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.
- Address: 1 Indian Well, Tulelake, CA 96134, United States
- Website: Lava Beds National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)
- Phone number: +1 530-667-8100
- Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle for 1-7 days, $15 individual fee for bicycle, hiker, horseback, etc. for 1-7 days, and $20 motorcycle fee for 1-7 days.
- Google Maps link: Lava Beds National Monument
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.
- Address: 200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, United States
- Website: Anza-Borrego Desert SP ®
- Phone number: +1 760-767-4205
- Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle for day use.
- Google Maps link: Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves
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.
- Address: Three Rivers, CA 93271, United States
- Website: Crystal Cave – Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- Phone number: +1 559-565-3341
- Entrance fee: Vehicle pass: $35 for 1-7 days. Individual entry pass: $20 for 1-7 days.
- Google Maps link: Crystal Cave (Sequoia National Park)
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.
- Address: California 95043, United States
- Website: Pinnacles National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
- Phone number: +1 831-389-4485
- Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle.
- Google Maps link: Pinnacles National Park
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.
- Address: 15701 Pioneer Volcano Rd, Volcano, CA 95689, United States
- Website: Black Chasm Cavern
- Phone number: +1 888-488-1960
- Entrance fee: : $19 for adults 13+, $11 for children
- Google Maps link: Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark
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.
- Address: 2701 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA 92311
- Website: Lava Tube – Mojave National Preserve (U.S. National Park Service)
- Phone number: +1 760-252-6100
- Entrance fee: : Free
- Google Maps link: Mojave Desert Lava Tube
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.
- Address: 38200 Essex Rd, Essex, CA 92332, United States
- Website: Providence Mountains State Recreation Area
- Phone number: +1 760-928-2586
- Entrance fee: $10 for adults between ages 17-61, $9 for seniors above 62, and $5 for children between ages 3-16.
- Google Maps link: Mitchell 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.
- Address: 9565 Cave City Rd, Mountain Ranch, CA 95246, United States
- Website: California Cavern
- Phone number: +1 888-488-1960
- Entrance fee: $19 for adults 13+, $11 for children between ages 5 and 12, and free for children below five.
- Google Maps link: California Cavern State Historic Landmark
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.
- Address: 2970 Monticello Rd, Napa, CA 94558, United States
- Website: Jarvis Estate
- Phone number: +1 707-255-5280
- Entrance fee: As per the products purchased.
- Google Maps link: Jarvis Estate Winery
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.
- Address: 20359 Shasta Caverns Rd, Lakehead, CA 96051, United States
- Website: Lake Shasta Caverns
- Phone number: +1 800-795-2283
- Entrance fee: $30 for 16+ and $18 for ages 15 and below.
- Google Maps link: Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark
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.
- Address: 5350 Moaning Cave Rd, Vallecito, CA 95251, United States
- Website: Moaning Caverns
- Phone number: +1 209-736-2708
- Entrance fee: Depends on the tour. The Spiral Tour costs $22 for ages 12+, $16 for ages 3-11, free for ages 2-0.
- Google Maps link: Moaning Caverns Adventure Park
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.
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