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Outside The Entrance To Rat's Nest Cave

Caving in Canmore – A Thrilling Experience

Caving in Canmore is a growing activity. Canmore actually boasts one of the largest cave systems in Canada with approximately four kilometres mapped to date. If you’re looking for a thrilling, experience with the odd adrenaline jolt – sign up for the caving in Canmore tour.

The caving tour is perfect if you’re visiting the Canmore – Banff area, especially on a very cold or inclement day. It’s actually an adventure you can consider any day of the year as the cave maintains a constant 5°C temperature year-round.

Canmore Cave Tours

There are tours available for novices like me who want to test themselves, experience a real adventure and get the adrenaline pumping through Canmore Cave Tours. They’ve been around for 30 years and maintain an office in downtown Canmore, just 10 minutes away.

They started with tours for the military, but have turned the business into a year-round affair. Now they take about 4,000 people per year into the Rat’s Nest Cave on one of four tours that they offer. I signed up for the six hour adventure tour – with four of the six hours underground.

Caving in Canmore in the Rat’s Nest Cave

The Rat’s Nest Cave is accessed via a five minute drive from their office and a 25 minute hike up a canyon, with some stellar mountain views along the way. But before we even leave the office, we must sign waivers and get suited up in caving gear.

Reading the waiver is almost enough to put me off. Rescues can be difficult, blasting at a nearby quarry can happen and shake the ground… really the list goes on but I dutifully sign and figure chances are actually super low that anything bad will happen.

In the office I meet my guide for the day, Diana Kirkwood, and two other participants – Byron and Marina, power systems electricians from Calgary. We don knee-pads, a climbing harness and then a set of coveralls that makes me feel like I’m wearing prison garb.

Though their gear is anything but flattering, the coveralls do help keep your clothes clean – which is great considering how muddy and dusty The Rat’s Nest Cave is. In addition, the coveralls have pockets and zippers in all the right places. We’re also provided with wool gloves, helmets and powerful head lamps.

It's a beautiful hike up to the cave entrance in Canmore
It’s a beautiful hike up to the cave entrance in Canmore

Plan to travel light in the Rat’s Nest Cave

I had brought my usual backpack with me and stuffed it with safety gear as well as water, lunch and a camera. In the office I was told that I would be leaving all of that behind. The reason being – there are tight places to slither through and a pack would get in the way.

Plus it’s so gritty you can actually taste it – and that’s not a good environment for expensive cameras. In the end I brought only a power bar and my cellphone.

Before we arrive at the cave, we stop to discuss the geology. A couple of interesting rock samples are produced that attest to the fact that these mountains are made of limestone with fossils from the past.

Shells in the limestone found along the trail to the cave
Shells in the limestone found along the trail to the cave

Rat’s Nest Cave – a Provincial Historical Site

The Rat’s Nest Cave was discovered by hikers in 1972. We see a sign designating the cave and a square mile around the entrance as a Provincial Historical Site. The entrance itself is gated and locked, with the cave accessible only with a guide or by permission.

Caving in Canmore starts outside the entrance to Rat's Nest Cave
Outside the entrance to Rat’s Nest Cave

The Underground Tour

The tour begins. Over the next four hours (which fly by) we are treated to tiny tunnels, large caverns, a 60 foot rappel into the darkness, a narrow descent through what’s called the Laundry Chute and some stunning cave scenery. Our guide told us that one client had this to say about the Laundry Chute – “Oh man, that was worse than a colonoscopy.”

There are two optional squeezes that looked just a tad too tight for my comfort. At one point, we turned off our headlamps and sat in complete darkness with our eyes frantically trying to make something out of nothing.

Then, still with lights off, we clambered on hands and knees forwards in the direction of the guide’s voice. It wasn’t until we turned our lights back on that we saw the slab of rock and the bumpy ground we had covered.

Melinda and Byron - my fellow cavers
Melinda and Byron – my fellow cavers

Look for rats and spiders while caving

Other highlights in the cave included a sighting of a bushy-tailed wood rat. With giant eyes, it was actually kind of cute. A few minutes later what looks like lichen on the wall turned out to be a mess of Daddy Long Legs spiders.

