The United States is home to some of the world’s most famous caves, including Mammoth Cave, the world’s largest cave system, and the 6,400 caves of Missouri, popularly known as the “Cave State.” These 20 caves are among the most spectacular of their kind in the country, noted for their breathtaking underground waterfalls, unusual speleotherm formations, and rich fossil and archaeological sites.
1.Carlsbad Caverns National Park
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Carlsbad Caverns National Park showcases more than 119 caves throughout a 46,000-acre region of southern New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains, located approximately 18 miles from the city of Carlsbad. The park’s main attraction is its namesake show cave, Carlsbad Cavern, which is accessible via self-guided and ranger-led tours throughout the year and showcases attractions such as the 4,000-foot-long Big Room limestone chamber, the fifth largest of its kind in North America. Visitors may access the cavern via its natural entrance or using an elevator departing from the park’s visitor center, which also offers educational exhibits and documentary showings. The park is also known for its bat flight viewing program, hiking trails, and Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area, which has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.
3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM 88220, Phone: 575-785-2232
2.Wind Cave National Park
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Wind Cave National Park is located near the city of Hot Springs, South Dakota and was the first cave in the world to be preserved as part of a national park at its establishment in 1903. The cave was believed to have been historically referenced in Lakota Sioux folklore and was originally discovered by Europeans in 1881, taking its name from the cave’s continual atmospheric pressure breathing. Today, it is recognized as the world’s densest cave system, featuring more than 140 miles of charted passageways showcasing sights such as its Post Office and Elks Room formations. Above ground, the park is home to the United States’ largest preserved mixed-grass prairie region, containing a variety of trails offering views of the nearby Black Hills.
26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747, Phone: 605-745-4600
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Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon near Lake Powell, located on Navajo Nation reservation land near the city of Page. The cave was formed as the result of Navajo sandstone erosion due to flash flooding and still experiences a significant amount of flooding today, including a 2006 flood that closed the cave to the public for five months. It is divided into two sections, officially known as Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, which are commonly referred to as “The Crack” and “The Corkscrew.” The cave portions have been open to the public exclusively through guided tours since 1997 and have become a popular spot for photography despite their lighting and foot access path limitations. Upper Antelope Canyon is a particularly popular spot due to its easy access at ground level, requiring no climbing in or out of the cave.
22 South Lake Powell BLVD Page, AZ 86040
4.Blanchard Springs Caverns
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Blanchard Springs Caverns are a system of caves located within the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest and are the only public caves owned by the United States government outside of the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The caves are Arkansas’ largest by volume and second-longest by length, clocking in at a passage span of 8.1 miles. The three-level cave system is located near Mountain View and is open to the public for guided tours along several tour routes, including the Dripstone Trail, which explores the caverns’ upper levels. The Discovery Trail provides access to a 1.2-mile stretch of the caverns’ lower level, descending 366 feet below the ground and showcasing sights such as the Natural Entrance, the Rimstone Dams, and the Ghost Room. A Wild Cave Tour also allows for access to less developed sites within the caverns on all three levels.
704 Blanchard Springs Road, Fifty-Six, AR 72533, Phone: 870-757-2211
5.Cave of the Winds
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Cave of the Winds is located in Colorado’s Pikes Peak region near Colorado Springs and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. The cave was originally discovered by brothers George and John Pickett in 1881 and has been open as a public show cave for more than a century, showcasing spectacular sights such as a Silent Splendor room containing rare crystalline speleotherms and unique passages such as its Old Curiosity Shop narrow passage, which offers glimpses of formations such as the Colorado Rose and Spider Web Valley. Guided cave tours are offered daily, including 90-minute lantern tours emphasizing the cave’s history, folklore, and popular ghost stories. Several family attractions are also offered, including a Terror-Dactyl free-fall cliff diving ride and a Wind Walker ropes challenge course.
