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Where to Find California's Coolest Caverns

Where to Find California's Coolest Caverns

Go spelunking in California to traverse through mysterious corridors, lava-formed caves, and stalagmite-covered grots.


6 min read

August 28, 2020

Every great adventure story calls for mysterious caverns where priceless treasures and timeless memories are made. So, pack your bags and prepare to follow in the footsteps of inspiring explorers and fearless heroes. Become your own mighty Odysseus or courageous Ronia—create your own chronicles—and traverse through California's mysterious corridors, lava-formed caves, and stalagmite-covered grots.

Imagine how these elaborate formations and unique climates shaped human history and ponder the passage of time while discovering a nearly untouched world deep underground. With innumerable caverns in Northern California and Southern California, which one will you visit first?

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Caverns in Northern California

Explore the Lake Shasta caverns and admire the limestone deposits hanging down from the majestic rock formations.

Lake Shasta Caverns

Location: 20359 Shasta Caverns Road, Lakehead

Hours: 9 a.m.–4 p.m. in the summer; 9 a.m–3 p.m. in April, May, and September; 10 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2 p.m. from October to March 

Parking: Park for free in the lot in front of Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark.

Pricing: $30 per adult and $18 per child.

A trip to the Lake Shasta Caverns promises three exciting adventures in one. Start by cruising on Shasta Lake, and then hop on a bus for a scenic drive through the stunning Shasta landscape before arriving at the caverns. Join the cavern walking tour to examine 32 different cave formations as you climb 600 stairs in an hour. Unwind on a Lake Shasta Dinner Cruise after a day of exploration in the Shasta-Cascade, and admire the beautiful sun setting over the lake. 

California Cavern

Location: 9565 Cave City Road, Mountain Ranch

Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. in the summer, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. in the winter

Parking: Park in front of the California Cavern State Historic Landmark building.

Pricing: Walking Tour Trail of Lakes (winter & spring, 45–60 minutes), $16 per adult and $8.50 per child | Walking Tour Trail of Lights (summer & fall, 60–80 minutes), $18.50 per adult and $10 per child | Mammoth Cave Expedition, $89 per person | Middle Earth Cave Expedition, $130 per person

Venture to California’s first show cave, which has been welcoming visitors since the 1850s. These halls were once used for social gatherings, weddings, church services, and court trials. As you proceed into the depths of the cave, admire stalactites, stalagmites, cave popcorn, flowstones, and helictites varying in color from white to caramel. Wild child(ren): Don’t miss out on the Mammoth Cave and Middle Earth Cave expeditions leading through narrow passages illuminated only by your helmet light. 

Head to Sequoia National Park to experience the magical Crystal Cave and marvel at its colorful mineral deposits.

Crystal Cave

Location: Sequoia National Park

Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Parking: Park within Sequoia National Park for $35 (day-use fee). There is also street parking available on Three Rivers Road, but you must pay $20 to enter the park on foot. 

Pricing: Standard Tour, $17 per adult and $9 per child | Wild Cave Tour, $140 per adult and $50 per child

Travel to Sequoia National Park to dive into a world of wonders. The world’s largest trees are already a must-see here, but hidden deep down lies another gem: the Crystal Cave, which is impossible to forget. Marvel at the blue, green, yellow, black, white, orange, and red mineral deposits along the walls, and ponder how time has changed earthen colors outside the cave while the stalagmites remain untouched.  

Black Chasm Cavern

Location: 15701 Pioneer Volcano Road, Volcano

Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. in the summer, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. in the winter

Parking: Park in front of the Black Chasm Visitor Center.

Pricing: $18.50 per adult and $10 per child

The intricate natural phenomena presented at Black Chasm Cavern is a must-see for curious souls. The cavern's highlight is the so-called helictites, which are formations resembling sparkling crystals twisting in different directions. Gaze upon the alluring blue lake beneath the viewing platform, and imagine being the first cavern explorer during the 1854 Gold Rush. Once you've satisfied your spelunking craving, trek along the Minors Trail nearby to observe the marble monoliths created as a result of hydraulic mining.

