Top 10 Showcaves in the US

King's Row is a spectacular sight
King's Row is a spectacular sight

If you go deep enough, each cave has its own special attraction. Beautiful rock and crystal formations. Water features. Music. Cavern-dwelling creatures. History. Here’s a subjectively-selected Top 10 list drawn mostly from a review of highlighted caves on

  • Luray Caverns in Virginia. Hear the largest musical instrument in the world, the Great Stalacpipe Organ, that taps stalactites with rubber mallets across a 3.5-acre expanse and fills the whole place with sound. As if that weren’t enough, the Geology Hall of Fame is here.
  • The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tenn. This place is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest underground lake in the United States. It is 4.5 acres at the surface, but more than 13 acres have been mapped and the work is incomplete.
  • Bluespring Caverns in Lawrence County, Ind. Speaking of water, the longest underground navigable river in the United States makes this a superlative destination. In addition to the three miles of flowing water, this place has a fascinating selection of creatures including salamanders, crickets, spiders, beetles, bats and the rare sightless Northern Cavefish.
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Monument in Eddy County, N.M., explored in 1898 and declared a national monument in 1923, includes Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave. Carlsbad Cavern has 23 named rooms – the biggest covers 357,469 square feet. Lechuguilla Cave, one of the most popular in the world for spelunking, is 1,640 feet underground, extends for 120 miles and has spectacular features such as 20-foot gypsum crystals and 50-foot calcite columns.
  • Alabaster Caverns near Freedom, Okla. When there are only three places to see black alabaster, and only one in the United States, it’s worth a trip to the largest natural gypsum cave in the world, with pink, white and rare black alabaster as well as crystal formations of selenite, another kind of gypsum.
  • Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Named for its own size rather than the wooly prehistoric beast, the world’s longest cave system—more than 400 miles—is worth a visit. Right next door, you can see Diamond Cavern’s drapery deposits of naturally colorful calcite.
  • Cave Without A Name near Boerne, Tex. You can see formations of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, cave drapery, flowstones and rimstone dams in six rooms and hear concerts in the Cave Throne Room.
  • Meramec Caverns near Stanton, Mo. This 4.6-mile system has irresistible history. Natives used the caves for shelter, a French miner visited them in 1722, and Confederates destroyed a Union saltpeter plant in the caves during the Civil War. Meramec was one of the first attractions advertised by bumper sign when it opened to the public in 1935.
  • Grand Caverns in Grottoes, Va. Speaking of history, the oldest continually operated show cave in the United States was discovered by a trapper in 1804 and opened to visitors in 1806. More than 200 Confederate and Union soldiers from nearby battles signed their names in the caverns.
  • Longhorn Cavern in Burnet County, Tex. This one’s got music and history. It was used by Natives, Confederate soldiers, outlaws, and, during Prohibition, as a speakeasy with musical performances. Really—a tavern in a cavern. It’s been hosting musical performance since 2006.

Of course, Glenwood Caverns in Glenwood Springs is a Colorado stunner. Exquisite underground landscapes include rooms that are among the state’s largest— “the Barn,” and the most highly decorated—King’s Row. Glenwood Caverns offers two cave tours—the Historic Fairy Caves and King’s Row—both are included in the Park’s Funday passes. Learn more and plan a visit to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

Shop Your Way to the Top of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park!

You can get a free tram ride to visit the park by supporting Glenwood Springs businesses during the Grand Avenue Bridge detour! Simply bring in a receipt from any merchant located downtown between Cooper and Colorado, from 6th to 10th streets, or in the Glenwood Meadows.  The value of the receipt must be at least $16 for one FREE round-trip tram ride to the Adventure Park.  A $32 receipt is good for two tram rides, $48 for three tram rides and $64 for a maximum of four tram rides.

There’s a lot going on at the Park this fall that’s included with that tram ride!

Octoberfest is now in progress and continues through Oct. 29, with daily activities such as a pumpkin patch and panoramic, mountain-top views of the fall colors. On Saturdays, tractor-pulled hayrides, face painting, pumpkin decorating and family-friendly games are included as well. The pumpkins may be purchased for just $3 each. German oompah band Alpine Echo will entertain guests Sat., Oct. 14, and Sat., Oct. 21, from noon to 4 p.m., with crowd-pleasing tunes like the chicken dance, polkas, waltzes, Bavarian pub songs and “Edelweiss,” everyone’s favorite from the “Sound of Music.”