100 Cave of the Winds Rd, Manitou Springs, CO 80829, Phone: 719-685-5444
6.Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
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Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is located on the site of a cave system originally discovered by Charles W. Darrow in the late 19th century. Though the cave has been open to the public for guided tours since the turn of the 20th century, it was developed into a family adventure park in 2003 and now attractions more than 150,000 annual visitors. Cave tours offered explore the cave’s upper and lower sections and include a historic fairy caves tour, a Kings Row tour, and a wild cave tour. Other attractions at the park include the Wild West Express children’s coaster, the Giant Canyon Swing, the state’s first 4D theater, and the United States’ first Alpine coaster.
51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, Phone: 970-945-4228
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DeSoto Caverns are also known as Alabama’s Big Cave, located within the Appalachian Mountain foothills near the city of Childersburg. The cave was formerly known as Kymulga Cave and is believed to have been used by local Copena indigenous people prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America. During the American Civil War, the cave was a popular saltpeter mining site, and during Prohibition, a covert speakeasy and dance hall infamously known as the Bloody Bucket was operated out of the cave. Since the 1960s, the cave has been operated as a show cave offering daily guided tours, highlighting one of the largest-known accumulations of onyx-marble speleotherms anywhere in the world. A variety of family-friendly attractions are also offered at the cave site, including a Lost Trail Maze, a gemstone mining attraction, and children’s amusement rides.
5181 Desoto Caverns Pkwy, Childersburg, AL 35044, Phone: 256-378-7252
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Fantastic Caverns were originally discovered by John Knox in 1862, who hid knowledge of the cave’s existence during the American Civil War to prevent its mining for saltpeter. Throughout its recorded history, the cave has operated as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, a music concert venue for shows broadcast on local radio station KGBX, and a popular Branson-area attraction cave offering guided tours. Today, the cave is the only touring cave in North America featuring ride-through tours, offering 55-minute Jeep tram tours following the path of a former river within the cave. More than 100,000 visitors embark on tours of the cave each year, which is kept at a year-round temperature of 60 degree Fahrenheit.
4872 N Farm Rd 125, Springfield, MO 65803, Phone: 417-833-2010
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Niagara Cave is located in Harmony, Minnesota and is not to be confused with the Canadian border waterfall. The cave was originally discovered by pig farmers in 1924 and is among the largest caves in the American Midwest today, showcasing a spectacular 60-foot underground waterfall and a variety of unusual limestone and calcite formations. Hourlong guided tours explore a mile of the cave’s underground passageways, offered between April and November. The cave site is also home to several family attractions, including a miniature golf course and a gemstone mining attraction, and has been the world’s first completely zero-emissions show cave since 2015.
29842 Co Hwy 30, Harmony, MN 55939, Phone: 507-886-6606
More ideas: Brainerd, Grand Portage, Bemidji, New Ulm, Adventure Travel
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Jewel Cave is the centerpiece of Jewel Cave National Monument, which was created in 1908 and is located approximately 13 miles from the city of Custer within South Dakota’s Black Hills. The cave is the third-longest known cave in the world behind Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave system and Mexico’s Sistema Sac Actun, spanning a distance of 192 miles of charted passageways, though it is estimated that only approximately 5% of the cave’s volume has been discovered. Guided tours of the cave have been offered since 1939, with three tours available, including a scenic half-mile lighted loop tour, a historic candlelight tour, and a wild caving tour through the cave’s more undeveloped portions.
11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD 57730, Phone: 605-673-8300
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Kartchner Caverns are the main attraction of Kartchner Caverns State Park, which is located near the town of Benson, Arizona along the San Pedro River. The limestone caverns were originally discovered in 1974 by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen and feature more than 2.4 miles of passageways which were opened to the public for guided tours in 1988. Today, the caverns draw tourists from around the country to observe attractions such as the Throne Room, which contains one of the longest soda straw stalactite formations in the world, and the Kubla Khan column. Other major features include the caverns’ Rotunda and Strawberry Rooms, Cul-de-sac Passage, and Mud Flats. The cave is noted as a nesting site for Myotis velifer bats during the spring months, which causes seasonal cave room closures. Above ground, several hiking trails are offered, including the 4.2-mile Guindani Trail.
