Most people think of a tour through an underground cavern as a summer event that offers relief from heat and humidity, but those same constant underground temperatures in the mid-50s can cool you on an Indian Summer day or even warm you a bit in chilly winter weather.
Today’s commercial show caves offer educational tours and a host of additional entertainment options ranging from wildlife parks to museums to camping and panning for gems. The caverns also offer gift shops that range from country chic to 1950s kitschy.
As Halloween nears, some caverns host special “haunted cave” events. In Huntingdon, Pa., Lincoln Caverns presents its 32nd annual Ghosts and Goblins tour, haunted trail, and hayride, Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 9–31, 6:00–10:00pm. There’s a new tour created each year. From 11:00am–5:00pm on Saturdays, families can enjoy a one-hour tour through two crystal caverns, one haunted and one natural.
At Crystal Cave Park near Kutztown, Pa., you can take a lantern tour of the cave during which guides will entertain with ghostly tales and the history of the cave. The tours are Oct. 10, 16–17, 23–24, and 30, beginning at 5:30pm. The cave is open through November.
Fall living history
Grand Caverns, near Grottoes, Va., hosts its Fall Festival and Living History event on Oct. 3. Reenactment groups representing Civil War, World War II, and Vietnam-era soldiers will present camp life.
There will also be demonstrations of flintlocks and making soap and apple butter, as well as crafts and food.
Shenandoah Uncorked, Nov. 14, 10:00am–4:30pm, at Shenandoah Caverns, brings Virginia wineries together with food and craft vendors, live entertainment, and many children’s activities for a day of family fun in the huge Yellow Barn.
Attendees also get discounted admission to the onsite attractions.
Caves open all year
Each cavern’s experience is unique and offers reasonably priced fun for the whole family. Tours generally last about an hour, but check websites for specific hours that may vary seasonally. Many caverns close or have limited hours during the winter.
The caves listed on the next page are open year-round, although most are closed on major holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Remember to take a jacket and good walking shoes.
Indian Echo Caverns provides a tour complete with legends of the Susquehannock Indians and underground lakes. Outside, you can pan for gemstones, visit the petting zoo, and see real Texas longhorn cattle.
Lincoln Caverns offers a tour of its massive flowstone formations with calcite crystals and is popular with Scout groups and tourists. You can pan for gemstones and take a walk on the nature trail as well. The cavern is open only weekends during December; hours in January and February are by appointment only.
Lost River Caverns’ tour is a walking one, but you do see a part of the Lost River in the cave. You also can enjoy the Gilman Museum, with its minerals and rock shop; it offers a line of products for jewelry making.
Dixie Caverns’ tour takes you up into the mountain, then down into its depths during a 45-minute tour. Above ground, there is year-round camping, a rock and mineral shop, and an antiques mall.
Grand Caverns is said to be the oldest show cave in America. Cathedral Hall, 280 feet long and more than 70 feet high, is one of the largest rooms of any cavern in the East. The caverns include beautiful draperies, rippling flowstone, and rare “shield” formations. (grandcaverns.com)
Luray Caverns is known as the largest cavern in the East. Its tour includes massive columns and music from the famous “stalacpipe” organ. Admission also includes the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, the Luray Valley Museum, Toy Train Junction, and gem mine sulice. A garden maze and zip-line experience are available for an additional fee.
Shenandoah Caverns is Virginia’s only cavern with elevator service and no stairs to climb on its tour. A combination ticket also gets you into an exhibit of holiday department store window displays, a parade float hall of fame, and the Yellow Barn’s country-themed exhibits.
Skyline Caverns at the north entrance to Skyline Drive reveals rare anthodites and three streams, as well as the Painted Desert, on its
tour. You can take a miniature train ride or navigate the Mirror Maze for an additional fee. Kids will enjoy the scavenger hunt sheet they’ll receive.
Lost World Caverns is unusual for its self-guided tour, allowing you to spend as much or as little time as you like admiring the formations. The attraction also includes a natural history museum featuring the largest collection of dinosaur replicas in West Virginia, and will provide wild cave tours as well.
Organ Cave claims to be the second-largest cave in the eastern United States, and its history involves Thomas Jefferson and the Civil War when 1,100 Confederate soldiers hid in the cave for three winters. The cave is closed on Sundays, and reservations are required from Nov. 1 to April 1.
Smoke Hole Caverns offers a cavern tour that includes gravity-defying helictites and flowstone formations. It also provides cabins, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and gemstone mining, and claims to have West Virginia’s largest gift shop.