Winter on the Mountain, with its display of a half million lights, a giant Christmas tree with a lightshow that’s choreographed to music and firepits for warming up, begins Fri., Nov. 10. Santa Claus will make a guest appearance at the kick-off party on Sat., Nov. 18. The winter celebration continues through Feb. 25, 2018.

Shop, dine or play in town, then enjoy a free tram ride to America’s only mountain-top theme park. Receipts must be dated between Oct. 6 and the day that the bridge reopens. Passes must be redeemed by Dec. 17, 2017.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park: What Our Visitors Say

Alpine Coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Few accolades could mean more than this recent headline by Jamie Swartzendruber on her WineGlasSlipper blog, also published in “Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park: It doesn’t get more Colorado than this!”

“Voted one of USA Today’s 10 Best Caves, Glenwood Caverns is a must for your family summer fun list,” Jamie wrote. “Three cave tours offer varying levels of difficulty to suit the whole family! I have a little dare devil, so this year, we opted for the Wild Cave Tour (10-year age requirement AND we finally made the cut). What is it? Only the most extreme caving expedition a kiddo is permitted on, an adventure for the true thrill seeker.”

Our Giant Canyon Swing was more thrill than she bargained for, Jamie said. “With a scratchy voice and trembling hands, I exited the swing of terror, a theme park walk of shame, through the line of sweet little girls waiting to get on,” she wrote.  Wide eyed, they kindly asked if I was going to be alright. I may still have the occasional nightmare, but hey, check that one off my list…. Though I struggled with the Giant Canyon Swing, the kids LOVED it! They rode several times, throwing their hands in the air or striking nonchalant poses. I may have felt theme park envy. The Alpine Coaster was another top-pick. Scary enough to cling to the breaks but enjoyable enough for mom to survive. I’m sure the views are fantastic, but I’ll admit, my eyes were steady on the tracks and my heart was still jumpy.”

Summer fun on the Giant Canyon Swing

We get that a lot. People love the mountaintop experience here – exploring inside the caverns, taking in the view from the summit, screaming over the edge. Here’s a sampling of our online reviews from visitors who have come from across Colorado and the country.

From Iowa, on TripAdvisor, where we have a Certificate of Excellence: “The Alpine Coaster was a lot of fun. It was extremely fast if you want it to be, and you can control (the speed of) the actual sled you are riding on. I had never been on one before and it was my favorite thing to do at the Adventure Park. I rode it numerous times. You don’t have to worry, at the end a lift takes your sled back to the start of the ride and that is cool.”

Take a cave tour at Glenwood Caverns for National Caves and Karst Day!

From Longmont, on TripAdvisor: “By far the easiest way to go caving. Both the original Fairy Caves and King’s Row are easily accessible. The guides are experienced cavers and are a lot of fun. There’s nothing like these caves anywhere else in the US. The tram makes it easy to get to from town.”

From Florida, on TripAdvisor: “This place was fun! We come from the land of Disney and Busch Gardens, but this place dared you! We had a blast riding the Alpine Coaster and the zip line shot! I wish I could say I tried the swing, but I chickened out. I loved the caverns tour and caves. All this was on top of a mountain that you reach by taking a gondola. That was an adventure by itself!”

From Littleton, on Yelp: “A fun day of adventure for the kids and adults alike. We did the combo pass with Iron Mountain Hot Springs. Glad we came here on a sunny day. Tram ride is a great way to go and very scenic. Alpine Coaster was worth going on again and again.”

From our own Facebook page: “We loved everything: the gondola ride up, the incredible views, the rides and cave tours! Everyone was really nice! The Caverns tour guide was SO excited to tell us about the caves! He had lots of fun scientific and historical information! Just a really fun place to spend the day with the family! We also got some amazing pictures.”

Come see for yourself. And thanks, Jamie (We’re proud that it doesn’t get any more Colorado than this.)

Top 5 Reasons to Visit a Show Cave

The National Caves Association recently declared June 6, National Caves and Karst Day. Reporter, Matt Renoux highlighted the rock star event at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park with a 9News feature story.  Fortunately, visiting a commercial show cave in Glenwood Springs, Colorado or anywhere else is not calendar-limited; in fact, spelunking is a perfect any-time-of-year activity. Here’s why:

1. Explore a rare environment.

No two caves are exactly alike. Sights on a cave tour include formations, millions of years in the making, such as stalagmites, stalactites, aragonite crystals, flowstone and cave bacon. There are also many caves with water features, such as underground rivers, lakes and waterfalls. At Bluespring Caverns and Indiana Caverns, both in Indiana, visitors can explore via boat tours; at Natural Stone Bridge Cave and Park, in New York, the adventure tour invites brave guests to float through the caves wearing a life jacket!