Daddy Long Legs en masse not far from the opening of the cave
Daddy Long Legs on masse not far from the opening of the cave
Me before our big rappel
Me before our big rappel
It's getting tight - but it looks worse than it is
It’s getting tight – but it looks worse than it is
All legs
All legs
The 60 foot rappel while caving in Canmore
The 60 foot rappel
Someone sliding into the Laundry Chute - Photo credit: Canmore Cave Tours
Someone sliding into the Laundry Chute – Photo credit: Canmore Cave Tours
Soda straws - growing at a rate of 1 cm/100 years
Soda straws – growing at a rate of 1 cm/100 years
The beauty of calcite seen caving in Canmore
The beauty of calcite

Swimming in the cave for experienced spelunkers only

Our turn around point was a beautiful area filled with calcite formations and a couple of crystal-clear pools. Experienced spelunkers bring scuba gear down here and continue exploring. Visibility is excellent when they swim in, but the pool gets stirred up and all the silt and mud effectively reduce the visibility to zero for their swim out. No thank you.

More underground beauty
More underground beauty

The turnaround point

At the turn around point, we were roughly 60 m below the surface. To return to the entrance, it was a combination of backtracking and covering new ground. I found we were at the entrance breathing fresh air in short order. Then it’s a quick jaunt downhill to the car and mission accomplished.

A relaxed walk out from the cave
A relaxed walk out from the cave

Exploring the Rat’s Nest Cave is a thrilling experience

I learned that I was far more capable of crawling into tight places than I thought possible. I was wowed by the beauty and in awe of the real spelunkers who explore the underground world.

There is a two hour tour that doesn’t require the rappel – but that was a highlight for me. It takes some guts and a sense of adventure to do this tour but it’s definitely worth it.

Places to stay in Canmore

If you’re visiting Canmore and you’re looking for a place to stay check out one of these suggestions.

Inexpensive – Canmore Clubhouse run by the Alpine Club of Canada.

Bed & Breakfast: Try the Monarch B&B and enjoy a breakfast cooked by a Japanese chef.

New Kid on the Block: The Malcolm Hotel near downtown Canmore is a four star hotel with an outdoor heated pool. It opened in 2019.

For a luxury country inn: The Bear & Bison on the west side of the Trans-Canada is lovely.

Resorts: If you like a full service hotel with spas, pools and lots of amenities check out Solara Resort and Spa or the Stoneridge Mountain Resort.

More reading on Canmore area things to do

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Caving in Canmore, Alberta is a thrilling experience

This post was sponsored by Travel Alberta but all thoughts and opinions as always are strictly my own. 



Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. This looks right up my street! I’ve been caving in New Zealand, Belize and Guatemala and it’s so much fun! I was a bit scared rapelling into the darkness, but it’s a fantastic feeling!

  2. I’d be leaning towards the 2-hour tour, but the rest of my family would be voting for exciting rappelling and squeezing through tight spots. I can definitely see how getting a backpack down through the Laundry Chute would be difficult. Do they measure people beforehand to make sure no one will get stuck? I also had no idea that Alberta had such a large cave. It looks like it’d be a fun alternative to skiing if I was on holiday up there.

    1. @Michele It sounds like you have a very adventurous family. I think they must have a look at people and size them up – but they don’t formally measure anyone. Maybe people self select. I think the minimum age for kids is 10.

  3. Yay! I was scared even reading this post. Would I consider entering this cave? Probably! Thanks for such a wonderful story.

  4. The Laundry Chute, huh? Had to laugh when you said someone likened it to a colonoscopy.
    You’re pretty brave, Leigh. That was a tiny space you had to crawl through — and moving around in the dark? Yup, you’re brave.

  5. How did you get such great pictures? With your cellphone? If so, what tricks or settings or app did you use? We are doing this tour in July and I want to get some awesome pics.

    1. @Melyssa That’s all we could bring into the cave with us was a cellphone. I think I must have fixed exposure a bit once I was home. It will be a thrilling day underground.

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