10 Awe-Inspiring Caves to Visit in the U.S.

Megan is a Senior Editor, SEO for SmarterTravel Media. Megan started with SmarterTravel Media’s Airfarewatchdog way back in 2008, moved over to FamilyVacationCritic, and finally SmarterTravel in 2021. Originally from Massachusetts, she has lived in Nova Scotia, London, and New York City. She has spent nearly every summer (or at least part of it) on Prince Edward Island. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two young children, and their dog, Indiana Bones (Indy). The Handy Item I Always Pack: Kindle Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Some sort of wellness retreat somewhere exotic. Travel Motto: Be flexible Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Window, if you prefer a middle seat, please message me so I can write an article about you.

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You may not realize that the U.S. is filled with hidden, mysterious caves. Several are part of the national or state parks, and are worth the excursion. Whether you are a thrill seeker looking for an adventurous exploration of a cave, or like the intimate, magical side that caves offer, the U.S has plenty to offer. Here are ten of the most amazing caves in the United States. 

Mammoth Cave National Park – Brownsville, KY

Mammoth Cave National Park - Brownsville, KY

Formed over ten million years ago, with over four hundred miles of cave passage, Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world. Established as a national park in 1941, it was named after its size, not the woolly ancient animal. Explore the caves by taking one of the several tours offered, and above ground, you can camp, hike on the over 85 miles of trails, kayak on the Green and Nolin Rivers, and more. Underground, you’ll see amazing sights like the Star Chamber that seems like you are looking at a starry night sky, not specks on the ceiling, Lovers Leap, which is lined with signatures of visitors from the past, or the famous Gothic Avenue, named for the formations that are similar to gothic architecture. 

Where to Stay: Mammoth Cave National Park Lodge

Wind Cave National Park – Hot Springs, South Dakota

Wind Cave National Park - Hot Springs, South Dakota

Due to changes in the atmospheric pressure in and out of the cave, the caves tend to “breath,” or produce winds, hence the name of Wind Cave National Park. Filled with hundreds of passageways and rooms, some still being discovered, you’ll be amazed by this underground wonder. For thrill seekers, there is the Wild Cave Tour, where you don hard hats and crawl through tight spaces, and for the less adventurous, there are an array of less strenuous tours available. Please note, the Wild Cave Tour is not available in 2021. 

Where to Stay: Hills Inn

Kartchner Caverns State Park – Benson, Arizona

Kartchner Caverns State Park - Benson, Arizona

Discovered only less than fifty years ago, Kartchner Caverns was dedicated as a state park in 1999. It is home to one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites, measuring in at over twenty-one feet long, the world’s extensive formation of brushite moonmilk, plus the first reported occurrences of “turnip shields” and “birdsnest” needle quartz formations. Besides touring the caves, you can camp, hike, and view wildlife. Kartchner has also been given an International Dark Sky Park Designation, meaning that there is minimal outdoor lighting to interfere with the view of the night sky, giving breathtaking views of the stars. 

Where to Stay: Comfort Inn

Related: What to Pack for Hiking: 38 Essentials

Carlsbad Caverns – New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns - New Mexico

Perhaps the most well-known cave in the US, Carlsbad Caverns is home to over one-hundred caves, with more believed to be discovered. The most recent room discovered was on October 31, 2013, giving it the name “Halloween Hall.” You will be amazed by chambers like the Big Room, which spans over 8 acres, and is the largest readily accessible cave chamber in North America. There are spots of the caverns you can explore on your own, or you can take a ranger guided tour, many of which require crawling. Please note, ranger guided tours are temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. 

Where to Stay: Fiddler’s Inn

Black Chasm Cavern – Volcano, California 

Black Chasm Cavern - Volcano, California

Declared a National Natural Landmark in 1976, Black Chasm Cavern is abound with helictites, which are formations that seem to defy the laws of gravity with how they grow every which way, a formation that is found in only 5% of caves in the world. You can tour the caverns, as well as take a tour of the Miners Trail – dating back to the California Gold Rush during the nineteenth century. 

Where to Stay: Volcano Union Inn and Pub

Ape Caves – South Cascades – Longview, Washington

Ape Caves - South Cascades - Longview, Washington

Ape Caves in Washington is for those who want to explore on their own – there are no tours, they are simply part of a hike. The caves are actually lava tubes formed by an eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s two thousand years ago, and are located within Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and  Gifford Pinchot National Forest. You can chose to hike the lower cave, which is less strenuous than the upper cave, and gives you a chance to see a geographical anomaly, the “meatball,” which, according to a local newspaper, is a “block of cooled lava which fell from the lava tube ceiling while lava was still flowing through the cave.” The upper cave requires an eight foot wall climb, narrow passageways, and climbing over rock formations. 

Where to Stay: Quality Inn and Suites

Related: 11 Hidden Natural Wonders in the United States

Luray Caverns – Luray, Virginia

Luray Caverns - Luray, Virginia

The largest caverns in the Eastern United States, the Luray Caverns have been dubbed “Geologies Hall of Fame” according to the official website. A registered natural landmark, you’ll be dazzled by sights like the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument, which, according to the official website, “literally makes stalactites sing by gently tapping them throughout three acres of the caverns.” It is played live during each tour, so you should get a chance to hear it if you go. You’ll also be amazed by the mirror image of the stalactites given by Dream Lake, and Titania’s Veil, which showcases calcite in its purest form. 

Where to Stay: Mimslyn Inn

Moaning Caverns – Vallecito, California

Moaning Caverns - Vallecito, California

Getting its name from the “moaning” sounds that the caves sometimes would emit (due to low water levels in holes in the rock), Moaning Caverns houses the largest single cave chamber in California. Although rare now, the moaning sounds were thought to have lured gold miners to the caverns in the 19th century, while MiWok Indian lore said it was a stone giant who lured people into the caves, and ultimately to their deaths. Which might explain why several human remains have been found in the cavern, some dating back as far as 12,000 years ago. Their most popular tour is the Spiral Tour, which leads you down a hundred-foot high 7-spiral staircase, and is for visitors of any age. For the more adventurous (and those older than 12 years old), there is the Expedition Tour, which requires hard hats, crawling, and lots of wriggling!

Where to Stay: The Victoria Inn

Lost Sea Caverns – Sweetwater, Tennessee  

Lost Sea Caverns - Sweetwater, Tennessee

Listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as America’s largest underground lake, the Lost Sea Caverns is a museum in and of itself: from an array of Native American artifacts found, bones of a Pleistocene jaguar from 20,000 years ago, and dates etched in the rock by visitors from the past. Boat tours on glass-bottomed boats will take you to the lost sea after a tour of the caverns, and there for groups of twelve or more, there is the option to experience the wild cave tour, where you not only get a more close up look of the cave, but you can spend the night! You can also visit their General Store, Ice Cream Parlor, Gem Mine and Glassblower, and cafe, the Cavern Kitchen. 

Where to Stay: Hotels in Sweetwater

Related: The 15 Best State Parks in the U.S.

Kazumura Cave – Hawaii

Kazumura Cave - Hawaii

Hawaii has an abundance of caves, and Kazumura is its largest. At over forty miles long, Kazumura is the longest lava tube in the world. Choose from three tours: Lava Falls (easy/moderate), Pit Room (moderate/challenging) and Maze, which is for experienced cavers and climbers only. 

Where to Stay: Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo

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