If you’re looking for a quick adventure, I recommend visiting Donaldson Cave in Spring Mill State Park, just east of Mitchell. The park sits on the Mitchell Karst Plain in southern Indiana and is home to several caves and sinkholes. Unfortunately, the guided boat tour through the Twin Caves is closed at the moment (thank you, COVID-19), but Donaldson Cave is open.
Spring Mill State Park is part of the Indiana State Nature Passport! Check-in and explore participating locations throughout the state to earn great prizes! The more you visit, the more you win. This program is 100% free, but property entrance fees apply when you visit. Learn More.
As a word of caution, Donaldson Cave isn’t open for spelunking without authorization and training. More to the point, do not enter the cave unless you are with a guide, have experience, have registered in advance, have followed all state training, and have received authorization from the Indiana DNR. The IDNR has specific restrictions for those wanting to enter the cave. Visitors in the cave are also in water the entire time, and in some sections, the water is so deep that swimming is required. If you’re interested in this kind of experience, contact the IDNR well before your trip. The cave is also prone to flooding, so access is routinely denied in inclement weather. Finally, the IDNR has closed the cave on occasion in an attempt to protect bats from white nose syndrome. Decontamination procedures are still in place.
BUT…for those visitors looking for a fun adventure above ground, you can still enjoy the beautiful trails to and from the cave and its entrance. The cave’s opening is picturesque (it’s legit beautiful) and sits elevated on a shaded hill as cool water pours out of the cave down into the stream below. I spent a magical 20 minutes wading in the entrance of Donaldson Cave as I took pictures. It was definitely worth it. The water is perfectly clear and cold, which was refreshing on a hot day.
Donaldson Cave (also known as Shawnee Cave, or Donaldson-Bronson Cave) is the last cave of the Shawnee drainage system. The water, which begins in the southeast of the park, travels through the cave system. When it enters Bronson Cave, the stream flows through 8,000 feet of underground passage before discharging out the entrance of Donaldson Cave.
Visitors to the cave’s entrance will travel through the Donaldson Cave Nature Preserve, which is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Indiana, in my humble opinion. We took Trail 3 to the cave, which was 2.5 miles of fairly rugged terrain. After we were done at the cave’s entrance, we hiked along the stream on Trail 4, which was also pretty rugged but took us through some beautiful spots in the park.
Spring Mill State Park has other great amenities for those looking to make a day trip out of the experience. Along with camping, hiking, boating, and fishing, visitors can also visit the Virgil Grissom Memorial, the nature center, the Hamer Pioneer Cemetery, and the Pioneer Village. There’s also a pool, but I recommend wading the mouth of Donaldson Cave to cool down. In non-COVID years, the park also offers guided boat tours through Twin Caves.
As with any outdoor adventure, bring sunscreen and bug spray. The best trails in the park aren’t easy, so make sure you bring the appropriate hiking boots and plenty of drinking water.