Valley tourism being explored yet again as Bonnechere Caves reopen
The Bonnechere Caves, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Ottawa Valley, reopened Tuesday.
Although visitors are technically outside while visiting the caves situated between Douglas and Eganville, the underground site is considered as an indoor attraction, and was restricted from opening before Step 3. The caves held a soft opening over the weekend and now, on day one, tourists are back in full force.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic. It was much busier than we thought it would be, even on the soft opening. Word of mouth seemed to spread fairly quickly,” says David Bell, manager of the Bonnechere Caves. “We’ve been sending people every five minutes through the cave. People are just so happy when they show up here and we’re really happy to see them and to get to talk to our customers again.”
For the most part, the attraction is business as usual after reopening. Since last being open Thanksgiving weekend of 2019, the only changes are that the cave tours are now self-guided and masks must be worn while underground.
“I think we definitely could have let a few folks in through the restrictions, but now we’re actually able to bring folks down,” says Kyle George, a tour guide at the caves. “We still have to bring less but I still think it’s right to wait.”
Attracting people from across the province, the Bonnechere Caves offer a tourist experience that almost serves as a reminder of pre-pandemic days.
“It was nice to get out and do something with the family since we’ve been stuck at home for so long, so we’re up here on holidays,” says Shawn LaBelle, who brought his family from Ottawa to the caves while visiting their cottage. “I mean you’re wearing your masks in the cave, but it feels like somewhat normalcy.”
“Oh it was awesome, natural history is amazing out here,” says Brent Smith who is also spending time at a cottage with his family from Oshawa. “It was pretty normal. It’s not crowded in there, pretty easy going.”
After a long wait closed, the Bonnechere Caves now believe they will explode back into business, rather than visitor levels taking a slow climb to get back to pre-COVID times.
“In 2019 we could see up to a couple hundred people coming through in a day,” says Bell. “We’re not quite at that point yet, but we feel like we’re going to get there.”
“People have been waiting so long to get back out in the community to see things,” George adds. “People are ready; people are going to be here.”