2980 Arizona 90, Benson, AZ 85602, Phone: 520-586-4100
12.Lava Beds National Monument
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Lava Beds National Monument preserves one of the longest continually-occupied regions in North America, showcasing 73 square miles of important lava flow and archaeological sites throughout northeastern California, including sites connected to the region’s indigenous Modoc people. The monument district is preserved as a National Register of Historic Places site and showcases more than 700 caves, historic battlefield grounds, and indigenous rock art sites. Caves open to the public for exploration include Mushpot Cave, the park’s only lighted cave, and the easy-access Golden Dome, Lava Brook, Indian Well, Thunderbolt, and Catacombs Caves. A variety of visitor trails embark from the park’s visitor center, providing access to more cave and archaeological sites throughout the park’s backcountry areas.
1 Indian Well Hqts, Tulelake, CA , Phone: 530-667-8100
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Luray Caverns are among the most popular caves in the Eastern United States, located within the Shenandoah Valley near the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were originally discovered in 1878 and used as an air pumping site providing natural air conditioning for the Limair Sanatorium, supposedly the first air-conditioned residence in the United States. In 1974, the caverns were designated as a National Natural Landmark, and today, they are open to the public for guided tours, attracting more than 500,000 visitors per year. Tours showcase sights such as the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a natural lithophone that produces musical sounds similar to a xylophone, and the mirror-like Dream Lake. Other onsite attractions include a hedge maze, a ropes obstacle course, and three museums showcasing collectibles and regional artifacts.
101 Cave Hill Rd, Luray, VA 22835, Phone: 540-743-6551
14.Makauwahi Cave Reserve
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Makauwahi Cave Reserve is Hawai'i's largest limestone cave, located on the island of Kauai near Maha'ulepu Beach. The cave was formerly used as a ceremonial site for ancient indigenous groups and was internationally recognized in 1992 during fossil site searches along Kaua'i’s southern coast. Today, the cave, which takes its name from a Hawai’ian word meaning “smoke eye,” is considered to be the most important fossil site within the greater Pacific island region, showcasing a sinkhole paleolake containing more than 10,000 years of sedimentary records. Guided tours of the cave area are offered daily 10-2 and 10-4 on Saturdays and Sundays. Tours are free but a donation is requested to benefit upkeep of the Reserve.
Koloa, HI 96756, Phone: 808-631-3409
15.Mammoth Cave National Park
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Mammoth Cave National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site preserving significant portions of Mammoth Cave, the world’s largest known cave system, which spans more than 400 miles of charted passageways throughout the Edmonson County region in Kentucky. The Mississippian-era limestone cave is topped with a layer of sandstone caprock and has served as a significant cultural site for at least six thousand years, used as a notable indigenous burial site prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America. Since the 19th century, it has served as the inspiration for a number of internationally-recognized cultural works, immortalized in art forms as diverse as Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick and rock band Guided by Voices’ eponymous 1990 song. Today, the cave is open to the public for guided tours, showcasing notable features such as its Frozen Niagara, Fat Man’s Misery, and Grand Avenue formations and passageways.
P.O. Box 7, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007, Phone: 270-758-2180
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Meramec Caverns were originally discovered by European settlers in the 18th century and are purported to have served as a hideout for famed outlaw Jesse James. Today, the 4.6-mile-long cavern system is Missouri’s most popular show cave, attracting more than 150,000 annual visitors to explore its unique rooms, including its Ballroom, Stage Curtain and Theatre Room, and Hollywood Room, which served as a filming site for the feature films Tom Sawyer and Deep Impact. In addition to cave tours, a wide variety of family-friendly attractions are available at the caverns, including zipline adventures, riverboat rides, and a children’s gem mining attraction. A Southern-style restaurant, seasonal motel, and RV and tent hookup campground are also offered.
