“You can tell who in the group is having their first experience in a cavern,” a tour guide once told us.
“Young or old, they get the same look of wonder on their faces.”
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 temperatures in the mid-50s, gift shops, and a host of additional entertainment options. Here are some of our favorites.
The nearby Shenandoah Valley is home to seven caves, including Skyline Caverns. Located at the northern entrance to Skyline Drive in Front Royal, Va., 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 and also located in Virginia, Luray Caverns’ tour includes massive columns and music from the famous “stalacpipe” organ. Admission includes the Car and 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, 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.
Virginia’s Natural Bridge Caverns is the deepest commercial cavern on the East Coast. It 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 Monocan Indian Living History Exhibit, and other activities are on the property.
To the north, you can enjoy Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown, Pa. Check it out while 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, located near Penn State University in Centre County, 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, near Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County, Pa., offers a tour of Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks and has 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, 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, near Kutztown, Pa., is Pennsylvania’s oldest commercial 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.
Here’s a complete list of the region’s show caves. Pick one and enjoy the underground wonder.
Coral Caverns, Manns Choice
Crystal Cave Park, Kutztown
Indian Echo Caverns, Hummelstown
Laurel Caverns, Hopwood
Lincoln Caverns, Huntingdon
Lost River Caverns, Hellertown
Penn’s Cave, Centre Hall
Woodward Cave, Woodward
Crystal Grottoes, Boonsboro
Dixie Caverns, Salem
Endless Caverns, New Market
Grand Caverns, Grottoes
Luray Caverns, Luray
Shenandoah Caverns, Quicksburg
Skyline Caverns, Front Royal