NAGT > Teaching Resources > Teaching in the Field > Field Trip Examples > Illinois Caverns Field Trip

Illinois Caverns Field Trip

Kathleen Bower, Eastern Illinois University

Intended Audience: Middle school through undergraduate students.


Waterloo, Illinois

Middle School students tend to finish the caving experience in less than two hours. Undergraduates take three to four hours.


This is a self-guided caving experience. The trip gives hands-on experiences with stactites, flow stone, fossils, water erosion, limestone, and groundwater.


There have been groups from middle school to undergraduates taken on this field trip. Group size has been up to 25 people. Some have no geologic background. The trip is moderately rigourous as participants are sometimes in water to the chest. Sometimes participants are crawling around, over, and under rocks. Participants should not be scared of dark or of enclosed spaces. Steep stairs must be climbed at the beginning and end of the caving experience.This trip is not recommended for students under 10 years of age without close supervision.

Before the field trip the students will have learned about dissolution weathering of limestone and dolostone by slightly acidic natural rainwater. The students are also briefed about safety issues when caving: students must bring three flashlights and a hardhat, they must not remove anything from the cave but their own trash, cave temperatures are about 58 F, if there is heavy rainfall nearby then water level start to rise and students should leave the cave quickly, students must not drink the water.


This experience demonstrates the features of underground caves. It illustrates dissolution of limestone, formation of flowstones, groundwater processes, and sinkholes. It shows that geology is readily accessible. It is a moderately difficult experience which also increases confidence of the participants.


Dr. Bower in a tight spot on the field trip.

Notes and Tips:

Illinois State Natural Area
4369 G Road, Waterloo, IL 62298, 618-458-6699

  • Group leaders are required to read and sign a cave exploration permit before entering the cave. Permits are available at the cave or by contacting the Site Interpreter.
  • Illinois Caverns hours: 4/16-10/14 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 10/15-4/15 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Leader - call ahead to the park office before you make your trip to verify it is open). This experience has free admission.
  • Groups must be out of the cave two hours before closing.
  • Groups larger than 25 are required to register in advance.
  • Participants will probably get wet and muddy. There is a changing room to change into dry clothes after caving.
  • There is no lighting in the cave. The trip in the cave takes about 2 hours for middle school students and longer for college students.
  • Middle school children have participated on this field trip with no safety issues known.
  • Instructors should check out the cave for suitability before taking a group.
Park rules:
  • Hard hats with chin straps are required on EVERY spelunker. Bicycle helmets are acceptable.
  • Three working flashlights (REQUIRED), easily carried.
  • You may not disturb or remove any natural, geological, or biological material from the cave or its surroundings. This is Illinois State law.
  • DO NOT GO past park barricades or past where you can easily fit on main channel of cave stream. Safety issues.
  • This is a semi dangerous activity (like hiking in difficulty level). The cave is dark and wet. You will be climbing over and under rocks. Some of the surfaces are slippery. Watch where you put your feet; watch what may hit your head.
  • Very rarely, the cave water level rises high rapidly. It also historically goes down rapidly. If you cannot make it out due to rapidly rising water, wait for the water to drain and then hike out. (cave closes when high water is expected).
  • Plan to walk in cool water anywhere from ankle to chest high. Do not swim in water over chest high. Do not swim into previously unexplored areas because you do not know what is ahead of you. Do not drink the water or expose open wounds to the water.
  • Watch for cave features as you walk. You have to correctly find your way back. A correct signal system is to pile three rocks in the correct tunnel marking your way back. Don't disturb anyone else's signals. Do not shine a flashlight into the eyes of approaching groups.
  • You must have three buddies. It is for your protection and theirs. One buddy will stay with you in case of accident and two will go for help. If you want to move in larger groups, it is okay, but never be without your three buddies. Do not switch buddies during the cave exploration.
  • Don't enter any part of the cave that the instructor would not fit into. He/she could not come in if help is necessary.
  • Pack out anything you bring in. Be back at the meeting place at the appointed time. No one wants to come looking for you.
  • Carry water in plastic containers and drink it to prevent dehydration.
  • The cave and water are at about 58 F. Wear enough clothing to prevent hypothermia.

Assessment and Evaluation:

Students fill out a very short questionnaire after the field trip.
All students enjoy seeing cave geologic and biologic features in person.

Materials and Handouts:

Field Guide (Microsoft Word 851kB Aug15 06)


Illinois Caverns State Natural Area website