1135 Highway W, Sullivan, MO 63080, Phone: 573-468-CAVE
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17.Natural Bridge Caverns
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Natural Bridge Caverns are Texas’ largest commercial show caverns, located near San Antonio adjacent to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch safari park. The caverns were discovered in 1960 by St. Mary’s University students and are considered to be living caverns due to their high level of ongoing limestone and calcite development. In 1964, the caverns were developed into a public show cave, and in 1971, they were listed as a National Natural Landmark. Five types of guided tours are offered at the site, highlighting natural wonders such as a 60-foot limestone slab bridge that gives the caverns their name. Other onsite activities include a bat observation tour, a canopy challenge, and a gem mining attraction.
26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd, San Antonio, TX 78266, Phone: 210-651-6101
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Craighead Caverns are located within the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and are best known as the site of The Lost Sea, the second-largest underground non-subglacial lake in the world. The caverns were named for Cherokee Chief Craighead and were formerly used as a saltpeter mining site for Confederate troops during the American Civil War. Since 1974, the caverns have been listed on the National Park Services’ National Natural Landmarks list. Combination guided cave exploration and boat tours are offered daily, highlighting the 4.5-acre lake and a variety of underground crystal formations and waterfalls. A Wild Cave Tour is also offered for small groups, emphasizing the cave’s undeveloped areas.
140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, TN 37874, Phone: 423-337-6616
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Ohio Caverns are approximately a half-hour drive from Dayton and are the state’s largest cave system, located within the Bellefontaine Outlier geographical region, which contains a large area of Devonian-age bedrock. The cave was discovered in 1897 by Robert Noffsinger and was opened to the public as a show cave later that year. Today, the cave is a member attraction of the National Caving Association and is considered America’s most colorful cavern system, showcasing a large number of active stalagmite and stalactite formations. Several guided tour options explore natural wonders within the cave such as its Sunken City, Old Town Pump, Fantasy Land, and the Crystal King, the state’s largest free-hanging stalactite.
2210 State Route 245 East, West Liberty, OH 43357, Phone: 937-465-4017
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Ruby Falls is a 145-foot underground waterfall located more than 1,120 feet underneath the surface of Lookout Mountain, near the city of Chattanooga. The falls were discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert and were opened to the public for guided tours two years later. The cave and waterfall gained national notoriety in the mid-20th century due to its popular See Ruby Falls roadside billboard campaign, which was immortalized in Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash’s country song “See Ruby Fall.” Today, the falls remain one of the Chattanooga region’s top tourist attractions, accessible via the main passage of Ruby Falls Cave. Though the two attractions are not operated by the same owners, the falls are commonly associated with the nearby mountaintop Rock City tourist attraction.
1720 South Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga, TN 37409, Phone: 423-821-2544
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20 Best Caves in the United States
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Oleksandr Umanskyi - Fotolia.com
- Wind Cave National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Wirepec - Fotolia.com
- Antelope Canyon, Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Izzotti - Fotolia.com
- Blanchard Springs Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of okimo - Fotolia.com
- Cave of the Winds, Photo: Courtesy of garytog - Fotolia.com
- Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Photo: Courtesy of maksymowicz - Fotolia.com
- DeSoto Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of mitarart - Fotolia.com
- Fantastic Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of porpendero - Fotolia.com
- Niagara Cave, Photo: Courtesy of Natalia - Fotolia.com
- Jewel Cave, Photo: Courtesy of Anjan - Fotolia.com
- Kartchner Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of Alexander - Fotolia.com
- Lava Beds National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of Rob Mutch Photo - Fotolia.com
- Luray Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of filin174 - Fotolia.com
- Makauwahi Cave Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of reb - Fotolia.com
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Green Heron Photo - Fotolia.com
- Meramec Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of EvanTravels - Fotolia.com
- Natural Bridge Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of kichigin19 - Fotolia.com
- Craighead Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of Matteo Gabrieli - Fotolia.com
- Ohio Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of Jiri Dolezal - Fotolia.com
- Ruby Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Ritu Jethani - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Jairson - Fotolia.com