Seeking the ultimate underground adventure? From the Lake Shasta Caverns to Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves, there are plenty of spectacular caverns in
California to explore this summer.
When most people think of California, they think of its beautiful beaches, gorgeous mountain ranges, and sprawling parks, but the Golden State has even more to offer. California is also home to some of the most magnificent caverns in the country. While most are up north, you can find a few in Southern California as well.
Here to take you beneath the surface of the best caverns to explore in California is
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car insurance. We’ve put together a guide to some of the state's top caves and caverns to visit in the Golden State.
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Address: 9565 Cave City Road, Mountain Ranch, CA 95246
Known as the Golden State’s first “show cave”, or tourist cave,
California Cavern has been hosting visitors since the 1850s. It is the state’s longest cavern system with the walking tour usually taking between 45 to 80 minutes to complete.
On the tour, visitors will encounter stunning white, cream, and caramel-colored crystalline cave formations in historical and recently-discovered pristine areas. At one point during the tour, your guide will ask everyone to turn off their lights for a moment to experience the complete and total darkness of the cavern.
If you have time and are bold enough, opt for one of the extended cave expedition offerings that allow you to explore a unique and dazzling maze of unlit passageways and crawl-ways.
Address: 5350 Moaning Cave Road, Vallecito, CA, 95251
Moaning Caverns is home to the largest single cave chamber in California. Its total depth exceeds 450 feet! Owing its name to the spooky moaning sounds that echo out of the cave, the Moaning Caverns were largely explored by gold miners in the 1840s and Native Americans before them with some skeletal remains found estimated to be 12,000 years old!
Travelers reach the cave by descending a seemingly endless ten-story spiral staircase. The main room of the cave is over 165 feet high. Below the floor of the main room lies a number of small passageways, one of which leads to a deep pool of water.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, go for the crawling and spelunking tour where you’ll explore the small cracks and crevasses below the main chamber, that will have you crawling, wriggling, and squeezing through natural passages. All of the gear supplied and no cave exploring experience is necessary, but be warned it’s three hours long!
Lake Shasta Caverns
Address: 20359 Shasta Caverns Rd, Lakehead, CA 96051
Lake Shasta Caverns are estimated to be 250 million years old and were formed by flowing water. Made entirely of limestone, the caverns boast a wide variety of formations each wildly unique and eye-catching in its own right.
While you may need to take a boat and a bus just to reach these caverns that will then require you to climb 600 stairs in an hour, just know that it’s all still worth it. The boat ride includes a tour across the McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake and the bus ride is nothing but scenic mountain views as you travel over the hills to the caverns.
Be sure to relax appropriately after your day exploring the underground. Enjoy a meal on the
Lake Shasta Dinner Cruise and take in the strawberry-banana sunset over the lake.
Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves
Address: San Diego County: 32.9255° N, 116.1912° W
The Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves are believed to be the most extensive cave system of anywhere in the world. In other words, this isn’t your typical walking tour!
Located on California’s side of the Colorado Desert in the southern section of
Anza-Borrego State Park, the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves formed millions of years ago through erosion. They are made up of roughly 20 to 30 caves—many of which haven’t even been mapped out yet!
This wild labyrinth of caves can be quite dangerous, and unlike a lot of other caves on our list, you’ll need to come prepared with your own equipment and supplies, like flashlights and headlamps, a helmet, and of course, plenty of water.
Also, you probably took note of the coordinates listed as the address, this one is a bit off the beaten path. So make it worth it by camping out in Anza Borrego State Park where the mud caves are located to enjoy the full experience.
Address: 38200 Essex Rd, Essex, CA 92332
Located on the east side of the Providence Mountains in the Mojave Desert at an elevation of 4,300 feet, the
Mitchell Caverns are a sight to behold. Just know you’ll be entering the bat cave when visiting Mitchell Caverns. But bats make up just some of the unique wildlife in the caves—you may also encounter pseudoscorpions, beetles, and more!
If I didn’t lose you at “bats” or “pseudoscorpions” (the latter of which are harmless by the way), then you can also get ready to appreciate a plethora of gorgeous limestone cave formations where each one is different from the next.
The caverns were formed during the Pleistocene era—water with high concentrations of carbonic acid carved into the surrounding marble and sedimentary limestone. Stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave formations were made from calcium carbonate left by dripping mineral water. It was thought for some time that caves were “dead,” meaning that the formations were no longer growing, but recent studies show proof of life.
Cave Of Munits
Address: 24501 Vanowen St, West Hills, CA 91307
The Cave of Munits plays an important role in the history of the Chumash Native American tribe. Legend says that the cave was home to a mythical Chumash shaman that was executed after murdering the son of a prominent chief. Neither of which apparently took place in the cave, hopefully.
To explore the infamous cave for yourself, you’ll need to hike along the El Escorpión Trail where you’ll take on some significant elevation gain. As you get closer, you’ll see the Cave of Munits stretching toward the sky. A little more walking and you’ll be able to spot the hidden cracks leading to a surprisingly large main hall.
Upon entering, be extra careful because exploring this cave requires a bit of climbing and scrambling. But if you continue on and climb the chimney, you’ll arrive at Castle Peak where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Los Angeles.
Tips to stay safe while exploring caves
A lot of the caves on our list are popular destinations that host a number of thrill-seeking travelers, but some are not nearly as accessible and require extra precautions. If you’re exploring a cave that doesn’t have guided tours, follow these tips to stay safe:
Bring appropriate safety gear. Depending on which cave you explore, you may need certain equipment to keep you safe. A helmet, headlamps, gloves, and knee and elbow pads may all be necessary.
Light the way! It’s recommended that you bring at least two light sources per person when exploring a cave. And no, your phone does not count!
Dress warmly. Even if it’s warm outside, you will generally encounter lower temperatures inside a cave.
Monitor the weather. Many caves have underground water systems and floods can happen quickly. If it recently rained (or is about to), hold off on exploring for another day.
Don’t push your limits. Come fully stocked with food, water, and first aid supplies—and don’t push yourself beyond what you’re capable of doing.
Location, location, location. Always inform someone of where you’re going and when they can expect you back. That way, if you experience any complications, someone will know to send help if you don’t return on time.
How to help preserve subterranean habitats
It’s exciting to visit new places, but it’s essential to keep in mind that human exploration takes a toll on animal habitats. As an adventurer and explorer, you are responsible for not disrupting nature in your travels.
Bats are pollinators, seed dispersers, and help control populations of destructive insects—so it’s critical that we appreciate the value of preserving cave ecosystems. White-nose syndrome makes bats susceptible to disturbances coming in from the outside, which is why some caves have been closed to human visitors.
If you are exploring a cave that is open to the public, here’s how you can help protect its residents:
Clean your shoes and other gear before entering the caves
Never disturb bats in their habitats
Avoid visiting caves in the fall and winter, when bats are hibernating and disturbances could be lethal
Obey signs that specify that caves (or parts of caves) are closed to human visitors
How to find the best car insurance before hitting the road
Whichever one of California’s incredible caverns you decide to explore, make sure you have the best car insurance coverage to protect yourself while driving through the Golden State. Luckily, car insurance comparison super app
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