First posted on 06-07-2011
Don’t let the name fool you. At War Eagle Cavern on northwest Arkansas’s Beaver Lake you experience more than a cool cave. It’s a full day of fun where you can maneuver through a maze, pan for gems, dig for fossils, hike trails, take in the view from scenic outlooks, feed fish, have a birthday party, shop for gifts, and eat in the cafe or picnic area.
“We’re more than just a hole in the ground,” explains Dennis Boyer, who owns the attraction with his wife Vicki.
Boyer says War Eagle Cavern is also unique because you can get there by car or boat. He has a dock on the lake for people who want to come via the water. In addition to being on Beaver Lake, the attraction is located in the middle of several other popular locales. “We’re right here with Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. You can visit the War Eagle Mill and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge,” he explains. “We’re a half hour either direction to Rogers or Eureka.”
He stresses that it is important to him for visitors to have a good experience regarding every facet. “Our staff is well-trained and provides quality tours,” he explains. “We maintain good clean restrooms and nice grounds. We’re pet friendly, and we try to make it as family friendly as possible.”
About 30,000 people visit the facility each year, with about 20,000 taking the cavern tour. The cavern also hosts more than 4,000 kids each year on school trips.
The attraction’s namesake is a prime feature, of course. You might meet a bat in the cavern, a great summer retreat with its year round temperature of 58 degrees. “Early in the spring you can see them coming out of here like tornados,” says Guide Jerry Dill. It is home to more than 75,000 bats. The two main species are the Eastern Pipestrelle and the gray bat.
The well-lit, guided tours last about 60 minutes. In addition to the physical features of the cave, the tour highlights the history of the cavern. Osage and Cherokee Indians once found shelter in this protective grotto. One chamber is called the Indian Council Room. “This is where the Native Americans would have lived,” explains Dill. A movie about outlaws Frank and Jessie James was filmed in the cave. It provided an ideal place to make moonshine not only because it served as a hideout but also because of the clear running water inside.
Cavern features include stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, rimstone dams, and fossils. Water droplets cling to the ceiling, a crystal clear stream runs along the tour path, and small waterfalls flow. Several chimney features have water falling down them. It’s said to be lucky to be dripped on. There are also rocks that appear to have animal shapes and a huge pile of bat guano.
The cavern is spacious and open, making it easy for adults to walk through and a good starter cave for children who might be a little apprehensive. There are wide walkways and no stairs. “Wheelchairs and strollers can go through 90 percent of the cave,” Boyer adds. “We have lots of dogs go through the cave.”
A Wild Cave Tour is offered from July through October. “We do get you wet and muddy on those wild tours,” Boyer says.
War Eagle Mining Company
Kids and adults have fun panning for gems such as rubies, peridot, amethyst, Arkansas crystal points, sapphires, topaz, pyrite and more. You buy a large bag of a substance that looks to be dirt, dump small portions of it at a time into a sluice box, and then dunk the box into the water sluice. Washing away the grime, you end up with colorful treasures. In addition to the gem mix, you can choose bags with only Arkansas crystal points or fossils. “For the kids it’s the highlight,” Boyer says. He adds that some adults pan for gems to use in making their own jewelry.
Lost in the Woods Maze
The maze is over a half mile of twists and turns inside a wooden stockade. Your challenge is not just to find your way out but also to find four lost Indian tribes along the path. “There’s even a tree house in the middle you can climb up and look around,” Boyer explains. It takes cunning, skill, logic and luck. Boyer says you sign yourself in at the beginning of the maze and there’s a record time you can try to beat. “The average person takes 12 to 14 minutes to get through,” he adds.
The nature trails are open to anyone on the regular tour. The Lake Walk is stroller friendly. Other trails lead to lookouts or sinkholes, and some have information signs along the way. One leads to a rest area containing a fossil dig. Buried in sand are the artificial remains of a mastodon. Children dig in the sand to uncover the bones, then cover them back up for the next person to find.
Smoke Signal Cafe
The cafe is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You can order smoked pork or turkey sandwiches, hot dogs, and hamburgers served with baked potato salad or chips, and a root beer float. Also on the menu are chili dogs, deep dish pizza, and nachos (mild or spicy). You’ll find plenty of ice cream choices as well.
If You Go
War Eagle Cavern is located one-half mile off Ark. 12. The GPS coordinates for the parking lot are 36° 17’ 43.48” N, 93° 54’ 15.88” W. It is an easy drive from Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, Eureka Springs, or Branson. Visit http://www.wareaglecavern.com or call 479-789-2909 for more information and driving directions.
War Eagle Cavern’s boat dock is located in the last cove on the right in Devil’s Gap Inlet, south of Marker 6. Just stay to the right as you follow the inlet back, and look for the “CAVERN” sign on the boat dock at the end of the inlet. The GPS coordinates are 36° 17’ 46.49” N, 93° 54’ 16.05” W.
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