Wendy Royal Spring 2017
Because of the abundance of limestone in Pennsylvania, visitors have plenty of beautiful caves to explore throughout the state. Limestone caves are known to be the deepest and longest in the world. Because limestone is soluble, it dissolves over time, forming underground rooms and passages. Rainwater picks up carbon dioxide in the air, forming a very weak solution of carbonic acid that over time dissolves limestone and forms a cave. It is this same water that creates the amazing formations known as stalagmites and stalactites. These incredible formations create sculptures that are still being shaped by the hands of an unseen artist.
No matter the season, there simply is no bad time to go on a cave tour since the temperature in each cave stays the same year-round. The underground world of these caves is marvelous. Though we cannot boast having the largest caverns in the U.S., Pennsylvania caves are among the most unique.
Attire: Pennsylvania caves average between 48 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so a light jacket or sweater is recommended. Shoes appropriate for rough terrain and slippery surfaces are highly recommended; heels and sandals are highly discouraged.
Strollers and Wheelchairs: For obvious reasons, these caves are not handicapped- accessible and wheelchairs are prohibited. Strollers are also not permitted in the caves and though front baby carriers are acceptable, back baby carriers are not recommended. Also, the use of walking sticks is not permitted inside most caves.
Photography: Although most caverns allow cameras in the caves, some do not allow video recorders. Consult websites for details.
Laurel Caverns Park in Hopwood, Fayette County, is Pennsylvania’s largest cavern, with more than 3 miles of passages. The cave is situated below a privately owned geological preserve. The cavern is closed to the public from November to April because of its cold weather residents – Laurel Caverns is the largest natural bat hibernaculum in the state.
Situated above Chestnut Hill, the first ridge along the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania, the observation deck allows views of five counties. On clear days, the Pittsburgh skyline can be seen. Inside, the traditional guided tour takes visitors through approximately 20 percent of the cave. Though steps and inclines are expected on the one-hour tour, guests will not have to climb over rocks. There is a modified 30-minute tour available for those who wish to avoid steep slopes and steps.
One of the unique features of Laurel Caverns Park is Kavernputt, the largest simulated cave in the world. It was built to create the cave experience for those with physical limitations that restrict them from using the natural cave. Kavernputt is an 18-hole miniature golf course that can be played from a wheelchair. It was designed to educate players by featuring a unique aspect of Laurel Cavern at each hole. You won’t find typical miniature golf ornamentation such as windmills and animals – this course is all cave.
Address: (GPS address) 1065 Skyline Drive, Farmington, PA 15445. Important: Please see the website’s “Directions” page.
Admission: Traditional Tour: Adults – $12, Youth (kindergarten to grade 12) – $10. Modified Tour: Adults – $11, Youth (kindergarten to grade 12) – $9. Preschool children with adult – free
Season: Open April 20 through Oct. 30
Days/Hours: Every day from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (last tour departs)
Other: spelunking – rappelling – visitors center – souvenir shop – gemstone panning – observation deck – miniature golf
Coral Caverns in Manns Choice, Bedford County, holds the distinction of being the only known fossilized coral reef cavern. The main feature of Coral Caverns is the large wall containing the fossils of coral and other sea creatures said to have been buried eons ago when Pennsylvania is believed to have been partially covered by sea. The fossils are shaped like sea worms, clams and other creatures. Along the tour visitors are able to see cave ribbons, stalagmites, stalactites and cave coral. In a small room in the back there is a cave chimney, which reaches 60 feet.
Bill, the cave’s owner, usually conducts the guided tours, which last between 30 and 45 minutes. There are some steps, and the floor can be a little slippery.
Address: 123 Cavern St., Manns Choice, PA 15550
Admission: Adults – $12, Children 12 and under – $6 (cash preferred)
Season: Open mid-May through September
Days/Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but you may call for a visit anytime.
Other: gift shop
Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks is located in Huntingdon, close to Raystown Lake. Interpretive tours of both caverns take approximately one hour. Among the speleothems (cave formations) guests can expect to see are crystals, calcite, stalactites and massive flowstones.
In addition to regular tours, the site hosts several events throughout the year. One of the most anticipated is Discovery Days, which pays tribute to the Dunlavy family’s 85 years as owners and stewards of the caverns. This year’s event will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25. More information on Discovery Days and other popular family events can be found on the website.
Address: 7703 William Penn Highway, U.S. Route 22, Huntingdon, PA 16652
Admission: Adults – $14.98, Children 4 to 12 – $8.48, Seniors – $13.98
Season: March through December, with January and February by appointment
Days/Hours: Hours vary by season – check website.
Other: visitors center – gift shop – gemstone panning – nature trails – picnic pavilions – meditation chapel – educational field trips – birthday parties – on-site campground
Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park in Centre Hall, Centre County, holds the distinction of being America’s only underwater cave. The 45-minute interpretive tour by flat-bottom boat takes guests through passageways into large rooms where flowstone, curtains, cascades and draperies can be seen. Sparkling stalactites and stalagmites formed in familiar-looking shapes are seen throughout the tour. There are 48 steps leading to the cave’s main entrance, which is not handicapped-accessible.
Cave tours are not the only tours available to Penn’s Cave guests. The popular Farm-Nature-Wildlife Tour allows visitors to see bears, bison, wolves, bighorn sheep and the cave’s icon, the mountain lion. Like the cave tour, it aims to be both entertaining and educational.
