Most Popular Caves in the US: Map and Geology
This interactive map shows places named Cave or Cavern. Each circle represents a place with a cave. The polygons represent karst features in the US. To find type, and exact location of the caves, and karst feature characteristics hover over the map. To get a closer look, zoom over the map. For more information scroll below.
Map of U.S. Caves
This map shows the location of parks, mines, and falls called caves, caverns, grottos, or cueva. This data was downloaded from the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).
This map also shows the locations of caves found in the National Caves Association.
Because caves are related to the rocks and formations of the area, this map has included Karst formations. The shapefiles with Karst formations were downloaded from Berkey Library. More information about karst is below.
Caves are beautiful and have unique structures. They are mainly formed where limestone is present (hover over the map). So far, in the United States, 17,000 caves have been discovered!.
Although hundreds of caves are known around the country, these caves are commonly on private property and are not suitable for casual outings.
This map includes only the most recognized ones.
Caves come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They also have different formations depending on the water flow and minerals in the area.
Some sections of caves are tiny and almost inaccessible to humans. Still, others are large as the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. This room has an area of 14 football fields Source: http://legacy.earlham.edu/
To learn more about caves and the processes that form them Amazon has Speleology: Caves & the Cave Environment. This book is an introduction to cave processes including biological, geological, chemical, and physical. It also examines origin of caves, structure, and cave food chains.
Amazing U.S. Cave Facts
- The largest cave system in the World is Mammoth Cave, located in the State of Kentucky. It has over 400 miles of mapped tunnels and many more to be explored!
- The third longest cave in the world is Jewel Cave, located in South Dakota.
- In Hawaii, there is a Lava tube that goes 3,609 feet deep.
- Lechugilla Cave (part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park) is the eighth longest cave globally and the deepest cave in the U.S. with 1,604 feet or 489 meters deep.
- Tennessee has around 7000 caves, more than any other state.
- Missouri has about 5500 caves.
- Bluespring Caverns in Bedford, Indiana, has over 18 miles of passages to create America's longest navigable underground river.
- The Luray Caverns in Virginia have a lithophone. A musical instrument with rock pieces that are struck to produce musical notes. The sound comes from ancient stalactites of different sizes.
- The "Big Room" in Carlsbad Cavern is about 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at its highest point. It is the largest chamber in the United States.
For flights to any of these cave locations, you can always visit Expedia. For dates and airports click here!
Cave Geology and Cave Types
The Scientific Study of Caves is called Speleology. It is a blend of geology, hydrology, biology, and archaeology.
Caves are formed from a variety of geologic processes depending on the environmental conditions of the area.
The conditions or processes may be volcanic, tectonic or earth movement, water or physical erosion, and chemical solution.
Caves may be formed in igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rocks.
The rocks and processes result in Solution Caves, Lava Caves, Sea Caves, Eolian Caves, Talus Caves, Anchialian Caves, and Fracture Caves.
Solution Caves and Karst Caves
Karst landscapes develop where limestone and dolostone are close to the surface. Limestone is mainly composed of calcium carbonate.
Over long periods, the carbonate is dissolved by rain and groundwater, creating karst. Water dissolves calcium carbonate because it can be slightly acidic.
Karst is an erosional process in which the carbonate is removed at the surface and underground. The erosion may be chemical when the rock is dissolved into its components and carried away in solution.
The chemical solution produces the most karst landforms. The carbonate removed by the water leaves behind holes that, over time, may form a sinkhole or a network of caves.
The minerals dissolved in the water may later be redeposited as cave stalagmites and stalactites Minnesota Geological Survey.
The different karst formations have different shades of tan on the map above. As shown, most of the caves are formed over karst terrain.
The map includes areas of features analogous to karst, also called pseudokarst. This karst-like terrain is also produced by processes other than the dissolution of rocks.
Karst Landscapes are an essential part of Florida's Geology. They are also why there are sinkholes and so many springs in the state. Similar processes formed the cenotes in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Examples of these caves include the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Cave in Kentucky, and the Lehman Caves in Nevada's Great Basin National Park.
Another example of Karst formations, is the Florida Caverns State Park in Florida. To see it, you can spend the night in Panama City Beach and have a short drive to the caves. Prices of beachfront hotels and amenities in this Expedia link.
Lava Caves or Primary Caves
Lava Caves are formed during volcanic activity. The most common form of lava cave is lava tubes.
When lava flows down a volcano side, the surface cools and solidifies, forming a crust. Nevertheless, hot liquid lava keeps flowing underneath. When the lava flow stops, the hollow tunnel remains.
Lava tubes have different sizes and shapes. Most are single tubes, but others are complex and convoluted. Lava tubes may also have stalactites and stalagmites formed from dripping lava.
The highest concentration of lava tubes worldwide is found at Lava Beds National Monument in California.
The Kazamura lava tube system in Kilauea at the Hawai'i's Volcanoes National Park is thought to be more than 40 miles (64Km) long. Probably the longest lava tube in the world.
If you decide to explore the lava tubes, you can stay nearby in quiet cottages surrounded by the forest. These incredible houses are within minutes from the park. For details go to VRBO.
Sea caves are found where waves break onto rocky shores. The mechanical and weathering action of the waves crashing into the weaker spots erode the rock to form caves.
The exact process occurs along lake shores resulting in littoral caves.
Beautiful examples of this type of cave are found in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.
They are also found in Laguna Beach and the Channel Islands National Park in California. Painted Cave in the Channel Islands is one of the Largest Sea Caves in the world.
Glacier Caves are formed in glaciers. Some may assume that they are the same as ice caves. Nevertheless, ice caves are made of rock and contain ice.
