Warsaw Caves

Warsaw Caves Conservation Area


Useful Information

Location: Northeast of Peterborough. From Petersborough take Division Road, Hwy 4 or Hwy 7 east, then turn north on Hwy 38 through Warsaw. Hwy 4 north 3.2 km from Warsaw, turn right.
(44.462886, -78.127876)
Open: Park: Mid-MAY to Thanksgiving Sun-Thu 9-16:30, Fri-Sat, Statutory Holiday 9-20.
Caves: 15-APR to 01-DEC.
[2020]
Fee: Park fee: Adults CAD 7, Children (3-18) CAD 4, Car CAD 17.
Bus CAD 80, Bus Passenger CAD 2.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave ExplainGlacial Mill
Light: bring torch
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Daniel Francis Brunton (1990): A Biological Inventory of the Warsaw Caves Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, Peterborough County, Ontario, Volume 90, Issue 2 of Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Open File Ecological Report, Volume 9002 of Open file ecological report. ISBN 0772975175, 9780772975171, 76pp.
Address: Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground, 289 Caves Road, Warsaw, Township of Douro-Dummer, ON K0L 3A0, Tel: +1-705-652-3161, Free: 1-877-816-7604, Fax: +1-705-745-7488. E-mail:
Otonabee Conservation, 250 Milroy Drive, Peterborough, K9H 7M9, Tel: +1-705-745-5791, Fax: +1-705-745-7488. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1962 property puchased.
1964 Park opened to the public.

Description

The Warsaw Caves are seven small caves, between 40 m and 91 m long. The caves are almost horizontal and very easy to visit, but mostly not high enough to stand upright. Although not very difficult or dirty, we recommend old clothes, sturdy boots or rubber boots, helmet and headlamp if available. Gloves are a good idea for the crawling. Headlamps are sold at the gatehouse, if you forgot to bring a lamp.

The Warsaw Caves are named after the nearby village of Warsaw, Ontario. Their location is protected by the Warsaw Caves Conservation Area, an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest which is operated by the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority.. It offers 15 km of hiking trails, a 52-site campground, 3 group campsites, a beach and swimming area, and canoeing. One trail is named Cave Trail after the caves, but it seems it does not really lead to the caves, at least the caves are not that far away. They are actually located right at the parking lot.

There are several strange theories on the formation of the caves on the web, so we do our best to explain it correctly. The whole area was covered by a thick glacier during the last cold phase, which started 120,000 years ago and ended approximately 12,000 years ago. Up to 3 km of ice pressed on the surface, which worked like a scraper and sanded everything down with the mixture of blocks and gravel on the bottom of the ice, while slowly moving southwards. When the cold phase or glacial ended and the current interglacial started, there was a lot of melting water from the ice, which rewrote the surface of northern America completely. It formed a huge lake to the west called Lake Algonquin which drained through Warsaw to the also long gone Lake Iroquois.

So far It's what all Canadians know very well. But here near Warsaw is a small patch of limestone, which had cracks. Some of those cracks were probably caused by the ice, first the enormous pressure, than the rather abrupt release, which opened existing cracks and probably caused new ones. The cracks were widened by the water and caves created, mostly through erosional processes. So those caves are very young, only 12,000 years old. The cave formation started when the melting water started to flow across the limestone at the end of the climate change, when most of the glacier was already gone. The development was quite fast while there were still large amounts of melting water and then slowed down to its current speed.

Erosion by rivers forms typical structures, scallops and dolly tubs, gorges and meanders. The dolly tubs are locally called rock mills or kettles, which sounds far more scientific. Its simply the result of a rock which tumbles in circles in an eddy of flowing water. This drills a sort of borehole into the rock. At the end you have a circular shaft in the rock with a flat floor, or sometimes with "child" rock mills.

The caves are located inside a patch of forest, and many are dry. But the Indian River flowing through the limestone does something quite typical: it flows underground through numerous parallel channels in the limestone and reappears after 175 m. For some reason the people concentrate on the limestone caves, while they ignore the loosing and reappearing river completely. Obviously it is possible to enter those river caves and gorges at times of low water level, probably autumn and winter, but it is definitely not dry inside and fun only for cavers. And it might be rather dangerous most of the time. Nevertheless we would recommend a look at the swallow holes and the resurgences, which go by the name Warsaw Caves Falls.

The fact that many caves are dry now is explained by the isostatic rebound of the bedrock due to its release by the vanishing weight. This is obviously nonsense. The isostatic rebound is like an elevator which lifts the whole area of the former glacier, in this case Canada and much of the northern U.S.A.. Its like putting a model railway into an elevator, the trains will use the same tracks if they are in the second level. A landscape is drained by rivers, and the level of the water depends on the amount of water and how deep the rivers cut into the bedrock.

The caves are open without restrictions, except for the park open hours, but there are no guided tours. You explore them on your own. However, the Visitor Center helps with preparation, and it is a good idea to tell them that you go and when you intend to return. If you fail to check in they will have a look. The provide a Spelunkers Guide to the Caves with a list of all caves and a map. As some caves are used by bats for hibernation they should not be visited during winter. They are actually closed for this reason between December and mid April.

Several small caves can be reached by marked footpaths.

The geological history of the area begins 10,000 years ago, when the last of the glacial meltwaters surged down the Indian River on the way to Lake Iroquois. The level of the glacial spillway was at least 14 m above that of the present water level. The tremendous flow found its way through the crevices in the limestone bedrock. The pounding gradually created large underground stream channels and caves. The action of the rushing waters in the channel created whirlpools, which captured pebbles and boulders with its abrasive spinning action. These materials were gradually ground into the limestone bedrock creating numerous „potholes” or „kettles” which can be seen along the marked trails.


Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.