|Rainbow Lake, within Shenandoah Caverns.|
There are eight commercial caverns in Virginia, and each has unique formations inside and tours available. Each cavern has its own personality. Luray has the mostest — both in age and rock formations and other things to do right there. Grand Caverns has Civil War history that is cool and amazing, plus lots and lots of one particular unique formation.
There are some 3,992 other caverns.
Virginia actually has more than 4,000+ caves, created by water dissolving limestone. Rainwater seeped down through the soil, becoming slightly acidic as it passed through decaying organic matter such as leaves.
Shenandoah Caverns, to the west of Luray Caverns by 11 miles and just over Massanutten Mountain, offers guided tours (which really do bring the cave alive), a rare shield formation (which can be found in abundance in Grand Caverns, but almost no where else) and colored lights.
I mean, who doesn’t like colored lights in caves?
Caverns tours are approximately one hour long and although the tour guides offer up just about every rock pun available, it’s an enjoyable and engaging tour, interspersed with a lively and adaptive humor (at least by our tour guide, “Megan” or “Amanda” or “Rachel” (I really can’t remember).
|The Diamond Veil formation.|
We were there on a summer day that reached almost 100 degrees, so experiencing 54 degrees for an hour was delightful. I kind of wanted to drag a sleeping bag, pillow and my book down below and set up shop there for the rest of the week.
I didn’t notice any shield formations in Luray. They’re plentiful in Grand Caverns, but are relatively rare elsewhere. I’m not a geologist and I can’t explain why these formations are relatively rare but drapery and flow stone are common, but there it is. I noticed one shield formation (I may have missed others) in Shenandoah Caverns.
Shenandoah Caverns also has popcorn. Not the kind you eat, but the rock formations. I thought that was pretty neat. But these caverns are known for its bacon formations — National Geographic featured its bacon formations in an article, something that the tour guide is sure to point out. It also has fried eggs. It’s worth noting that many mineral/rock formations are nicknamed after delicious food.
This cavern is the only Virginia cavern with elevator service, making it one of the easiest caverns to tour; that said, it’s not ADA accessible — the pathways are gravel and there are a few stairs (if I recall accurately) to navigate as well as some very narrow passageways. The tour covers one mile on a crushed gravel pathway with inclines and declines.
The caverns were first discovered in 1884 by two sons of a farmer, but didn’t open until 1922, when Hunter Chapman, having purchased the property from the farmer, opened Shenandoah Caverns, with a full-service hotel on the second and third floors (which later burned during a remodeling project).
|Do you see a crocodile? I see a crocodile!|
Getting there: 261 Caverns Rd, Quicksburg, VA
Hours: Daily except Christmas Day 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (during the summer 5 p.m.); first tour goes down at 10 a.m. and last tour 1 hour before closing.
|That popcorn formation that I found so cool.|
Craving more cave? Check out:
- Crystal Grottoes in Maryland
- Penn’s Cave in Pennsylvania
- Grand Caverns just down the road at Grottoes VA
- Luray Caverns (coming soon!)
- Skyline Caverns (coming soon!)
Looking for other daytrip ideas in the Shenandoah Valley? Check out:
|The Bishop formation.|
|You can see the swirls from two ancient rivers meeting in the rocks on the upper level of the caverns.|