If your kids love getting down and dirty, then spelunking is a great way to let them play in the dirt while learning about science. Spelunking is a fancy way of saying “underground cave exploration,” and our area has some of the most amazing caves in the country. Limestone rock formations create a landscape that will take your breath away. And if you’re lucky, you’ll glimpse a few cave crickets—all white crickets that live completely in the dark. Different caves offer different experiences. Some you can easily walk through without getting dirty, while others let you don a hard hat and a head lamp as you squeeze through narrow, muddy spaces. Whatever your preference, here are some that are open year-round and well worth exploring.
Photo: Luray Caverns
Originally discovered in 1878, Luray Caverns is the largest series of caverns in the Eastern US, featuring multiple rooms filled with amazing stalactites and stalagmites. Some rooms have ceilings that are 10 stories high. Luray is a popular tourist spot, and if you’re looking for an easy caving experience (Grandma can do it!) then this is your spot. Don’t miss the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a stalactite formation that sings when you gently tap it. There are other fun things here too, including a garden
maze, rope adventure park, and the Luray Valley Museum.
101 Cave Hill Rd. (Luray, Va)
Cost: $14 and up
If you’ve experienced some of the easier caving tours and you’re interested in a more adventurous experience, then take the Wild Cave Tour at Lost World Caverns. These tours let you explore the undeveloped parts of the cavern with an expert guide who leads you on an unforgettable 4-hour trip through more than a mile of chambers and passageways. This tour requires some strength and agility as you negotiate narrow spaces with names such as The Birth Canal, The Squeeze Box and The Drain. You’ll get up-close and personal with some spectacular formations. No special equipment is needed. Lost World provides helmets, lights, knee pads and gloves. Be sure to wear athletic clothes and expect to emerge from this tour covered in a whole lot of mud.
Cost: $6 kids 6-12; $12 adults; $79 for Wild Tours (must be 10 and up)
Photo: Shenandoah Caverns
Like Luray, Shenandoah offers an easy caving experience (they even have an elevator). Take a guided one-hour tour through 17 amazing rooms and see some truly unique formations, including the infamous Bacon Room, where limestone formations look exactly like sizzling pieces of bacon (really), as well as the gorgeous Rainbow Lake where your little ones will squeal at the pink and purple light display. The caverns are a comfortable 54 degree year round. There’s also a museum and café here. Combine your tour with a scenic drive through the Shenandoah Valley for the ultimate above and below ground experience.
261 Caverns Rd. (Quicksurg, Va)
Cost: $12 for kids, 6-12; $24 for adults, $21; under 5 free
As one of the the oldest operating caves, Grand Caverns beneath the Shenandoah Valley has an impressive array of limestone shield formations and other features such as flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites. You’ll also find lots of other fun activities here, including swimming, fishing, hiking and mini-golf, all in a beautiful park setting. On the first Saturday in October, you can attend the Fall Festival, as well as a fancy ball in the Grand Ballroom. On the first Saturday in December, you can experience Caroling Caverns when carolers sing Christmas carols throughout the caves.
5 Grand Caverns Blvd. (Grottoes, Va)
Cost: $11 for kids 6-12; $20 for adults; under 6 free
Photo: Endless Caverns
If you’d like a weekend camping getaway with an added caving adventure, then Endless Caverns is your place. The property maintains 148 wooded pull-through and back-in RV sites, along with a large swimming pool and hiking trails. The six-mile long cave that rests at the foot of Virginia’s Massanutten Mountain features a 75-minute guided tour through tunnels, channels, and beautiful rock formations by knowledgeable guides who share unique geological and historical facts.
1800 Endless Caverns Rd. (New Market, Va)
Cost: $9 for kids 4–12; $20 for adults; under 3/free
Crystal Grottoes Caverns
Overall, Crystal Grottoes is smaller and less busy than the better known Virginia caves, but it has more formations per square foot than any other cave known to man. It’s also the only cave in the whole state of Maryland. Located near Boonsboro, a quaint town just 63 miles outside of D.C., you can combine a caving trip with stops at several important civil war sites, a hike on the nearby Appalachian Trail, or some antique shopping for a fun weekend excursion.
19821 Shepherdstown Pike (Boonsboro, Md)
Cost: $10 for kids 11 and under; $20 for adults (cash only)
Have you been spelunking at any of these caves? Tell us about your experience below.