When it comes to seeing things in a whole new way (the main goal for many adventure enthusiasts!), it’s hard to beat the wondrous subterranean world of caves to explore.
The United States is home to some of the planet’s largest and most spectacular caves, featuring enormous ancient rock formations, underground pools, fossil and archeological sites, and more.
Perhaps you’re looking to scratch that spelunking itch in a well-developed cave popular with tourists. Or maybe you’d prefer to explore a little-known cave somewhere off the beaten path (literally!). Whichever sounds more like you, feed your sense of wonder and adventure by checking out these U.S. caves to explore.
8 American Caves To Explore
Consider doing something different on your next vacation and exploring one of these caves in the U.S.
1. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is set in the remote Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico. The park’s centerpiece is the Carlsbad Cavern, discovered in 1898 by a teenager who mistook flying bats for smoke.
The biggest draw of Carlsbad Caverns is the Big Room, a large limestone chamber measuring 4,000 feet in length, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at its deepest. Open year-round, this is one of the most accessible caves to explore, allowing visitors to hike in on their own or descend from an elevator at the visitor center.
If you visit Carlsbad Caverns, two other remote (read: less crowded!) national parks are nearby: White Sands, also in New Mexico, and Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains.
2. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Encompassed by the national park of the same name, this aptly-named cave is in central Kentucky and has been explored for over 200 years. Even now, newer uncharted areas are still being discovered (it may be far bigger than we even realize!).
Visitors can take several cave tours, including ones featuring electronic illumination and ones lit by old-school lanterns. There are also more rugged adventures, such as the Wild Cave Tour, which includes sections that have just a 10-inch opening!
3. Stephens Gap, Alabama
Nestled in northern Alabama, the Stephens Gap Callahan Cave is one of the most-photographed, undeveloped caves in the country. It features a 143-foot-deep pit and two waterfalls spilling right down into the cave — the main reason Stephens Gap is so sought out among caves to explore!
The walk-in entrance is a must-see for spelunking enthusiasts and outdoor lovers. In fact, the bottom of the cave can only be reached by rappelling, and to do so requires knowledge, experience, and proper caving equipment.
Stephens Gap is on private property and has strict daily visitation limits. All visitors must secure a permit several weeks in advance.
4. Craighead Caverns, Tennessee
Located between Knoxville and Chattanooga, not far from countless Great Smoky Mountain waterfalls, Craighead Caverns is part of an extensive cave system best-known for The Lost Sea. This geological wonder is not only the largest underground lake in the country, but also the second-largest in the world.
Visitors can explore Craighead Caverns as part of a guided family-friendly tour, which includes exploring the Lost Sea in a glass-bottom boat. Besides exploring the lake, visitors can also take in views of a waterfall and several crystal formations including anthodites, stalactites, and stalagmites.
5. Wind Cave, South Dakota
One of South Dakota’s The Great 8 landmarks, Wind Cave National Park is one of the country’s best caves to explore. At over 154 miles, it’s one of the world’s longest caves and the third-longest in the United States.
Wind Cave gets its name from the continuous movement of air through its various passages, created by atmospheric pressure changes inside and outside. In layman’s terms, quick weather changes cause a lot of wind to pass through the cave, creating distinct sensations.
Visitors will be amazed by the spectacular calcite formations, including honeycomb-like boxwork and needle-like frostwork. The only way to explore Wind Cave is by booking a guided ranger-led tour. Those who want to explore on their own can hike several trails above-ground. Keep your eyes open for bison!
6. Moaning Caverns, California
Located in north-central California (unsurprisingly, right in the heart of Gold Rush country), Moaning Caverns developed a reputation as being spooky long ago.
This infamous reputation was earned thanks to the sound of air rushing through the cave’s many narrow openings. The air creates a soft moaning sound that, to this day, deters some visitors.
Moaning Caverns offers public walking tours, and like other caves to explore in the U.S., opportunities to rappel further down for the more adventurous and experienced. If you’re brave enough to rappel, you’ll experience the unique long, winding, gothic staircase exit.
7. Meramec Caverns, Missouri
This limestone cave in Missouri’s famed Ozarks region is the largest commercial one in the state. It features a seven-layer space that includes amazing multicolored formations and even an underground lake.
Believed to be over 400 million years old, the Meramec Caverns have played an important role in American history. It served as a shelter for Native Americans, as well as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Legend has it that the caverns were also a hiding spot for Jesse James and his infamous gang of outlaws!
Visitors can explore the cave’s structures on guided tours, where they’ll walk about 1.25 miles and learn about the fascinating underwater “Wine Table” and watch an LED light show dedicated to the country’s armed forces, public-service officers, and medical professionals.
8. Kartchner Caverns, Arizona
Although Kartchner Caverns State Park features hiking trails, camping, and picnic facilities, its show cave is by far its most popular attraction. Encompassing some of the world’s oldest and largest formations of soda-straw stalactites, about 40% of Kartchner Caverns’ cave system is open to the public.
The park offers a variety of guided underground tours, some of which highlight the 58-foot-tall column formation called Kubla Khan, the largest in Arizona. Interestingly, part of the cave is closed to the public for several months of the year because it’s a nursery roost for bats.
With exploring caves being such a unique experience, you'll definitely want to remember it! Consider getting a Wanderchain and a few Travel Tokens!
Not only is this travel souvenir stylish and unique, but it also lets you proudly show off your adventures (and may even start a conversation or two!).