The cave (actually a system of three limestone caves) is the main focus of the National Monument.
There is no entry fee charged to go into the visitor's center or to hike up to the entrance of the cave.
But to take the cave tour (about an hour long), there is a fee (2010 prices: $7 per adult) and you have
to go in with a ranger.
There is also a fee to get into American Fork Canyon ($6 for 3 Days, $12.00 for 7 Days,
$45.00 for Annual) but that fee is waived if you have a National Parks Pass.
Location and Phone:
The visitor center and cave trailhead is located in American Fork Canyon on Highway 92 just 10 miles east
from Interstate 15 and 17.2 miles from U.S. 189 and approximately 40 miles from Salt Lake City. (801) 756-5238.
From I-15: If you are arriving from the north or south on I- 15, take Exit 284 (Alpine-Highland exit),
then turn east on SR92 and proceed 10 miles to the monument.
From U.S. 40 or U.S. 189: If you are arriving from Heber or Provo Canyon, take SR92, passing by
Sundance Resort and over the mountainous scenic route known as the
Alpine Scenic Loop.
The cave is closed during the winter.
Getting There - Part II:
To get to the cave for the tour, there is a 1 1/2 mile hike up a paved trail that ascends over 1100 feet.
Several benches along the way offer the weary hiker some rest.
The visitor's center houses an information desk, exhibits, theater with orientation film and brochures, gift shop
and book store as well as a bathroom (another bathroom can be found at the top of the trail a few feet from the cave's
entrance). There is also a self-guided nature trail at the bottom.
There is a canyon fee (2006 prices: $3 per day) if you are going into the canyon to park your car and partake of
any of the recreational activities in the canyon. Going to the cave is considered a recreational activity.
Reservations can be made in advance and are advised during peak season in the summer. There are only so many
allowed in the cave at a time, and the cave tours do fill up.
The temperature of the cave is around 43 deg F year round, so wear a jacket.
About the Cave:
This cave system is known for its abundance of helictites, its formation colorations, its fault-line views and
its alpine surroundings.
Legend has it that in 1887, Martin Hansen was out hunting mountain lion when, following tracks of a particularly
tempting animal, he discovered a huge hole in the side of the hill. He explored it and ran home to tell his family.
The treasure (this first discovered cave was subsequently named Hansen cave), stayed a family secret for several
years, but the secret finally got out when the area was mined for onyx and other minerals.
The second cave named Timpanogos Cave was discovered in 1915, and the third or “middle” cave was
discovered in 1921. As local groups and the forest service got wind of these treasures, it was decided the features
of the later two caves should not suffer the same effects of mining as the first one. As a result, the area was
designated a National Monument in 1922 and became part of the National Park system in 1934.
The three caves were eventually connected by tunnels and safety measures to explore them were implemented:
The route was made into a one-way loop, electric lighting and a few hand railings were installed, and the place
became a tourist attraction that today attracts thousands of visitors each year.
During my tour, the ranger was explaining the science behind the various formations when we came to a
particular room (the Chime Chamber) and she asked us, "Why do you think this is a national park?"
We hollored out our guesses then she turned a light on that lit up a huge wall of helictites that caused a
gasp from the audience. It was stunning.
Helictites are spiral "tites"--formations that hang from the ceiling (they have to "hold on tight").
Stalagmites, on the other hand, grow from the floor up (they "might" reach the ceiling.)
Popcorn (bumpy formations that resemble popcorn) is another common formation in the cave. There was one passageway
where there was both carmel popcorn (formations with a brown color) and buttered popcorn (formations with a yellow color).
Also stunning are the various views of the fault line. The ranger told us that in the event of an earthquake,
we were safer in the cave, right under the fault line than we would be outside. Because when an earthquake happens,
the sonic waves emanate out and the fault line stays still. Even so, I think it would be a more than a little creepy
to be underground during an earthquake!
One other tidbit the ranger imparted is that the temperature of the cave (and that of all similar caves) will be
the average temperature of the area. The average temp of the Alpine area is 43 degrees (it gets hotter in the summer
and colder in the winter, but 43 is the average) and that is the temp that settles in the cave and never changes.
A "Fun Fact to Know and Tell."