Top Guided Cave Tours in the U.S. for the Beginning Spelunker

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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.

1Carls­bad 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 ranger’s 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.

2Ore­gon 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.