Caves are pretty sweet as underground wonderlands of intense rock formations, crazy historic legends, and as visible reminders of evolutionary geology. They're also super fun to tour with your friends and family. So when you're planning a student trip for this spring or summer, why not hop over to one of the coolest caves in the country and treat yourselves to a cool afternoon underground?
Meramec Caverns - Stanton, MO
Along with its nickname, The Show-Me State, Missouri also happens to be the state of caves. Meramec, deep in the Ozark Mountains, is the largest example of Missouri's prowess. This beautiful showstopper has moved with the times, believe it or not, to include light shows along with its gorgeous cavern tours to places like the "Theatre Room" and the "Mirror Room" where standing water creates a mirrored effect. It's also the site where legendary outlaw Jesse James hid out from the law and where the movie The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1973) was filmed, when Tom and Huck hide the gold from Injun Joe.
Mammoth Cave National Park - KY
In a twist of fate, the largest cave system isn't actually in the "Cave State." Instead, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky holds the record for the world's longest, largest cave network with over 400 miles of explored caves and they're still finding more. The site earned national park status in 1941 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 as an important scientific destination. Tours range in length from one to six hours and lead visitors through rooms like Frozen Niagara, Fat Man's Misery, and some of the more in depth tours lead people on hands and knees through the more "wild" parts of the cave system. Other tours go by boat and explore the waterways of this underground masterpiece.
Moaning Cavern - Vallecito, CA
Its name may sound odd but so does the legend that goes with it. Back in the 1850s, gold rushers claimed to have been drawn to the entrance of the deep cavern by an ominous moaning sound emanating from the black depths. Little did those gold miners know that the Moaning Cavern was one of the most significant archaeological sites in North America, housing some of the oldest human remains. Those remains belonged to ancient people, it is believed, who too were drawn to the cave's odd sound and fell to their demise. Today, it's perfectly safe and we know that the moaning sound comes from the echo of the elements inside the large caverns, wind and water and so forth. Touring by foot, spelunking, and rappelling down the steep shaft make for fun afternoon activities, and they also offer 45 minute informational tours.
Craighead Caverns - Sweetwater, TN
In between the small towns of Sweetwater and Madisonville, Tennessee, is a geological wonder straight from a Jules Verne classic. The largest underground lake in the United States, and the second largest in the world, resides beneath the earth of southeastern Tennessee. The Lost Sea, as they call it, was discovered by a 13 year old boy in 1905 and has been famous ever since. Aside from the lake, the caverns have a strong history steeped in Native American, Civil War, and even prehistoric archaeological significance (they found a Pleistocene Epoch jaguar in 1939). People flock here to take foot and boat tours through the caverns to explore the extent of this geological wonder and see the many rock formations and even the waterfall deep underground.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park - Glenwood Springs, CO
Sometimes underground amusement just isn't enough, and that's when you bring out the big guns and build an amusement park on top of the cave system. Glenwood Caverns is the largest show cave in the state and gained its reputation as a tourist site way back in the 1890s when a local attorney saw its potential. It was also one of the first caves to have electric lights strung throughout the touring paths, a historic feat. Today, you not only get to tour the phenomenal "Fairy Caves" as they were once known, but you can sample the park's many attractions including a 4D motion theater, laser tag, a roller coaster, rock climbing wall, Ferris wheel, and much more!
Ape Cave - Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA
All of these other caves/caverns were created by water erosion, the most common way to create such geological features. Ape Cave in Washington state, however, took the quick route...sort of. Made from a volcanic tube, Ape Cave is the longest continuous lava tube in the United States, made from the volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range. The "cave" is over two miles in length and totally safe for hikers, being a very popular destination with absolutely stunning views of Mount St. Helens. You might also like to know that the Ape Caves are a frequent sighting spot for Bigfoot (aka "Hairy Ape"), thus its name. Just be sure to have your camera ready to get that perfect, non-blurry picture everyone's been dying to see.