Henderson Park Cave Access
In late 2022, the caves located in Henderson Park (Washington County) were closed due to a number of concerns and issues. In September 2023, the Indiana Karst Conservancy (IKC) entered into an access Agreement with the City of Salem and The Nature Conservancy to restore and coordinate visitation to the park’s caves. This partnering provides a systematic way to visit the caves, provide guidance for safe visits, minimize impact to natural resources, and monitor usage. While the IKC is responsible for coordinating access, ultimately the success of the Agreement depends upon each cave visitor following the rules in order to assure these caves remain open.
This webpage describes the process to schedule a trip to the caves within the park (primarily Mill Cave, Middle Cave, and Waterfall Cave). While geared primarily towards organized cavers (those belonging to the National Speleological Society and local NSS chapters), other groups and individuals are accommodated as appropriate. Working with non-NSS recreational cavers expands their appreciation for the cave’s resources and develops the skills required for safe caving.
The process for obtaining permission to visit the caves within Henderson Park is as follows:
- Groups wishing to arrange a caving trip should contact the IKC's designated Access Coordinator [Scott Frosch, HendersonParkCaves@gmail.com, 317-250-9535].
- The Access Coordinator will evaluate the group's experience and qualifications, explain the specifics of each cave, and assist the group in selecting the appropriate cave (and if not one of the Henderson Park caves, other opportunities private, public, or commercial caves within Indiana).
- If a cave trip is approved, each member of the group should complete the on-line White-nose Syndrome Training Module, read/execute the Henderson Park Caves Release and Waiver of Liability Agreement form, and return the signed forms (preferably electronically) to the Access Coordinator. All forms for the group should be received by the coordinator at least 4 days prior to the trip.
- After all the forms have been received, the Access Coordinator will provide final instructions, parking information, and directions to the cave(s).
Cave-specific information and visitation rules:
Mill Cave - The entrance to Mill Cave is about five feet high and eight feet wide and requires wading in ankle-deep water. About 120 feet inside is a small network of side passages up and to the right. The main passage contains few formations and terminates at an eight-foot waterfall issuing from a choked passage. Access to the upper level is possible through several openings in the ceiling near the end of the lower level passage. The upper level back-tracks in a nice walking passage some 300 feet to a crawlway. The crawlway soon opens to a stoop-crawl passage that continues to a “Y”. The right branch opens into a room 30 by 20 feet. The left is a small solution tube two feet by one foot and 20 feet long. This opens into a walking passage containing a second stream. The 600-foot passage ends in mud fill with water seeping under a ledge. The total length of the cave is approximately 3,600 feet. The cave should not be entered if there is a likelihood of measurable rain.
Middle Cave - The entrance to Middle Cave is located under an overhanging ledge. A stream emerges from the entrance. The narrow passage leads to a small, six-foot waterfall into a small, round room. The passage beyond this waterfall is about ten feet wide and four feet high with a water floor. This passage leads for 300 feet to a 20-foot waterfall that pours into a pool in the center of a good-sized room. There is a 400-foot side passage in this section. Access to the remainder of the cave requires a climb up the 20-foot waterfall. In order to use a rigid ladder you must have one that folds to no more than 10 feet in length in order to negotiate the turn in the small room before the six-foot waterfall. It is possible to boost one member of the party up to a six-foot-high ledge from which he can climb the remainder of the waterfall and rig a cable ladder. A 50-foot rope will be required to rig the ladder to an obvious natural anchor. The passage beyond the second waterfall is larger, some 20 by 20 feet, containing one section with some formations. There are deep potholes in the floor of this passage, deep enough to break a leg for the unwary. Entrance to the Mountain Room is possible through two routes off the main passage. This room is 100 feet across with a pile of breakdown in the middle sitting under a perfectly symmetrical dome. Across from the Mountain Room is a narrow, twisting passage leading to a fair-sized dome. The main passage continues on for 400 to 500 feet to end in breakdown. The total length of the cave is approximately 4,200 feet. The cave should not be entered if there is a likelihood of measurable rain.
Waterfall Cave - The entrance to Waterfall Cave is located at the head of a dry ravine. The first 300 feet of passage is walking, averaging eight feet high by five feet wide. It opens into the waterfall room. Water pours out of an upper passage into a crevice in the floor to eventually resurge in the valley floor. Access to the upper level requires a rigid ladder at least 25 feet long. This climb should not be attempted without proper experience and with great care. The upper passage is typically meandering stream passage some eight feet high by four feet wide on the average with several speleothems along the way. The cave eventually opens into a fair-sized passage 10 feet by 15 feet which leads to a water crawl. Beyond the crawlway, the passage narrows and ultimately ends in breakdown. The total length of the cave is approximately 5,600 feet. The cave should not be entered if there is a likelihood of measurable rain.