You don’t have to be an avid spelunker to enjoy a little caving. Here in the United States we are blessed with an abundance of easy-to-access caves with professional guides, often in National Parks or Monuments.
Carlsbad Caverns: Lower Cave Tour – While touring the 14-acre big room is a mind-boggling spectacle, for more adventure the Lower Cave Tour is a beginning cavers dream. Participants spend three hours descending into an otherworldly abyss. The initial ten foot climb down a knotted rope keeps more than a few people from proceeding on the outing. While there are no shortage of sights on the tour, the cave pearls, formed similarly to the way a biological pearl forms within a mollusk, is an ethereal centerpiece. After the tour make sure to stick around to watch the bats fly out of the natural entrance at dusk.
Mammoth Cave National Park: Wild Cave Tour – Appropriately named, this takes the beginning caver through five miles of manageable, but tight spots and the maximum hip or chest measurement of 42 inches is strictly enforced. The infamous Bare Hole gets its moniker from the vast number of tourists getting pantsed by the tightest spot on the tour. After the two-hour mark the groups can head in several different directions at the rangers discretion, so it’s an adventure that can be done multiple times.
Niagara Cave Tour – The jewel of Harmony, Minnesota, this privately run cave is considered one of the more spectacular low effort cave tours. The one-mile trek visits an underground stream leading to a waterfall almost 60 feet high, deep canyons and gorges, fossils that have been dated to over 400 million years old and a wedding chapel which has held over 400 ceremonies.
Oregon Caves National Monument: General Cave Tour – The NPS might call this the “general” tour, but there is nothing standard about it. The trail winds through the tight corridors where you must refrain from touching anything in the unusual and beautiful marble caves, which are sensitive to even slight disturbances. Along with the intricate formations, highlights of the tour include parts of a fossilized bear, fossilized graffiti from the early 1900s and entertaining stories from the rangers. For the next level of caver, off trail tours are available by reservation only in the summer. Also be sure to visit the old-timey lunch counter in the historic lodge.
Jewel Caves National Monument: Wild Caving Tour – There are reasons to visit South Dakota and this is definitely one of them. A 2/3-mile long tour may sound short, but it takes three to four hours to complete due to its strenuousness. While you scramble over rubble, shimmy between cave walls and fit yourself through spaces that look smaller than your cat door, the rangers will give you lessons in low impact caving, expert techniques and safety advice. The cave also features spots like Hurricane Corner and Humdinger where high winds funnel from miles away into the caverns.
Caverns of Sonoma: Discovery Challenge Adventure – Located in Central Texas, this privately run cave’s most advanced tour includes a 50 foot rappel into the Devil’s Pit and takes the intrepid spelunker through a maze of off trail corridors. All the gear you need is included and no experience is required to get behind the scenes in what is considered one of the most spectacular caves in the world due to its vast array of calcite crystal formations.