Even if you wouldn't consider yourself Indiana Jones, a trip to ancient caves is still within your reach — especially for our RV Lifestyle Fellow Travelers.
But first things first: get the vision of a dark, grimy hole out of your mind.
That's because some of these caves prove that some of the country's most beautiful relics have been hiding underground all this time.
I've put together the list below (and please add your favorite in the comments that follow) based on previous RV Lifestyle reports and some help from BestLifeOnline.com:
Caves in Antelope Canyon – Page, Arizona
This slot canyon in Arizona is considered one of the most awe-inspiring caves on the planet. Split into two sections, this ancient canyon was formed by the erosion of Navajo Sandstone, mostly as a result of flash flooding. Consider a visit in the summer, when the natural light hits its walls at just the right angle to create a warm red glow. Be aware, however, that this national treasure is only accessible via guided tours, which can be photography-based, hiking-intensive, or more in-depth, depending on the time of year and flooding potential.
Carlsbad Caverns – Eddy County, New Mexico
Located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico, these caverns once served as a coastline for an inland sea. About 250 million years later, the Carlsbad Caverns are the remains of the ancient coastline, with the eroded Permian reef creating dazzling structures that attract thousands of tourists every year. Among other things, the park offers bat flight viewing programs and celestial night sky parties.
Caves in the Black Chasm Cavern – Volcano, California
Visiting Black Chasm Cavern is well-known for its bright blue lake surrounded by thousands of sparkling helictites, a mineral that's only present in around 5 percent of all caves in existence. After visiting the cavern, visitors can revel in the wonders of the Zen Garden, an area full of marble monoliths that were uncovered during the hydraulic mining of the Gold Rush era. Guided tours are offered throughout the year.
Lava River Cave; Bend, Oregon
Located just outside of Bend, Oregon, in Deschutes National Park, the Lava River Cave features a series of arches that make visitors from all over stop and revel in Mother Nature's creations. More than a century after its discovery, visitors can tour Lava River Cave from May to September. It remains closed during the other months of the year to protect the bats.
Luray Caverns – Luray, Virginia
The Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia are the biggest set of caverns in the eastern U.S. They feature some of the country's best folded stone formations, all made of translucent calcite. Visitors should be sure to check out the cave's largest lake that forms a spectacular optical illusion and adds a certain mysterious quality to the formations looming from above. Other area attractions include the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, the Luray Valley Museum, and Toy Town Junction to learn more about Luray's interesting past.
Florida Caverns State Park – Marianna, Florida
The Florida Caverns State Park is one of those perfect half-a-day side trips, offering a guided tour of a fascinating geologic wonder, some nice hikes and an opportunity to kayak and explore a wilderness river that offers up a blue hole as a bonus.
And at the end of the exploring, there’s a nice campground available, too, if you’re in need of a place to overnight.
Located near the town of Marianna in Florida’s panhandle just off I-10, the underground tour offers inspiring views of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones and draperies.
For more on this destination, check out my full report on it by clicking here.
Natural Bridge Caverns – New Braunfels, Texas
About 10,000 years ago, the Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas were home to a group of prehistoric settlers — evident in the large number of artifacts discovered just within the entrance to the caverns. One of the most popular destinations in Texas, there are multiple tours offered, from the Hidden Passages Tour to the Canopy Ropes Course just outside of the network of caves.
Three Missouri Caves – Various Locations
Missouri is known as the “cave state,” and a trip down Historic U.S. 66 take drivers past three well-known show caves – two privately owned and one (formerly privately owned) in a state park.
If you travel I-44 west from St. Louis through the Ozarks you are urged by mammoth billboards to visit Meramec Caverns, Onondaga Cave, and Fantastic Caverns, three of the 17 show caves in Missouri. The state has over 6,600 caves and we have seen wild caves as well as commercial caves where you pay for a tour. You probably wouldn’t like the wild caves — almost all in Missouri have gooey mud or water or both. For more detail on those worth a stop, however, be sure to check out this Off the Beaten Path report from RV Lifestyle.
Caverns of Sonora – Sonora, Texas
At the intersection of Texas Hill Country and the Chihuahuan Desert, the Caverns of Sonora have become known as “crystal kingdoms,” due to the thousands of calcite crystal formations lining its walls. Adventurous travelers will want to consider the Discovery Challenge Tour that actually takes visitors to explore off-trail passageways as any other experienced spelunkers would do.
Moaning Cavern – Vallecito, California
The Moaning Cavern outside of Vallecito, California is named after the sound that the cavern makes. Legend has it the “moaning” lured the original gold miners to its depths in the 19th century. What really put this cavern on the map was the discovery of some of the oldest human remains in America, dating back about 12,000 years. Further, archaeologists have found numerous remains in Moaning Cavern, which in turn led to theories about it being haunted. However, if you can set aside your fear of ghosts, walk, climb, or rappel your way through Moaning Cavern for breathtaking experiences.
Mammoth Cave – Brownsville, Kentucky
In central Kentucky, the Mammoth Cave National Park is not only a geological wonder that is unequaled in scope, it is also a great getaway for a long RV weekend, with a terrific campground, beautiful scenery, and bike paths through a heavily forested area of gently rolling hills and the lush Green River valley. For more on Mammoth Cave, be sure to check out my full report here.
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