An enjoyable, very visible part of the Niagara Escarpment rears its rocky head at the Cherney Maribel Caves, a county park in the Town of Cooperstown near the Village of Mirabel, right along the original U.S. 141 in Manitowoc County. Walk or crawl through this 75-acre splendor abutting the West Twin River; Maribel Caves offers a variety of trails, rock formations, cliffs, and caves.
The rugged cliff line roughly parallels the river hundreds of feet away; the rest of the park consists of gently rolling, wooded uplands and lowlands that lead down to the river. The caves and rock layer openings run in various locations along the foot of the cliff.
This is a great park for hiking, as you have several trails to choose from; picnic and restroom facilities are also by the parking area. You can find trails right along the cliff line, ones that run down through the uplands and lowlands, and even some above the cliff line. Staircase systems have been built to ease navigation of the more rugged areas and provide better access. Reforestation efforts are happening too, so don’t be surprised at the mix of mature forest and open areas filled with seedlings.
Cherney Maribel Caves County Park is a great stop for geology fans, since most of this interesting topography was formed by glacial activity. Over millions of years, glaciers and erosion wore down the land to expose the Niagara Dolomote, a solid mass of rock that forms part of the larger escarpment. Continued weathering and erosion contributed to the craggy nature of the cliff and rocks around it. Most of Wisconsin has layers of till covering this rock, so areas where they’re exposed like this are really interesting – and scenic!
Caves include Coopers Cave, Staircase Cave, Pancake Cave, Tunnel Passage, and Spring Cave. Some you can crawl through, some you can’t. Some you might not want to because you never know what’s in there! Some caves are open only for set tours during certain times of the year, including Maribel New Hope Cave and the Tartarus Cave System. Along with the caves, numerous springs seep from the limestone, flow over moss-covered rocks, and trickle to the river. So even in dry weather, some of the ground is pretty mushy – stay on the trails. The springs and soil do, however, result in rare ferns and a variety of creeping plants and wildflowers you can appreciate from the trails. The park’s natural beauty made it a popular picnic and hiking spot well before Manitowoc County acquired it in 1963.
Nearby and along County R just slightly to the north, you’ll spot the remains of the Maribel Caves Hotel, which has two decaying buildings on its site: the former hotel and a former bottling plant. You can see it from the park’s property line – the buildings aren’t part of the park itself – or from the highway; each offers a view of the buildings from significantly different vantage points. Although the hotel and bottling plant stone buildings do not belong to the county park.
Cherney Maribel Caves County Park is located along County Highway R, which was historic U.S. 141 for a long time. It was the main highway between Milwaukee and Green Bay before I-43 was built and opened in 1981. Access to the park is less than one mile north of Highway 147, which is accessed via I-43’s Exit #164, labeled “Maribel/Two Rivers.” It’s fast and east to get to just off the highway!
Cherney Maribel Caves County Park Address:
15401 County Road R
Maribel, WI 54227