2. Spend time with family & friends.

Some of the best family memories are made during summer vacations and staycations. Exploring caves with kids can spark an interest in science and nature that could last a lifetime. Photos enable you to relive those great vacation memories time, so take plenty. Also, consider professional souvenir cave photos that often note the date of your visit as well as the smiles.

3. Learn something new.

Guided tours teach guests about the history of a particular cave and the surrounding area, as well as its geology, the positive impacts of bats and the importance of cave conservation.  Cave science is fascinating. In 2000, seven previously unknown species of bacteria were discovered inside Glenwood Caverns. Scientists are currently exploring how they might be used in developing new medicines to fight disease.

4. Improve wellbeing.

Multiple studies show that nature boosts our mental and physical health. Benefits include restored mental energy, better vision in children, improved concentration, sharper thinking and creativity. Spending time in natural spaces has been linked to increased energy, improved cognition, reduced anger and stress, lower blood pressure and slower heart rates.

5. Have fun!

Exploring and spending time in caverns makes everything more interesting. Visitors can watch live concerts broadcast by PBS or camp out at Tennessee’s Cumberland Caverns; and listen to the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument, at Luray Caverns in Virginia. At Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, getting to the caves is part of the fun. Guests take a scenic tram ride from the valley floor to America’s only mountain –top theme park, the launch pad of some of the world’s the most exciting thrill rides including the Giant Canyon Swing.

Find out more about guided tours, cave history, thrill rides and attractions at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

Oh Fudge! A Colorado Visitor Favorite

Making tons (yes, literal tons) of fudge a year, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park could easily give Willy Wonka and his mythical Chocolate Factory some sweet competition.

Glenwood Caverns is better known for its adventure rides and cave tours, but the Colorado theme park also happens to churn out mountains of fudge annually. The melt-in-your-mouth confection is the top-selling item at the General Store gift shop where ensconced in a glass display case, it takes center stage.

Each batch is made using only the highest quality ingredients. Technically, it only takes a few of them to make fudge: chocolate, butter, sugar, cream and vanilla, but making fudge is a notoriously persnickety process. Over cook it and it will become grainy, add too much of one ingredient or other and the consistency will be off.

Getting it right though, takes experience and lots of it. Laura VanLue has been making fudge at the Caverns since 2015, when the General Store first began selling it. Since then, VanLue and her crew have made over 6.5 tons of fudgy goodness. That’s more than the vehicle weight limit on some roadways!

During peak season from May through August, VanLue spends up to seven hours a day at least twice per week making 18 pans of flavored fudge. Each pan weighs 6 pounds – that’s 108 pounds of fudge in a day which only keeps the General Store stocked up for one week. Besides being a delicious treat, when asked why she thought the homemade fudge was so popular, VanLue speculated, “It smells good when you walk into the General Store – like sugar. We also give away free samples. After that first taste, most people are goners.”

Keeping fudge lovers happy is just part of the job. Because visitors can’t seem to get enough of it, VanLue and her management team are making it available at other Caverns locations starting this summer. In addition to the General Store, visitors can get their fudge fix at the Lookout Grille and the Trading Post.

Fun Fudge Facts:

  • Fudge is an American invention.
  • June 16th is National Fudge Day.
  • Most people believe the first batch was accidental, resulting from a botched batch of caramels; the mishap led to the expression “Oh Fudge,” signifying a mistake.
  • In the 19th Century when fudge was accidentally invented, the word “fudge” was often used to mean “nonsense.”
  • “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men,” Willy Wonka from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
  • The first commercially sold fudge was in 1886, at a grocery store in Baltimore, Maryland where it retailed for 40¢ per pound.
  • Hot fudge is technically not fudge, but a kind of chocolate syrup.
  • Fudge does not have to be chocolate-based, though chocolate flavors are the most popular.

So what are the Caverns’ top-selling fudge flavors? Jockeying for first and second place are Peanut Butter Chocolate and Mint Chocolate Swirl, next up are Cookies N’ Cream and Rocky Road. Well, as Mr. Wonka might say that’s “scrumpdidlyumptious!”