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Discover 13 Top-Rated Caves in California

California is famous for the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Surf Culture, in addition to less obvious sights and cultural aspects. It has 280 state parks and 28 areas protected by the federal government (nine national parks), making up the largest park system in the United States.

Major highlights include the spectacular peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the deep-blue to turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe, and the Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. Did you know this vast area has breathtaking caves and caverns? There are many caves and caverns ripe for exploration amid these parks and several others.

These spots will interest you and provide a great introduction to the underground world, even if you have never explored a cave before. Check out these 13 caves and caverns found in California, with interesting features waiting to be explored.

Lava Beds Monument National Park

Lava Beds National Monument has the largest concentration of lava tubes and is among the longest caves in North America. Some sections are dark, while others are illuminated by the collapsed ceilings above. Remember to pack a spotlight or headlamps if you plan to explore deeper.

Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves

Mud caves are one of the major attractions at the Borrego Desert State Park, California. There are approximately 22 caves, some of up to 1000 feet (300 m) in length and 80 feet (24 m) in height. These caves were formed due to wind and water flowing through a silt deposit.

Arroyo Mud Caves are ideal for both inexperienced and expert spelunkers. Besides caving, visitors can engage in other activities, such as scenic drives, hiking, camping, photography, and more.

Crystal Cave (Sequoia National Park)

Contrary to what most people believe, Sequoia National Park is not only famous for the giant Sequoias but also numerous breathtaking caves. Crystal Cave is a marble cave within Sequoia National Park in the western Sierra Nevada of California. It’s among the at least 240 known caves in the park.

Crystal Cave is a popular spot, and tickets are usually sold out in the high season, which is the start of summer. So, it would be best if you planned early enough. It is important to note that the cave is usually 48 °F (9 °C). Therefore visitors are advised to wear something warm.

Boyden Caves

Boyden Cavern is another cave located in Sequoia National Park. Unlike crystal Cave, Boyden cave is located in the remote part of the park and was not part of the Park until 1893. The guy called Boyden lived in the cave together with his friend, Denver Church.

The exploration begins with a 5-minute hike to the cavern entrance. The cave features a flowstone formation called Mother Nature’s Wedding Cake and a stalactite called the Upside Down City.

  • Address: CA-180, Sanger, CA 93657, United States
  • Website: Boyden Cavern
  • Phone number: +1 559-338-2251
  • Entrance fee: $10 for each vehicle, $10 for adults, and $5 for children between ages 3-13.
  • Google Maps link: Boyden Cavern

The Balconies and Bear Gulch Caves

It is located at the Pinnacles National Monument. The two main areas for spelunking are the Balconies and the Bear Gulch. They are all talus caves formed when rock boulders fell and stacked on each other.

These caves are a good place to explore because they are located on a good hiking trail with breathtaking views. The caves are dark, and you will need a flashlight or headlamp. Also, if you are claustrophobic, chances are that these caves are not for you.

Black Chasm Cavern

Black Chasm Cavern is a dissolution cave located in Amador County, California. The cave is full of millions of sparkling crystals that seem to twist from the cavern walls in every direction.

Besides exploring the amazing Black Chasm Cavern, visitors may visit the Miners Trail. It’s a remarkable trail filled with incredible features.

Black Chasm Cavern is only accessible by guided tours like the Boyden Cavern and Crystal Cave. However, it has fairly cheap rates and is a friendly cave to visit as it is well-maintained.

The Lava Tube, Mojave National Preserve

The Lava Tube is among the most popular attractions at Mojave National Preserve. It’s pretty sketchy and rough to get to the tube, but you will be rewarded with incredible features once you get there. It would be best to bring your flashlight since it’s quite dark inside. The stairs are steep and rickety but not in any way scary.

Mitchell Caverns

The Mitchell Caverns are three solution limestone caves in the Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve. The caverns feature spectacular geological formations, such as stalactites and stalagmites. Consider spending the night at Hole in the Wall Campground so you can make the most of your time at the caverns.

The caverns are named after Ida Mitchell and Jack, who owned and operated the caves between 1934 and 1954. For 20 years, they ran the caves as a desert resort and quit in 1954 when they were both in their 70s.

Mercer Caverns

Named after the gold prospector Walter J. Mercer, who discovered this cave, Mercer Caverns is formed in a marble unit known as the Calaveras Formation. The caverns feature many speleothems, stalagmites, stalactites, and a large display of aragonite frostwork.

The caverns are open for guided tours year-round. Exploring the caverns involves traversing between the natural and an artificial entrance. The cave is approximately 192 feet deep and about 3389 feet long.

  • Address: 1665 Sheep Ranch Rd, Murphys, CA 95247, United States
  • Website: Mercer Caverns
  • Phone number: +1 209-728-2101
  • Entrance fee: $20 for adults and $13 for children between ages 3-12.
  • Google Maps link: Mercer Caverns

California Cavern State Historic Landmark

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, California Caverns is one of the most extensive systems of caverns and passageways you will ever set your eyes on. Having been discovered in 1849, California Caverns is the first show cave in California, originally used as a shelter during harsh winters.

Take the Trail of Lights Tour or the Trail of Lakes Tour to explore the well-lit passages and walkways in the California Caverns. The cave normally floods during the rainy seasons, so it’s always good to inquire before you plan a visit. There are about 60 steps throughout this tour, each offering surreal views of an array of crystalline formations.

Jarvis Estate Winery

Jarvis Estate is a winemaking facility dedicated to crafting a limited quantity of outstanding wines. It’s a complete visual and technical masterpiece strategically positioned within 45,000 square feet of a cave, providing otherworldly scenic views of the Vaca Mountains. The cave chambers become larger as it extends further into the mountain, concealing some of the largest fermentation tanks.

Throughout the cave, visitors will find many references to its parabolic structure. The fiber optic chandeliers, arched alcoves, brass wall sconces, and cast bronze doors contribute to the mystique and beauty of the cave.

Lake Shasta Cavern

Formerly known as Chalk Cave and Baird Cave, Shasta Caverns are a network of caves located on the north end of Shasta Lake. The caverns provide a unique geological adventure that is accessible by a houseboat. Expect to catch sight of amazing and fascinating views of stalagmites and stalactite formations.

Moaning Caverns Adventure Park

Moaning Caverns is one of the unique caves where visitors enter by descending a metal spiral staircase. It is a solution cave developed in marble from the Calaveras formation. It’s also home to one of the largest single cave chambers within the state that reaches over 180 feet before funneling into smaller passageways.

Take an underground cave tour to explore ancient rock formations, have an unforgettable adventure, and learn a bit of history. Apart from cave exploration, you may also participate in other outdoor activities like rock climbing and zip lining within the area.

Final Thoughts

Most caves mentioned above were formed due to volcanic activities or weather conditions. They are all beautiful in their own way, with unique characteristics ready for spelunking. With adequate time and planning, all the caves in California are worth your time and deserve a visit at least once.

Top image: S. Rae via Flickr / Creative Commons.

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