The Mid-Atlantic’s limestone provided an ideal vehicle for water to carve rooms, passageways, and amazing formations under the soil. Today, about 20 commercial show caves welcome visitors with an underground adventure, gift shops and a host of additional entertainment options. Temperatures in the mid-50s are also a cooling relief on a hot summer’s day. Here are some of our favorites.
Shenandoah Valley is home to seven caves, including Skyline Caverns (skylinecaverns.com). Located at the northern entrance to Skyline Drive in Front Royal, it is the closest to Washington, D.C. The tour includes rare anthodites and three streams, as well as the Rainbow Waterfall and an award-winning lighting system. You can take a miniature train ride or navigate the mirror maze for an additional fee.
Billed as the largest caverns in the east, Luray Caverns’ (luraycaverns.com) tour includes massive columns and music from the famous “stalacpipe” organ. Admission includes the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, the Luray Valley Museum, and Toy Town Junction’s massive collection of toys and trains. A garden maze attraction and gem sluice is extra, as is the Rope Adventure Park with three levels of rope challenges.
Grand Caverns (grandcaverns.com), in Grottoes, Va., is said to be the oldest continuously operating commercial show cave in America. The cave was visited by numerous soldiers during the Civil War. Above ground, there are scenic trails in the park with picnic shelters, a pool, and miniature golf course. Adventure caving tours are available by reservation.
Natural Bridge Caverns (naturalbridgecaverns.com) is the deepest commercial cavern on the East Coast, is relatively young for a cave and is one of the region’s most “active” caves. The tour takes you 34 stories deep into the earth to see straws, flowstone cascades, draperies and pools. The Natural Bridge, the Monacan Indian Exhibit, and other activities are on the property.
Shenandoah Caverns (shenandoahcaverns.com) is the state’s only cavern with elevator service and no stairs to climb on its tour. The Diamond Cascade is just one of many fanciful formations. Above ground see the American Celebration on Parade’s huge floats, the Yellow Barn and Main Street of Yesteryear. Just around the corner, watch the famous Route 11 Potato Chips being made and taste a sample.
To the north, you can enjoy Indian Echo Caverns (indianechocaverns.com) at Hummelstown, Pa., on a visit to Lancaster or Hershey. There’s a 45-minute tour complete with legends of the Susquehannock Indians and the “Pennsylvania Hermit,” William Wilson. Outside, pan for gemstones, visit the petting barnyard, enjoy a picnic and see real Texas longhorn cattle.
Penn’s Cave (pennscave.com), located near Penn State University, may be the most unusual of the region’s cave tours. You actually tour the cave by boat! For a separate fee, you can get lost in the Miner’s Maze; take a 90-minute guided wildlife tour that includes North American animals such as the cave’s icon, the mountain lion; or hop aboard a Jeep for an off-road adventure. Kids and adults also enjoy panning for gems and grabbing a bison or longhorn burger in the cafe.
Lincoln Caverns (lincolncaverns.com), near Raystown Lake, offers a tour of Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks and offers flashlight and photography tours, as well as family nights on select summer evenings with advance reservations. You can pan for gemstones and take a walk on the nature trail, too.
Lost River Caverns (lostcave.com) in Hellertown, Pa., offers a walking tour, but you do see a part of the Lost River in the cave. You also can enjoy the Gilman Museum’s fossils, gemstones, and antique guns, as well as the rock shop, with new minerals, fossils and fluorescents. There’s also a nature trail and gem mining.
Crystal Cave Park (crystalcavepa.com), near Kutztown, Pa., is Pennsylvania’s oldest commercial cave and gets its name from the diamond-like crystals adorning its walls. At its free museum, artifacts include an omnibus that transported early tourists and an Amish buggy. You can also pan for gems at the sluice, play miniature golf, walk the nature trail and enjoy the ice cream parlor and cafe during July and August. Historic lantern tours will be offered at Halloween with reservations.
Pick one and enjoy the underground wonder.