Visiting the Caverns of the United States


One thing I remember about traveling the highways of the south seated in the back seat of my father’s car is seeing barns, billboards and birdhouses emblazoned with either the words “See Rock City” or “See Ruby Falls” For a southern kid in those days this was tantamount to a trip to Disneyland. We didn’t have all the wonderlands of Orlando to look forward to in those days.

See Ruby Falls by Brent Moore via wikimedia commons

I’m going to save Rock City for another day. Today I am thinking about Ruby Falls and the many other caverns and caves which have become tourist attractions throughout the United States.

Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall inside Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain is near Chattanooga, Tennessee and is a tourist attraction itself. The falls is 145 feet high. Ruby Falls is part of the Lookout Mountain Caverns which is a limestone cave.

The falls were discovered by Leo Lambert as he looked for an entrance to the cavern to be used as a tourist attraction. He named the falls for his wife Ruby and the falls itself became the attraction that is still active today.

The Craighead or Lost Sea Cavern is located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It contains the largest non-subglacial lake in the United States. The lake was discovered in 1905 by Ben Sands who was thirteen years old at the time. Boat tours are available to view the lake.

Luray Caverns Stalacpipe Organ by Paulo Ordoveza via wikimedia commons

Luray, Virginia is the home of the Luray Caverns.  The caverns were discovered in 1878. The caverns are visited by around 500,000 people each year. They have been designated a National Natural Landmark since 1974. The caverns are the home to the Great Stalacpipe Organ. When this rock organ is played it makes the musical sounds of bells or a xylophone.

While in the Shenandoah Valley you can visit the lesser known Shenandoah Caverns. These caverns are the only ones in Virginia to feature an elevator and have been in operation since 1922. The caverns have a mile long tour, 80% of which is accessible to visitors in wheelchairs or who have other accessibility needs.

Mammoth Cave by Jpogi via wikimedia commons

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky contains the largest cave system in the world. The system includes more than 390 miles of passageways. There are several cave tours offered by the National Park Service. The tours can range from one to six hours in length.

New Mexico has the Carlsbad Cavern National Park. You may take self-guided tours of the caverns, but the guided tours are recommended. The Carlsbad Caverns are considered to be the world’s most famous. Within the cavern you will want to visit the Big Room which is a natural limestone chamber almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and 255 high at the highest point.

A trip to Carlsbad Cavern is a trip to Carlsbad Cavern. There are no other tourist attractions nearby and the closest town is Carlsbad, New Mexico which is 18 miles away.

Switchbacks in Carlsbad Cavern by Daniel Mayer via wikimedia commons

These are some of the more famous caves and caverns in the United States. But that doesn’t mean these are the only ones.

In New Braunfels, Texas you will find the Natural Bridge Caverns. The Caverns of Sonora can be found in San Antonio, Texas. The Moaning Cavern is in Vallecito, California. Arkansas has the Blanchard Springs Caverns and South Dakota has Jewel Cave.

You can find the Niagara Cave in Minnesota which is well known for the falls within the cave.  Arizona has the Ketchner Caverns State Park and in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri you will find the Meramec Caverns.

So if you are thinking of a road trip to see a cavern, we have only explored the tip of the stalactite. Hop in your car and head out to see the world of underground America.

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