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Cave Safety

A photo of people in a subway cave.
A photo of people in a subway cave.

Many caves are off limits because of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed millions of hibernating bats. The Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service request that cavers observe all cave closures and advisories, and avoid caves, mines or passages containing hibernating bats to minimize disturbance. Find out what you can do to help. 

Check with the local ranger district on the status of caves before exploring.

Exploring caves that are open can be fun and exciting, but can also be fraught with peril. Caves are inherently dangerous environments, with many hazards we are not accustomed to dealing with given our above ground experience. Preparation will help make your exploration more enjoyable.

Never go caving alone

  • A caving group should includes a minimum of four people and a maximum of eight.

  • Children should never explore caves without an adult.

  • If someone gets hurt, at least one person should stay with the injured person while two others go for help. 

  • Read all the information you can on a cave before going exploring. It will help you plan your day.

Tell someone where you're going and when you will return

  • As with all activities in the great outdoors, make a plan, share that with a responsible adult who is not going with you, then stick to it.

  • If your group has not returned within six hours after the designated time, that responsible adult should call the Forest Service or the local Sheriff's Office to report that you have not returned as designated.

Dress for success

  • Wear sturdy, ankle high boots to support your ankles, gloves for hand protection, and knee and elbow pads for crawling.

  • Wear layers of clothing so you can moderate your body temperature. Remember that cotton absorbs cold and water.

  • Wear a hard hat with a chin strap and attached light. Low ceilings are common even in short, easy caves.

  • If you plan to be part of a guided tour, check the forest or ranger district for information about appropriate clothing.

Carry the right equipment

  • Carry at least three light sources and enough spare parts, such as batteries, for each person. One light should be attached to your helmet to free up your hands and another should be a waterproof flashlight.

  • Candles and matches in a sturdy, waterproof case.

  • Carry a first-aid kit and know how to use it.

Don't forget food and water

  • Don't drink cave water. Bring enough water that it will last beyond the estimated length of your expedition.

  • Pack high-energy foods that can survive the tight confines of a cave.

  • Remember to never leave your trash in a cave. Take out what you bring in.

A photo of a bat cluster consisting of multiple bats on a cave celing
A photo of a bat cluster.

>Move with care

  • Do not run or jump in a cave. Plan each move carefully.

  • Do not enter a cave when there is rain predicted in the area. Cave often flood suddenly.

  • Never touch or damage stalactites or other cave formations. These take thousands of years to grow.

Look, don’t touch

  • Remember the Leave No Trace principles apply to caves, too.

  • Take photos and leave footprints only when necessary.

Additional Resources

The National Speleological Society has a extensive collection of free brochures

Remember: You are responsible for your safety and for the safety of those around you.