan Room was about 0.6 miles from where we entered the cave, but between the ups, downs, overs, cutbacks, squeeze throughs, and corkscrews, it seemed like about a good eight mile bushwhack. If I rate this as I do my other hikes, I would rate it as a difficult bushwhack based on the technical aspects. I was so enthralled by what I saw and the ongoing conversation with our guide that I was never really fatigued. I was still pretty jazzed at the end of the hike.
GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog postGPS doesn't work in the cave, and you really don't need it for Blanchard Springs Falls or Mirror Lake; see the map below.
Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:Blanchard Springs Cavern Dripstone trail and area hiking
Blanchard Springs Cavern Discovery trail, Mirror Lake, and Gunner Pool
Mirror Lake night photography
|Rick and Tom in the Titan Room.|
The columns behind us are 85 feet high.
Blanchard Springs is about a 2.5-hour drive from our home north of Dover, but fortunately, we have good friends that have a nice cabin right on the White River only 8.9 miles from Blanchard Springs. For those driving to Blanchard Springs for a day trip, getting there is still easy. The turnoff to Blanchard Springs is right off Highway 14, so this is one of those rare hiking trips in which you can stay on the pavement for the entire drive. The turnoff is well marked with a sign, 1.1 miles east of the small town of Fifty-six, Arkansas (see the map below). After you make the turn, there are signs on the paved access road to the visitor center, Mirror Lake, and Blanchard Springs. Blanchard Springs is operated by the Forest Service. There is no fee for entrance to Blanchard Springs Recreation Area, but there is a small fee for the guided tours.
|This curtain is formed by air currents less than 1/8 inch thick|
You can schedule all of the tours and pay for them online, and that is advisable. I was able to get reservations for the four of us on the Dripstone and Discovery tours, but the Wild Cave Tours were sold out. They only have one tour a day on the days they actually schedule them, so there are not a lot of slots to start with. When we went on the Dripstone tour yesterday, I inquired about whether there was a cancellation list, and as luck would have it, they just had a couple of cancellations for the Wild Cave Tour the next day. Tom and I snapped up tickets for those two slots before someone could get them online. Woo-hoo! Bethany and Jeannette had decided to opt-out of the Wild Cave tour anyway, but Tom and I were now set!
|Near start of Wild Cave Tour|
|A cave salamander, the largest animal living in the cave|
Speaking of stuff you take with you, DON'T take a good camera. I left my Z7 back at the cabin and took only my cell phone for taking pictures. A camera will get banged up pretty bad, there is no good place to pack it, and it will make it really tough to keep up and maneuver in some places. Leave it in the car. I put the cell phone in the only velcro pocket inside the coveralls, and put my snack food and two bottles of water in the pack Aaron provided. I only needed one bottle of water, your mileage may vary. The extra shoes you carry in for walking out of the cave after the tour can be any style. However, DO wear a good pair of hiking boots for the tour. You need good ankle support and good traction. There is damp clay throughout much of the area you will be hiking, and it can get slippery even with good soles like my Oboz Bridgers have. They were pretty gummed up with clay by the time we completed the tour.
We started the tour by getting on a bus from the staging area at the visitor center and riding around to the airlock that the Discovery tour uses to exit the cave. Aaron gave us another briefing here, we put our gloves and knee pads on and went in through the airlock. We actually used the lower cave trail, which is pretty nice, until we got through the "ghost room" (more on that later), and further down just past the huge waterfall-like flowstone where they have benches for the Discovery tour. We left our extra pair of shoes off the trail here and started the actual Wild Cave tour. It only takes a few minutes to get to this point, and from here on it is off the lighted trail and into areas of the cavern with no trail and only the headlamps on your helmet for lighting.
|At the "Death Ledge"|
|The Titan Room|
We eventually made our way to the Titan Room, a large room with huge columns resembling Titan ballistic missiles. We paused at a ledge here to eat lunch, rest, and take in the beauty of the cave. It seemed to me that there was a whole lot of cave past the end of this room, and Aaron assured me there was. He has been down into the Titan Room and has explored some of the passages further on. New passages, huge rooms, and connections to other cave systems are still being found, but the National Forest Service has a policy of conservation and protection, not exploration, so very little exploration is done compared to Carlsbad or Mammoth caverns, which are operated by the National Park Service. Blanchard Springs is the only cavern system operated by the National Forest Service.
The guides on the Wild Cave tour are very experienced cavers that are trained to assess the capabilities of the people in each particular group and have bypass passages and different routes that can be used for folks that may struggle in a particular area. They have places where they can take people, and places where they cannot take people (apparently the other end of the Titan Room is a "not"). By this time, Aaron had assessed our small group as we utilized tenuous footholds, ledges, and slick areas, and had decided we were fit and competent enough to get "the works". Oh my, what a fun adventure. I'm used to climbing, hiking rough areas, and utilizing my skills as a champion "Ozark butt slider" on bushwhacks in wilderness areas, but this is different.
At one point we had to pull ourselves up and use our hands and feet to brace on walls and "spider crawl" down about 30 or 40 yards of a passage, eight or ten feet above the passage floor. If you have ever watched American Ninja Warrior on TV, this is similar to the "Jumping Spider" obstacle. I loved it. There was also a passage called "The Corkscrew" that you can probably envision, and at one point a choice of two narrow passages, one called "Ham Sandwich" and one called "The Birth Canal". I had my pack hung sling-style on my side, and I still had to take it off to get through, then have it passed forward to me.
|Small wooden placards with the names of Boy Scouts|
on early exploration. Good stewards of the cave,
they left these instead of damaging the cave wall.
After getting back to where we left our extra shoes, we changed into them to get up on the lighted trail and carried our boots. On the way out, Aaron gave us a really good tour and discussion of the best parts of the Discovery Tour, the giant flowstone and the Ghost room, a large room that is highly decorated like the Cathedral Room. He also pointed out a small hole at the top of a clay mound, which is a recently discovered passage into a room as large as the Ghost Room, and as highly decorated with formations. Aaron had obtained permission to take a couple of NFS employees into this room, called simply Ghost Room 2 after it had been charted and sampled by geologists and other scientists. While in Ghost Room 2, he noticed yet another small hole that had airflow out of it. Sticking his head and upper body into the opening, he found yet another large room about the same size with the same high level of fantastic formations. This Ghost Room 3 is now waiting on proper sampling and charting before anyone is actually allowed into it, so as not to contaminate it beforehand.
|The Ghost Room|
|Blanchard Springs Recreation Area|