13 Majestic U.S. Caves and Caverns
From spelunking in Kentucky's magnificent Mammoth Cave to exploring the incredible Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, plan a family trip to the coolest caves and caverns in America.
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With its vast chambers and complex labyrinths, Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest known cave system, which measures more than 400 miles long. The park offers a variety of guided cave tours -- including a ranger-led nature trek for kids -- as well as camping, horseback riding, biking and other activities to explore the beauty of Kentucky’s Green River Valley.
Lost Sea Caverns
Head to Sweetwater, TN, to visit the largest non-subglacial underground lake in the US (and the second largest in the world) called The Lost Sea. Most cavers may know this cave system as Craighead Caverns, located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and named after Chief Craighead, the former owner and Cherokee Indian. A wide range of Cherokee artifacts, including pottery, weapons and jewelry, are located a mile from the cavern’s entrance. Don’t miss seeing the tracks of a giant Pleistocene jaguar whose tracks were found deep inside the cave in 1939.
Located in Vallecito, CA, Moaning Cavern received its mysterious name from what some believe to be a moaning sound from the cave that lured gold miners to the entrance in the 1850s. Today, visitors can take a walking tour or rappel down a 165-foot-tall vertical shaft located in the cavern’s main chamber. Moaning Cavern is home to some of the oldest humans remains discovered in America; it is the final resting place for the bodies of prehistoric people who fell into its opening.
Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Visit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico to see more than 118 known caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone over millions of years. Most of the formations found inside Carlsbad Cavern were active and growing during the last ice age, when there were pine forests above the cave.
Blanchard Springs Caverns
Located below Arkansas’ Ozark National Park, Blanchard Springs Caverns offers different levels of tours for amateurs and professional cave dwellers. Tours wind through water-carved passages, including an underground river and the world’s largest flowstone. The cave is often called the "living cave" because it is constantly changing.
Explore the longest, continuous lava tube in the US. Washington State’s Ape Cave -- a popular hiking destination with spectacular views of Mt. St. Helens – was formed from volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range in western North America. One popular spot in the 2-mile passageway includes a formation called “Meatball,” a block of cooled lava that fell from the lava tube ceiling while lava was still flowing through the cave.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Go 211 feet underground to see the deepest part of the largest caverns in Texas. Natural Bridge Caverns -- located near New Braunfels, TX -- continues to be an active and growing cavern system, with water flows causing the underground formations to retain their waxy luster. Visitors can take several different types of guided tours, including the Bracken Bat Flight Tour for an up-close view of the Bracken Cave, home to the world’s largest bat colony.
While camping in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, we recommend a trip to Meramec Caverns to see how an ancient limestone “Wine Table” and an entire 7-story mansion were built underground. In addition to these unique attractions, pre-Columbian Native American artifacts have also been found in the caverns, formed from the erosion of large limestone deposits millions of years ago. Every year, more than 150,000 visitors walk through the 4.6-mile cavern system.
The Polar Caves were created about 50,000 years ago when a continental glacier descended over the White Mountains in Rumney, NH, creating an amazing series of caves and passageways. In addition to exploring the caves, families can go on a scavenger hunt for minerals and hidden gems at the Klondike Mine, walk the nature trails to learn about local Native American tribes and visit the Maple Sugar House and Museum.
Caverns of Sonora
Halfway between Big Bend National Park and San Antonio, TX, the Caverns of Sonora is one of the most active caves in the world, with more than 95% of its formations still growing. Outdoor enthusiasts can camp in a tent or RV nearby. You can’t leave this natural landmark without tasting fresh cream and butter fudge made at the caverns.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Explore the natural beauty of Kartchner Caverns Park in Arizona. And below, hidden from view, explore 2.4-mile passages that were discovered by local archaeologists in 1974. The Throne Room and the Big Room are the 2 major features of the caverns. The Throne Room contains the world’s longest soda straw stalactites and a 58-foot-high column called Kubla Khan. The Big Room is closed during the summer each year because it is a nursery roost for over 1,000 cave bats.
More than a million and a half visitors from around the world visit Virginia’s Luray Caverns every year. This subterranean wonderland has paved pathways for people to stroll through the caverns to see Giant’s Hall, Frozen Fountain, Dream Lake, Saracen’s Tent, the Stalacpipe Organ and more!
South Dakota’s Jewel Cave is the third-longest cave in the world, with over 166 miles of passages. Fun fact: The largest room discovered in Jewel Cave is called the "Big Duh," which measures 570 feet long, 180 feet wide at its widest point and 30 feet tall. We recommend the wild caving tour for experienced cavers. During this strenuous, 3- to 4-hour tour, visitors learn about low-impact caving, caving techniques, caving safety and equipment.