a peek inside the fishbowl

24 Aug, 2011

I caved! (A bit about Bonnechere Caves in Eganville and what we saw there)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|Ottawa|travel talk

I have a backlog of things to tell you, but first I want to write about a recent trip we took out to the Bonnechere Caves outside of Renfrew.

It was on our List of Things to Do This Summer, and since we were looking for something unique to do on a Sunday (the last day of Mark’s holidays) we decided it would be a good time to go spelunking.

Sidebar: little did I realize that as I get older, my ability to deal with things like fairground rides, people who pick their teeth, and small dark enclosed spaces have dwindled to an all time low. I guess I’m turning into an old lady! More on that in a bit.

The Bonnechere caves are a scenic 90-minute drive from Ottawa, and claustrophobia aside, it’s worth the drive. I was so glad we took the plunge (no pun intended).

Bonnechere Caves, Eganville

This was the scene when we arrived. I don’t think it’s normally this busy. There was a cycling event going on and I think a lot of the cars belonged to the cyclists converging there.

Parking lot outside Bonnechere Caves

We bought our tickets. Tours leave every 15 minutes or so and ours was going to begin very soon so we went to use the facilities before heading underground. Plug your nose! (I had to laugh at myself. The three of us girls went into one restroom and the girls started gagging. I snapped at them and asked them to stop, because making gagging sounds in someone’s lavatory is rude. But, whatever.) The place is built in an environmentally sensitive area so their septic system isn’t what we’re used to. There’s a sign up in the restroom explaining the whole story and I debated mentioning it here, but hey, someone might want to get some warning. :)

We escaped the lavatory and made our way to the beginning of the tour. It’s a guided tour (unlike Lusk Caves, which I wrote about here). I wasn’t sure if I was keen on this fact – I like going through a place at my own speed – but in the end I was very glad it was a guided tour. We learned so much about the Bonnechere Caves!

The tour began outside. Our guide talked about the significance of the area and gave us the rundown of its geological history, which is pretty amazing, even if you’re not a science nerd (like some people I know). The area used to be a tropical sea about 500 million years ago, long before the age of the dinosaurs. There is a lot of evidence showing that the area was abundant with sea creatures:


Carved by water in limestone over millions of years, there are tunnels, stalactites, and many fossils… and thanks to our guide, there were many great stories to be heard about how the caves were discovered and turned into what it is today. (The story involves an enterprising fellow, a rubber dingy, a rope and a flashlight. Gah!)

The Bonnechere Caves are a very easy walk, and are very accessible. It’s about a 60-second walk to the start of the caves:

No smoking

… and a small flight of stairs going down. There’s no climbing over slippery rocks either:

Going down into the caves

The Bonnechere Caves would normally be full of water, but the water was blocked off by a dam and is now pumped out of part of it. Inside the caves (again, unlike Lusk) there is a wooden boardwalk throughout, which makes it an easy stroll for visitors of all ages.

It was challenging to get a good pic without people’s heads getting in the way, but this is what it looks like inside:

Inside the Bonnechere Caves

Here’s a different view.

It really is a great little explore, and the learning is fun. The stalactites pictured below are formed at the rate of one cubic inch every 150 years. It’s an odd feeling to be in the presence of something that was here long before we were, and will remain there long after we are gone.


I had two noteworthy moments during our time in the caves, which proved why I will never amount to much of a cave explorer.

1) We had the option of taking a side passage. Most people took this option. (The girls certainly did. They were the first to go!) I entered at an angle so I couldn’t see what it lay ahead. We were told that the adults would have to bend at the neck a little to get through. That was an understatement. It was dark and cramped, and much narrower around the head, getting narrower as we went. By the end of it I was totally hunched over, trying to get though. And Mark, who was behind me, wasn’t reassuring AT ALL. I had to catch my breath because I started to panic a bit. HELLO CLAUSTROPHOBIA!

2) At one point our guide thought it’d be fun to turn out the lights for 30 seconds so we could get an idea of (a) how dark it was in there and (b) what it must have been like for the first guy who explored the cave and made it visitable. I didn’t think I’d have an issue with this. I haven’t been afraid of the dark for a long time! Ha ha! Well, I hate to admit this in public, but it was actually pretty scary. The dark was the blackest I’d ever been in. We were totally engulfed. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. By the end of (the very long) 30-seconds I’d had quite enough.

But don’t let those things deter you! I am still really glad we went. Honestly truly. Mark and the girls had no issues whatsoever, and there were some really young kids who were part of our group… maybe even as young as 3 or 4. Yes, four-year olds are braver than I am!

Soon it was time to depart:

The tour is over

Here’s a shot looking back from whence we came:

Outside the cave exit

There is an easy little trail right outside that goes around a sinkhole (a hole in the earth’s surface that leads to the cave), which was neat to see:

The sinkhole

There are other entrances to the Bonnechere Caves off the river side, and it’s all very scenic in its own right:

Bonnechere River

Outside Bonnechere Caves

I have a few extra photos on my Flickr page, and you can view them here.

As you can see, it was pretty amazing. Tired and hungry we left Bonnechere and grabbed lunch in a tiny restaurant on the way home called the Top O’ Morning Cafe on Hwy 60 in the town of Douglas. (I recommend the fish and chips!)

If you’re keen to see a bit more about the Bonnechere Caves, check out this informative YouTube video I found online. Do note that there were no bats in the cave during our visit! Phew. :)

What about you? I’d be curious to know who out there would make a hardy cave explorer and who would not. :)

6 Responses to "I caved! (A bit about Bonnechere Caves in Eganville and what we saw there)"

1 | kaitlin

August 24th, 2011 at 12:18 pm


The Caves are one of my favourite rainy-day things to do when at my in-laws’ cottage! Glad you enjoyed them (for the most part).

2 | Ginger

August 24th, 2011 at 3:19 pm


I love caving! Maybe that is the science teacher that is left behind in me. But Geology has always been my favorite and I have visited many caves in Texas and Virginia and I even went real spelunking in a Missouri Cave. That was the only cave that wasn’t a true tourist attraction and we were crawling through the smallest space on our bellies. It was awesome and terrifying all at the same time. And coming out of that cave all muddy was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done!

I love caves and I plan to make them a part of as many family trips as I possibly can. I hope my boys like them as much as I do!

Glad you liked it, minus the total darkness thing (which is bit unnerving coupled with the dire stories of going blind within a few days of being in complete darkness!).

3 | Ryan

August 25th, 2011 at 11:04 am


I love heading down into caves. When I was in Taiwan, there were actually creepy-crawlies that only lived in the lightless environment. I may have pictures of them around somewhere…

The guide issue is a hard one. I think I’m similar to you – I generally enjoy having my own time, but there are definitely times that it has been worth it to have a guide, especially when you get them to yourself and get the best of both worlds! The difficult part is sussing out the good from the bad – I’ve had tours where the guide basically reads off the the information blips at each station. Boo-urns.

I love that absolute blackness. Underground is about the only place you can get that feeling of gravity and amazement and weight and yes, fear, I think, when you have tonnes and tonnes of earth above your head.

4 | andrea

August 30th, 2011 at 10:34 am


Thanks guys. This is one of those trips that the kids remember forever and help boost their self-confidence. I am so glad I was able to hold the claustrophobia at bay and make it all the way through!!

6 | Cool things to do with dad on Father’s Day… in Ottawa! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

June 11th, 2013 at 5:05 am


[…] it was pretty incredible. And if you’re really focused on the spelunking idea, note that the cave at Bonnechere is worth a visit too. Dad will love it. (At least ours […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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