The Best Caves in North Dakota: Complete List

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

North Dakota, the Peace Garden State, is located in the upper Midwest. It was named after the indigenous Dakota Sioux. Despite being one of the larger states, its got one of the smallest populations, leading to vast open land with minimal inhabitants. Great prairies, plains, and farmland are to be expected in this region of the country, but there are caves in North Dakota as well.

However, we don’t want to oversell it – North Dakota does not have the quality of caves that you’d find in some of the other states, like Tennessee and Kentucky. Over here, the caves are modest, and even more temporary than the behemoths you might find elsewhere. Nonetheless, it’s still a scenic view from some of these locations, and you may ultimately end up going either way.

In this article, we’ll show you some of the best caves to be found in the state, so when you do visit North Dakota, you won’t miss out on the adventure.

Medicine Hole

The Medicine Hole Plateau is a narrow spot for locals and tourists to gaze at a mysterious opening in the ground. Native Americans were fascinated by this hole, and Indian folklore mentioned that the first buffalo emerged from the earth here. Another suggests that all life originated here.

Medicine Hole is a fissure that formed when a layer of rock broke away from the mountain. These layers are called strata, and this one is approximately 100 feet (30.5 m) long and less than 2 feet (0.6 m) wide. The cave itself is as high as 30 feet (9.1 m), and goes to about 70 feet (21.3 m) below the surface.

Today, cavers can easily go exploring, as the opening to the cave has been greatly widened. But be careful, it’s said that the Medicine Hole connects to a rattlesnake den located some 80 feet (24 m) away.

There are several similar caves to be found along the major buttes, but most are no bigger than about 10 feet (3.1 m) deep.

A drawing of the shape of Medicine Hole, one of the caves in North Dakota

Abandoned Coal Mines

An image of the opening to one of the abandoned coal mines in North Dakota.
The entrance to an abandoned coal mine.

While the caves in North Dakota are not large nor extensive, there are some abandoned coal mines that are still lurking underground. These mines stretch over large areas, perhaps making them the largest caves in the state.

They would certainly serve as an adventure for a caver, but we don’t recommend trying. They are incredibly unstable and dangerous today.

As these mines were being abandoned, miners went back to steal coal that had been left to serve as pillars for stability.

Over time, this led to collapses, which were affecting farmland, rendering it unusable.

One of these tunnels was about 900 feet long, and served as a source of shales that were used to create cement in the early 1900s. But the entrances to tunnels like these have long since been buried.

Keller Cave Hole 

Two separate holes are shown in the North Dakota farmland that became known as the Keller Cave or Caves.

Keller Cave, an accidental discovery in the 1970s, opened up on the Keller farm near Strasburg.

Since then, the hole has only grown, and the surface collapsing contributed to this. It extended 7 feet below the surface, and was reported at least 20 feet long.

Another hole also formed 50 feet away in recent years, shown in the picture on the right

Due to the fact that it is part of a glacial drift, it suggests that this cave formed as an erosional pipe, but it remains uncertain.

Washburn Cave

This cave is located about 30 miles north of Bismarck, and was discovered in the late 1800s by Isaac Clark and Isaac Ross. They reported a cave of about 100 feet (30.5 m) in length, with a passageway in the middle. Beads and notched stones were strewn about, suggesting that horses had been tethered here by Native Americans.

In addition, an inscription was found that read:

Antoine Frenore

July 24, 1851

Born 1824

600 Lodges Have Camped Here

However, when visiting this cave, some reported that its size and some of these details may have been exaggerated. There is not much information to be found regarding this cave today.

Bear Den Cave

Bear Den Cave is 3 miles south of Walhalla, in Pembina County, North Dakota. Found between a spring and Eagle Lake, it was named by people who felt it was an actual bear’s den. In reality, George Emmerling had dug this cave out of the hillside to find rocks for a mill he had been constructing. This was back in 1882.

Bismarck Cave

Bismarck Cave was reported to exist back in mid 1904. A freight house in Bismarck was located along the river bank then, and the cave was discovered accidentally.

A team and wagon, being loaded with fruit from a railroad car, suddenly sank 8 feet into the ground. During the early days of Bismarck, it was reported that a band of cattle rustlers had used this cave. As it was explored, several old weapons and even ammunition were found, but there was no other sign of life.

There is no further information available about this cave.

Hideout Cave

Hideout Cave is found in northern Billings County, named back in World War 1. Two men hid from the local draft board here, surviving on wild game. They had supplies hauled to them from a friend in the town of Gorham, and supposedly lived here for 1.5 years. After this, they left for Canada, and reportedly enlisted in the Canadian army.

It’s possible that this cave was destroyed since then.

Lion’s Cave

This is a cave that was named due to a pair of mountain lions back in the late 1800s. These lions made their den here, harassing nearby cattle for years. However, very little information about this cave exists today.

Bear Cave

Bear Cave formed through wind and rain carving out a hole in the rock in East Rainy Butte. It’s one of the larger caves created this way in the state, with a bit of a difficult entry. The rock edge is steep, and serves as a home to various wildlife in the area. Racoons, skunks, and porcupines are a few you might see here.

Some initials are also found here, proving that a few others have made it inside safely.

An image of the natural landscape viewable from the inside of Bear Cave.

Snow Cave

In North Dakota, there are some snow caves and ice caves that form due to melting snow and early spring rains. Snow Cave is allegedly a chamber that formed when sandstone blocks broke off from the caprock of Black Butte, an extinct stratovolcano. A stratovolcano is a conical volcano built up by many layers (strata) of hardened lava and tephra.

Unfortunately, according to locals, the falling rocks and erosion over the years have completely destroyed Snow Cave. What created the cave has led to its demise. In addition, the continual falling of sandstone and erosion which will undoubtedly never end, will eventually wipe out the ice caves as well.

One day, the entire butte will no longer exist.

North Dakota Ice Caves

Known as the O’Brien Ice Caves or the Wonderful Ice Caves, these caves were discovered in North Dakota in the early 1900s.

As blocks of sandstone fell from the ridge cap, some of them stopped at various angles juxtaposed with other blocks or the cliff edge, creating massive voids and chambers that are now caves.

These chambers are well-insulated. The water that gets inside freezes in the winter, and remains frozen until several months later. In fact, back in the 1920s, a man named William Brennen took advantage of this. He would put butchered beef in the caves as a way of freezing a large quantity, which would stay fresh through the summer.

The largest ice cave measures about 30 (9.1 m) feet long and 10 feet high (3.1 m).


As you can see, North Dakota doesn’t have a whole lot to offer when it comes to caving. Some of these locations are so remote and undocumented, that images don’t even exist of them online. In addition, some may no longer exist today, due to the constant erosion and rockfall.

The natural open land and prairies in North Dakota are definitely a sight to behold, though. Whether you end up finding one or more of these caves will be up to you, but at least you have a short guide to go by now.

If you’re looking for some more adventure nearby, check out the caves in the neighboring states next:

Montana Caves

South Dakota Caves

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