Introducing the Cave Trails and John Brown’s Cave

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We’ve recently opened a new portion of the Lehigh Portland Trails property, east of 1650th Street. The new area features about 2.1 miles of trails, plus the infamous John Brown’s Cave.

John Brown’s Cave is a real honest-to-goodness cave, a rarity in Kansas. It has a large entrance you can walk into, and it’s possible to traverse the entire length of the 200-foot cave.

The history of John Brown’s Cave is pretty interesting. We’ve found references to the cave going back to at least 1899. The land surrounding the cave was once home to several farmsteads, and you can still find the remnants of the home foundations on the property, as well as cellars, wells, stone fences, and woven and barbed-wire fences.

The cave itself was once a popular picnic and adventure spot for local residents, before the surrounding land was purchased by the Lehigh Portland Cement Company in the mid-1900s, after which the land was closed off to the public. It has been largely sitting idle for at least fifty years, and has grown up in timber and brambles.

The terrain is a mixture of flat-to-gently-rolling, with a few rocky outcrops, and a scenic limestone bluff to the east.

There is currently one trail, Cave Trail South, about 2.1 miles in length. It begins at 1650th Street, and heads east. (Please note that the fenced-off property to the north is private, so do not trespass.) The trail follows an old gravel road for a short way, then drops off the bluffs, near US-169 highway. The trail passes by the cave exit, then follows the bottom of the bluffs south to a stone wall, then doubles back north before heading west to the cave. After looping around the cave entrance, the trail heads off south again, exploring an old farmstead, and winding through hardwoods and cedar before reaching a grassy strip, then rolling back north along a hay meadow, to finally reach the entrance trail. The big loop can be ridden in either direction; each way offers different challenges and views.

An additional 1+ miles of trail is planned for the north side of the property, but this is under development, and not yet open to the public. We hope to have it ready this winter sometime.

Some photos:

A portion of the Cave Trail beneath the bluffs.
A view of the west entrance to John Brown’s Cave.
Looking out (to the west) from inside John Brown’s Cave.
A map of the Cave Trail Connector and Cave Trail South.

Accessing the Cave Trails

To visit the Cave Trails, or the cave, you can park at the Eastern Trailhead, and walk or bike along the South Loop Trail heading south and east. Just past the entrance to the Rubble Ridge Trail, a new Cave Trail Connector splits off to the east. After a short distance, it meets up with 1650th Street. After yielding to any road traffic, cross the pavement to enter the Cave Trails.

Please do not park vehicles along 1650th Street. Vehicles left along 1650th Street are subject to tickets or towing. Be a good neighbor and park in the designated areas (i.e. the official trailheads).

Here’s a suggested route (in blue), starting at the Eastern Trailhead (upper left):

Safety and Etiquette Considerations

While we welcome your visit to the Cave Trails and to John Brown’s Cave, there are certain precautions you must take when exploring the cave:

  • Never go caving alone
  • Wear a hard hat (a bicycle helmet will do)
  • Bring at least three light sources. Caves are dark! If your light fails, it’s easy to become disoriented.
  • Be prepared to get wet! The cave carries water at all times. You will get wet, and your clothing and shoes will get wet. This can be dangerous in cooler weather. The cave water is especially deep immediately after a rain.
  • Leave your electronics (e.g. cellphone) outside the cave, unless you have reliably waterproof storage.
  • Bring bandages and first aid. It’s easy to scrape your skin.
  • Call 9-1-1 for emergencies!

In addition to those safety considerations, there are also some common-sense etiquette rules we ask you to follow:

  • Carry out any trash you may bring or find
  • Do not move rocks
  • Do not harm or disturb any plants or animals
  • Do not litter
  • Do not leave graffiti on the rocks
  • Do not take souvenirs

Caves are amazingly fragile places. They can be easily damaged and ruined by humans, and once they are, they’re changed for all time. Be considerate of your fellow explorers, and leave the place as you found it, for the next visitor to enjoy.

These rules can be summed up in the “Caver’s Creed”:

Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but carefully placed footprints.
Kill nothing but time.