Interior of Seneca Caverns in Bellevue (photo by Sarah Miller)

Seneca Caverns, Bellevue

This Northwest Ohio natural landmark was discovered in 1872 and has been a tourist attraction since 1933.

Visitors can’t help but be intrigued from the minute the large wooden sign appears along the side of the road: “Welcome to Seneca Caverns, See the ‘Earth Crack.’ ” Since 1933, travelers have made the trek to this part of Seneca County, just south of Bellevue, to explore the caves two local boys discovered in 1872 while hunting rabbits. 

Gingerly stepping down the rock pathway, which ends 110 feet underground, one can’t help but feel a bit like Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain himself would approve of our guide, who brings history with a side of humor to the tight turns and dark nooks.

Seneca Caverns formed from aged sediment that fell 7 to 12 feet, creating multiple levels to explore. Named after Ohio’s Seneca Indian people, the caverns are one of the largest caves in Ohio, and their geological significance draws visitors from around the world. 

Owner Denise Bell started as a tour guide at Seneca Caverns while in high school. She didn’t particularly have a love of caves, but she did end up marrying Richard Bell, whose parents, Don and Fannie Bell, opened the tourist attraction on May 14, 1933.

“It’s a crazy business to be in, but I’ve developed a passion for it,” says Bell. “I had a science teacher bring her students. She stopped to tell me as a child she toured Seneca Caverns, and that tour is why she became a science teacher. That’s why I do it.”

The seven public cave levels are rich with history, both recent and ancient, which is visible in the inscriptions from cave visitors more than a century ago as well as intact brachiopod fossils in rock that dates to the Devonian period (between 358 million and 419 million years ago). Depending on recent precipitation, visitors may even catch a glimpse of the crystal-clear flowing stream named Ole Mist’ry River.

“The fourth level is my favorite,” Bell says. “You can hear the water dripping. Soda straws form here — they’re hollow tubes of crystal formations that take over 100 years to form one cubic inch. On this level are the inscriptions that remind me there were people there before us. It’s a spiritual place.”  

15248 E. Township Rd. 178, Bellevue 44811, 419/483-6711,