When exploring the Moaning Caverns, check out the ancient stalagmite-filled chambers as you listen to the echoing moaning sounds.

Moaning Caverns

Location: 5350 Moaning Cave Road, Vallecito

Hours: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. in the summer, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. in the winter

Parking: Park in the lot at Moaning Caverns Adventure Park.

Pricing: Spiral Tour, $20 per adult and $15 per child | Expedition Tour, $95 per person

Journey to the largest single-cave chamber in California, which lures people inside due to its echoing moaning sounds that occur at specific times of the year. Head to Moaning Caverns Adventure Park and join the Spiral Tour to descend 165 feet underground to the base of one of Calaveras' caverns. This stalagmite-filled chamber is a historic and magical place.

You can also get in touch with your inner explorer by signing up for the Expedition Tour to crawl and wiggle through less-accessible cracks and crevasses below the main chamber. After exploring the Moaning Caverns near Angels Camp, make your adventure even more memorable by zip-lining high above the caves in Gold Country

Mercer Caverns

Location: 1665 Sheep Ranch Road, Murphys

Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. in the summer, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. in the winter

Parking: Park in the lot in front of the Cavern Visitors Center & Store.

Pricing: $19.00 per adult and $11.00 per child

Since its discovery in 1885, the Mercer Caverns (also know as Murphys Caverns), have been attracting visitors into the depths of the unknown. In the late 1880s, ropes and ladders were used and visitors held their own candle board. Now, visitors can enjoy a safer, more comfortable tour; walk along 440 steps to discover well-lit treasures and cave formations showcasing the captivating, spiky aragonite crystals. Other remarkable formations even earned their own nicknames—look out for "Bridal Veil," "Drapery," and "Lasagna Factory."

Caverns in Southern California 

Lose yourself in the marvelous Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves—the most extensive cave system in the world.

Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves

Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Street parking is available along the Arroyo Tapiado Wash Road. There is a day-use fee of $10 per vehicle at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Embark on a bold expedition in California's side of the Colorado Desert to uncover the mud caves formed millions of years ago through erosion. Tucked within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—one of the most underrated state parks—Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves consists of 20 to 30 caves. While it has yet to be mapped out, this network of caves is confirmed to be the most extensive cave system in the world. (These intricate caves can be dangerous, though, so don't enter alone or without proper safety precautions.) Turn your excursion into an exhilarating camping trip, and go spelunking in California to trek through tiny corridors, huge halls, and open-air chambers.

Cave of Munits

Location: 24501 Vanowen Street, West Hills

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: There is free parking on the street.

Situated within El Escorpión Park, this cave has a very gripping history—according to oral accounts of the Chumash people, it was the home of a shaman who murdered the son of a politically important chief and thus met his own end.

To reach this mysterious natural landmark, hike along the El Escorpión Trail until you reach the inviting chimney cave, where you can discover its hidden cracks and surprisingly large main hall. If you're brave enough, climb up the chimney and continue on the trail to arrive at Castle Peak (an enormous rock pile) and take a well-deserved break, savoring the gorgeous vistas of the City of Angels

Mitchell Caverns

Location: 38200 Essex Road, Essex 

Hours: 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday to Sunday

Parking: Paid parking is available at the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. To enter the park, it costs $10 per adult and $5 per child (in addition to the parking fee).

After several years of closure due to major infrastructural changes, Mitchell Caverns reopened to the general public in 2017. Nestled within the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, the caves beckon to outdoor buffs with their lovely limestone cave formations that have withstood the test of time.

Walk along the path to visit both caves of the Mitchell Caverns—El Pakiva (The Devil’s House) and Tecopa (named after a Shoshonean chieftain)—which were discovered and operated by Jack and Ida Mitchel for 20 years. As you follow your guide from the El Pakiva Cave along the bridge over the Bottomless Pit to reach the Tecopa Cavern, you'll learn about the rich history and nature of the region.

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