Don’t bother with the measuring tape! Turn your light off, sit down and measure the vastness of the Cathedral Room within Lick Creek Cave through the experience of your senses. After hours of crawling in a maze of corridors, you will know immediately when you have arrived at the Cathedral Room. The musty air becomes fresh and crisp. The response of your reverberating footsteps is considerably delayed. Your ears tingle as they search the void for new, distant sounds. Your soul expands and contentment floods your mind as you tune into the distant, harmonious trickling of water. You have entered the largest cavern room in Montana.
The time to visit Lick Creek Cave is now. A couple years ago, a restoration project, led by the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto, the University of Montana Cave Club and the Big Fork High School Cave Club, cleaned out the trash and graffiti that filled the cave. They did an exceptional job, so respect the earth’s beauty if you do explore caves.
To get to Lick Creek Cave, drive to Monarch, MT and find Logging Creek Road. To prevent further destruction of the cave, its location is hidden and road markers have been removed. However, the turn to Logging Creek Road is about 3 miles from Monarch towards Great Falls on Highway 89. The road begins as soon as you leave Monarch and arrive onto a large, clear plateau. The road heads west, directly opposite from Highway 427 that leads to Raynesford. Logging Creek Road is a dirt pathway that narrows considerably and is steep in some areas. A small car could get to Lick Creek Cave however, vehicles with high ground clearance would be preferred. There is gas available from a run down pump at a local bar in Monarch. Yet, I would highly recommend bringing more than enough gas. I found out the hard way when I got charged nearly $5 per gallon.
Follow Logging Creek Road for about 12 miles. Drive down the mountain, and cross Belt Creek. You will have to share the road with some true Montanan ranchers and their oversized machines. These ancient cow chasers sport large, toothless smiles with eyes that gleam as if they know exactly your intents. If you get lost, ask one of the experienced locals as they may just be Charon, your guide to the entrance of Hades.
Approximately 12 miles along Logging Creek Road, there is a junction that is numbered with 67. This is Lick Creek Road. Follow that road for about 2 miles. You will cross a cattle guard, and the unmarked trail will be to the left of the road. Hike up the trail for about a half a mile and 500 feet elevation gain. The trail leads directly to the entrance to the cave.
Ropes and a ladder have been installed within the cave. A harness would make the journey in the cave safer, however, it is not needed. There are some deep pits in the cave, so be cautious. Use the installed ropes like Theseus to find your way through the labyrinth of passages. The route to the Cathedral Room is fun and mentally challenging. Occasionally, the correct passage down is hidden. However, some of the remaining graffiti provides useful directions. You can find many arrows that say IN or OUT. Remember to bring many flashlights!
The Cathedral Room is at the end of the cave. There is a forty foot drop to the bottom of the room from the incoming passage but, a surprisingly sturdy wooden ladder is secured to the wall. The room measures to be 405 feet by 465 feet and contains a huge pile of breakdown. The entire cave has 2,741 feet of passage and reaches a depth of 238 feet. There are many small speleothems such as popcorn, flowstone, and miniature stalactites. Speleothems are poorly developed in most caves in this region of Montana. However, the vastness of the largest room in Montana is spectacular. Overall this cave complex is immense in size, moderately easy to explore and fun! Enjoy!
If you are interested in joining a group of skilled spelunkers to explore more caves, check out Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto: http://nrmg.org
Also check out the University of Montana Cave Club’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/umcaveclub/
If you are interested in exploring more caves, check out Caves of Montana by Newell Campbell. This book is difficult to find and was published by the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology in Butte, Mt in 1978. It provides the locations and descriptions of over 300 documented caves in Montana. A couple copies are available at the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library: http://www.lib.umt.edu