The Cave Rock Mountain Tour is a fully guided, two-hour off-road experience that is designed for adventure-seekers. The trail guides take tourgoers to the mountaintop across 1,600 acres of private trails. Jeeps travel over obstacles and ravines where passengers will see amazing mountain vistas. These tours are available June through November and by advance reservation.
Address: 222 Penns Cave Road, Centre Hall, PA 16828
Admission: Adults – $17.99, Children 2 to 12 – $9.99, Seniors – $16.99, under 2 – free. Separate fee for Farm-Nature-Wildlife Tour. Combo tour admission available. See website.
Season: Open daily March though November, weekends in February and December, closed in January and select holidays
Days/Hours: Hours vary by season – check website.
Other: Farm-Nature-Wildlife Tour – Prospect Pete’s Miners Maze – Cave Rock Mountain Tour – gemstone panning – visitors center – Cave Café
Woodward Cave in Woodward, Centre County, is one of the largest caverns in Pennsylvania. The 50-minute guided tour of the cave features five rooms including the 200-foot-long “Hall of Statues,” where guests can see the 14-foot “Tower of Babel.” This impressive stalagmite is one of the largest in the region. Another spacious room is the “Ballroom,” where square dances, banquets and other events have taken place.
Woodward Cave offers an easily walked tour, but is also one of the colder caves in Pennsylvania, with a constant 48-degree temperature.
The meadow adjacent to the cave boasts some of the most rare and beautiful wildflowers in the state. In season, the Lily Trout Meadow is alive with more than a dozen native Pennsylvania wildflowers.
A trip to Woodward Cave could easily become a weekend getaway since the property is home to a campground with accommodations for tent camping to cabin rentals.
Address: 148 Woodward Cave Drive, Woodward, PA 16882. Note: Some mapping services are unreliable. Please consult “Directions” page on website.
Admission: Adults – $11, Children 4 to 12 – $5.50, under 4 – free
Season: Mid-April through mid-October
Days/Hours: Open daily from Memorial Day weekend though Labor Day. Weekends only before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day. Hours vary by season.
Other: camping – cabins – guesthouse (off-site) – gift shop (campground) – school and Scouting programs – wildflower preserve
Echo Dell, Indian Echo Caverns located just outside Hershey, Dauphin County, is a geological marvel that offers visitors a 45-minute tour that starts in the spacious Indian Ballroom. A knowledgeable guide leads guests through narrow passages and open rooms where stalagmites, flowstone and columns can be seen. The cavern’s crystal clear lakes give an almost mystical feel to the tour. Visitors can enjoy the history of Echo Dell and the story behind the hermit who lived in the cave from 1802 to 1821.
The tour can be challenging for guests with physical limitations, as there is a descent of 71 steps into the cavern. There are benches where visitors can rest before moving on.
Address: 368 Middletown Road, Hummelstown, PA 17036
Admission: Adults – $18, Children 2 to 11 – $10, Seniors – $16.
Season: Open year-round
Days/Hours: Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year
Other: gift shop – Gem Mill Junction – Petting Barn Yard – playground – picnic area – banquet/party facility – school and Scouting programs – summer camps
Crystal Cave in Kutztown, Berks County, was Pennsylvania’s first show cave when owner Samuel Kohler announced the Grand Illumination in 1872. Today, visitors are taken on a 55-minute tour, which includes a 13-minute film about the history of the cave as well as the geology of caves in general. Though the cave is not wheelchair-accessible, iron railing and concrete walkways make the 125-foot descent manageable for most.
Crystal Cave was named after the sparkling calcium crystals found inside. Other sculptural formations found in Crystal Cave are the Cathedral Chamber, the Ear of Corn and Tobacco Leaves, the Natural Bridge, the Indian Head and the Crystal Ballroom.
Address: 963 Crystal Cave Road, Kutztown, PA 19530
Admission: Adults – $14.50, Children 4 to 11 – $10.50, 3 and under – free
Season: Open from March 1 though Nov. 30
Days/Hours: Opens daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended summer hours
Other: rock and mineral shop – museum – gemstone panning – miniature golf (seasonal) – ice cream parlor and Crystal Cave Café (seasonal) – shaded picnic area – nature trail – school and Scouting programs
Lost River Caverns in Hellertown, Northampton County, takes guests on a 30- to 45-minute journey along paved and well-lit walkways. Eight steps and several ramps make up the 1,200-foot path. Visitors will discover spectacular crystal formations as knowledgeable guides shed light on the geology of the cave.
The large open ballroom of the Crystal Chapel has hosted dances and ceremonies dating back to the late 1800s. During the Prohibition, bootleggers used the deep recesses of the caverns to hide their illegal inventory.
The Gillman Museum houses a collection of artifacts, rare fossils and antique weaponry, among other curiosities.
Address: 726 Durham St., Hellertown, PA 18055
Admission: Adults – $13.25, Children 3 to 12 – $8.25
Season: Open year-round
Days/Hours: Opens daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year
Other: gift shop – museum – nature trail – gem mill – picnic grove – jewelry, rock and souvenir shop
Hours and prices of these caverns are subject to change. Consult websites before visiting.