With an estimated 45,000 caves within the contiguous United States, there’s a whole world to explore beneath the surface, from the “Cave State” of Missouri to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.
Whether spelunking your way through less-developed caves or participating in a guided tour past stalactites and stalagmites, these caves and caverns will take you on subterranean adventures beneath America.
1. Jewel Cave — Custer, South Dakota
With more than 170 miles of explored passageways, this cave ranks third longest in the world. Since 1908 Jewel Cave has been designated a national monument. The year-round Wild Caving Tour ($31 for adults, no children under 16) is one of three guided tours offered. It takes you on a three-to-four-hour adventure that will have you scaling rocks via ropes and crawling your way through nearly a mile of this massive unground system. While touring you’ll also peer into ominous fissures, pass giant boulders, and spot strands of gypsum in the presence of the nine bat species that call the cave home during the winter months.
2. Carlsbad Caverns — Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
The 119-odd caves that make up this national park are home to some 400,000 bats, countless fossils from pre-Jurassic times, and scientists believe one of the caves may contain microbes that could be used in a cure for cancer. General admission ($10 for adults, free for children) grants you access to two self-guided tours through Carlsbad Caverns via an elevator and lit walkways. The tour includes the aptly named Big Room, the largest in the cavern at 357,480 square feet. For an additional fee, you can rent a headlamp and play speleologist (professional cave-studier) on guided tours through additional parts of the cavern.
The Mexican free-tailed bats that call these caverns home put on quite the show. Between May and October, you can watch as they come barreling out of the cave and take flight for the night. Catch the show around sunset at the outdoor Bat Flight Amphitheater (free with park admission) near the park’s entrance.