I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past the weathered billboard for Olentangy Indian Caverns on 23 just north of Polaris. Many times I’ve even said “oh that’s right, we really need to check that out,” while driving past. And I knew the place was literally two miles from my house! But it still took me until this summer to visit.
I think it took me so long to visit the caverns because I honestly expected the place to be kind of lame or schlocky – otherwise, I would have heard people raving about it, right?
Well, prepare to hear me rave. Olentangy Indian Caverns is a sleeper – a fantastic little unexpected treasure right here in northern Columbus/ southern Delaware. It’s a lovely piece of property (38 rolling acres) with room for running, playing, nature trail exploring, climbing and picnicking. There are tons of spots for cute, quaint or even gorgeous photo opps. There are fun paid activities like miniature golf and gem mining (which I’ll get to in just a moment). And then, of course, there are the caverns themselves – millions of years old, dark and cool, and able to be visited almost year-round. What fun!
Our visit to the Olentangy Indian Caverns property in July was such a huge success that we’ll be sure to visit again before summer is over. After all, we didn’t even go down into the caverns on our first visit, and I’m dying to check them out after perusing this map! Olentangy Indian Caverns is open seven days a week through October 31st and truly does seem to have something for everyone.
For this visit, we decided to focus our attention on the gem mining. I had done gem mining with Zoe (and blogged about it) last summer in the Hocking Hills. While her older cousin loved it at the time, Zoe wasn’t all that enthralled at the age of two. What a difference this year at three! She did all the work herself, from pouring the gravel into the tray, to “panning” the tray in the water and then picking out the pretty stones and placing them in our plastic bag. She felt such a sense of accomplishment and had so much fun playing in the water. She also loves all of her “gems” and rocks that she mined!
Sure, maybe it’s staged and not “real” gem mining, but it’s still a great activity for little ones. The technique is the same used in historical gem mining and panning for gold. The water is cool and the sluice is shaded by trees, which makes it a great activity for hot summer days. In addition, there are both gross and fine motor skills involved in carrying the tray, panning it in the stream, and picking out the gemstones. Later, Zoe had fun sorting, organizing and categorizing all of the stones by color and type (we used an old plastic egg carton – perfect for this).
Costs vary depending upon which mining bag you choose:
- $4.50 for a small mining bag (contains a variety of precious and semi-precious uncut, unpolished gems)
- $6.50 for an arrowhead bag (contains gems plus at least one handcrafted arrowhead)
- $8.50 for emerald bag (contains several uncut, unpolished emeralds and other gems)
- $8.50 for a fossil bag (contains several varieties of real fossils, such as amber and shark teeth)
We chose the emerald bag and got about an hour’s worth of entertainment out of the mining (including walking around the gift shop and exploring the property a bit), plus at least another hour’s worth of fun at home afterwards to count, sort and organize our pretty gems, crystals and rocks. If we had brought lunch with us, we would have stayed longer and done the cavern tour as well. As it is, we’re happy to go back again!
I still can’t believe this awesome gem (yes, I went there) is just two miles from my house.
Have you discovered any terrific hidden treasures in your backyard lately? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.