Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Explore This Subterranean Psychedelic World
Dr. Seuss, even in his wildest dreams, couldn't have created anything as surreal and wonderful as a natural cave formation. Entering any of Carlsbad Caverns National Park's 113 caves is like entering a larger-than-life sandcastle -- a psychedelic world where drips of sand have been transformed into a twisting, turning, myriad structure of peaks and spires.
Natural Bridge CavernsGo 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. 960 1280
Meramec CavernsWhile 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. 960 1280
Caverns of SonoraHalfway 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. 960 1280
Moaning CavernLocated 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. 960 1280
Polar CavesThe 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. 960 1280
Mammoth CaveWith 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. 960 1280
Carlsbad Cavern National ParkVisit 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. 960 1280
Ohio CavernsOne of Ohio’s most popular tourist attractions, Ohio Caverns features some of most colorful crystals in the US. It’s an all-day family adventure at this 35-acre park. It’s not uncommon to see visitors panning for gemstones and minerals. A limestone, tree, historic and natural wonders tour are also available for amateur explorers. 960 1280
Kartchner Caverns State ParkExplore 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. 960 1280
Luray CavernsMore 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! 960 1280
Jewel CaveSouth 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. 960 1280
Lost Sea CavernsHead 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. 960 1280
Blanchard Springs CavernsLocated 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. 960 1280
Ape CaveExplore 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. 960 1280
Niagara CaveLocated in Harmony, MN, Niagara Cave has been rated one of the Top 10 caves in the US by travel media outlets. It features a 60-foot waterfall, a sluice to mine for gemstones and fossils, a 10-acre picnic area and hiking trails. And for couples looking for a place to tie the knot, this cave also features a wedding chapel. 960 1280
Incredible US Caves and Caverns 15 Photos
A Batty Weapon of War 02:32
Wild Cave Tours 03:45
Imagine seeing the world from the inside out, and perhaps you've unknowingly pictured the park's caves. The classic movie Journey to the Center of the Earth was partially filmed in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. These underground labyrinths will entertain caving enthusiasts and novices alike with both self-guided and guided tours of the caves. Amateurs may breathe a sigh of relief upon seeing the elevators, electric lights and paved paths in Carlsbad Cavern's Big Room, while experts are in for an adventure with one of the park's Wild Cave Tours that takes them up rope ladders, through crevices and into rarely seen nooks and crannies of the caves. Carlsbad Caverns will delight visitors with their array of speleothems, or cave formations that include gypsum chandeliers, hairs and beards, soda straws, balloons and cave pearls.
The park's aboveground resources are no less spectacular. Rattlesnake Springs is a mini-oasis in the midst of the desert brush -- an area rich in birds, reptiles, mammals and butterflies. Also of note are the summer's evening bat flights. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to an infamous colony of hundreds of thousands of migratory Mexican free-tailed bats that emerge nightly from their homes in the caverns.
Some 250 million years ago, a sea covered the region that is now the Chihuahuan Desert, and over time, a horseshoe-shaped, 400-mile-long inland reef was formed. The reef developed from layered remains of sponges, algae, seashells and calcite but was later buried under deposits of salts and gypsum as the sea receded. Tectonic forces pushed the buried rock layers up and erosion wore away softer minerals to expose the ancient reef as the Guadalupe Mountains. Deep underground, a brine originating from oil and gas deposits and rich in hydrogen sulfide was forced into cracks in the limestone. When this brine encountered oxygen-rich rainwater moving down through the rock, it created sulfuric acid. This acid dissolved the limestone creating cave passages. As the Guadalupe Mountains continued to lift up, the water drained out of the cave allowing fresh water to percolate through and leave minerals on the ceiling, walls, and floors that we know as cave decorations (i.e., stalagmites, stalactites, columns, cave pearls, flowstone).
Carlsbad Caverns' most popular activity is, of course, the cavern tours. A number of guided cave tours are available through the various caverns, but for a real taste of caving a Wild Cave Tour fits the bill. During these strenuous tours, participants engage in belly crawls, ladder climbs, pool crossings, tight crawls and free climbing. Two self-guided tours are also available and include highlights such as Devil's Spring, the Boneyard, Temple of the Sun and Rock of Ages.