Cave of the Bells

Area Status: Open
This area is Open
 

The Cave of the Bells is a fascinating and fragile underground wilderness which exerts its strongest appeal on Forest visitors who enjoy cave exploration.  Though this subterranean gallery of rock, known for its unique and varied suite of minerals and formations, has been thousands of years in the forming, it is nevertheless extremely fragile.  A few moments of thoughtlessness here could cause immense amounts of damage.  For that reason, and because so many similar areas have been damaged by vandalism, the Cave of the Bells is locked and gated.  Keys are available (for a deposit) at the Forest Supervisor's Office in Tucson for those who wish to visit this unique area.

The Cave of the Bells is located in Sawmill Canyon at the end of a four-wheel drive road on the eastern slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains.  Lake Tunnel, one of its most notable and accessible passages, leads through a large room to a permanent lake far underground.  The lake is a total of 80 meters below the entrance level.  Visitors to this area notice an unusual temperature gradient.  Instead of getting cooler as the cave gets deeper, the temperature becomes noticeably warmer.  The lake itself has been measured  at 76 degrees, nine degrees warmer than the air at the entrance.  For this reason, it is believed that the water in the lake is heated by sources far below.

At a Glance

Fees No fee for this recreation area, but there is a $100 deposit due when you pick up the keys to the cave.  Deposit is refunded when the keys are returned.  For additional Cave of the Bells information or to make reservations, contact the Supervisor's Office at (520) 388-8300.
Information Center: Nogales Ranger District   Ph. 520-281-2296

General Information

Directions:

Starting at I-10 and Exit 281, head south on AZ Hwy 83 (known as S. Sonoita Hwy) for approximately 20 miles until you come to the Gardner Canyon Road (FR92).  Head west (turn right) on this main dirt road for approximately 6.5 miles.  You will pass a private horse ranch on your left and continue down a wash and up a hill. At the junction, turn right on FR4084.  The road gets rough here and is not recommended for two-wheel drive vehicles. After going down into a second wash and up the hill, the road curves to the east and heads north.  There will be another junction. Head right on FR4085, cross Sawmill Canyon and continue 0.4 miles until the road forks.  Turn left onto FR4086, then go 0.4 of a mile. There is a camping area and a sign for Cave of the Bells. Then, just walk the trail behind the sign for 50 yards to the cave entrance. 


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https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coronado/recarea/?recid=77768