Different processes form glacier caves. There is melting in the summer that may form voids. Melted water flows and creates cold streams.
As the water flows, it creates cracks called crevasses. These crevasses enlarge and promote more melting. This, combined with air moving, accelerates the cave's growth.
The study of glacier caves is essential to understanding how glaciers form and melt. Glacier formation is, in turn, necessary for studying climate change.
Glacier Ice Caves in the U.S. are found on Root and Kennicott Glaciers in Wrangel-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Eolian Caves or Wind Caves
These caves are carved by strong air currents that blow in and out of the cave. The sand and silt have a sandblasting effect over the rocks.
Wind caves are common in deserts. They can have wide entrances but are not very high. It is not rare to find seeps and water stains due to rain. Source: NCKRI.
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is an example of an eolian cave.
Other Cave Types
There are Talus Caves formed by boulders that have naturally fallen into a heap. These are found in Bear Gulch Cave at Pinnacles National Park and Indian Cave in Yosemite National Park, both in California.
Fracture Caves occur where soluble layers like gypsum dissolve. The surrounding rocks eventually collapse, creating a cave.
Most Popular Caves and Caverns
The lists of famous caves and caverns are the result of searching on Google Trends for the most searched "cave" or "cavern", in the U.S. for the last 5 years. These are the top searches and not the rising related topics.
The terms "Cave" and "Cavern" designate the same space. But because both are used, I decided it was appropriate to make a list for each.
Not all the caves are pristine and have perfect speleothems. There are many different reasons that make these caves special. Some of them are sought by their tunnels, others by the outside trails, and others by the water features in and around them.
Other caves are attractive because of their sheer size, the wildlife that still lives inside them, and others of the manmade transformations that make them unique and special. Below the list are short descriptions of each cave and their main features.
10 most popular Caves in the U.S.
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Wind Cave
- Robbers Cave State Park
- Indian Cave State Park
- Cave Point County Park
- Crystal Cave
- Cave of the Winds
- Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park
- Niagara Cave
- Hocking Hills State Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is located in Kentucky. This is the world's longest known cave system. It has over 400 miles (640km) of surveyed tunnels.
There are different tours to visit Mammoth Cave. The cave does not have led lights to enhance its beauty. It is even possible that a tour guide will turn off the lights so you can see and feel the darkness of its tunnels.
Wind Cave is situated in South Dakota. This cave was established by President Theodore Roosevelt and was the first cave to be designated a national park.
Wind Cave has particular calcite formations known as boxwork and frostwork. Boxwork is almost unique to this cave. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that intersect one another, forming angles. It is still not entirely clear how boxwork is formed. Source: nps.gov
Robbers Cave State Park
Robbers Cave State Park is in southeast Oklahoma. This cave is a favorite of rappelers, hikers, and outdoor lovers.
After the Civil War, the area became legendary for sheltering fugitives from the law, hence the name. Among these fugitives were Belle Starr and Jesse James.
Indian Cave is a park in the southeast of Nebraska.
The cave is the main feature of the area. It has Native American prehistoric petroglyphs of unknown date and origin.
Besides the cave, the main attraction of Indian Cave Sate Park, is the outdoor activities. It has 22 miles of beautiful hike/biking trails plus 16 miles of equestrian trails. Source: OutdoorNebraska.gov/indiancave/.
Cave Point County Park
Cave Point County Park is located in Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The hollow stone at Cave Point was carved after centuries of waves crashing the shore and dissolving the limestone.
It is possible to see part of the caves from shore, but the best way to see them, and the only way to go inside of them, is kayaking or scuba diving. Source: Doorcounty.com
Cave Point is not a national or a state park. Admission is free.
Crystal Cave is located near Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
The crystalline vanilla color formations on the walls and the ceiling gave this cave its name.
The cave is a long, large water-carved passage around ancient bedrock, divided into five chambers.
Crystal Cave measures 500 feet (150m) long. Its lowest point is at 155 feet (47m) deep.
Cave of the Winds
Cave of the Winds is situated in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Cave of the Winds is located 7,000 feet high!
The Cave of the Winds offers three different tours. A fun one, a spooky one, and adetailed one.
The cave is part of a Mountain park that offers thrill-seeking visitors a challenge course, and a terror ride atop a cliff! Source: Visitcos.com.
Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park
Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park is in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania.
This is an all-water cavern. You must see the cave from a boat.
The cave features glittering stalactites and stalagmites. You can see how dripping water has created flowstone, curtains, cascades, and draperies next to gigantic pillars.
Penn's Cave attractions don't end in the cave. Outside there are 1,600 acres with bears, elk, deer, foxes, bison, wolves, and more Source: Pennscave.com.
Niagara Cave is located in Minnesota.
The cave features an underground stream and a waterfall.
To visit the cave it is required to have comfortable shoes for the steps and mile-long hike.
Because of the cave's geology, it is also possible to see fossils of the aquatic lifeforms that lived in the area millions of years ago. You can see cephalopods, gastropods, and trilobites! Source: Niagaracave.com
Hocking Hills is located in Hocking Hills, Ohio. The park features Old Man Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave.
Cedar Falls has the greatest waterfall in terms of volume. Ash Cave is the biggest and most spectacular feature of the park.
Ash's Cave's narrow gorge is approximately one-fourth mile in length. Astonishing suddenness gives way to the huge overhanging ledge and cave shelter. The horseshoe-shaped cave is massive, measuring 700 feet from end to end, 100 feet deep from the rear cave wall to its front edge, with the rim rising 90 feet high.
Hocking Hills is not just about the caves. The park has amazing trails to explore cliffs, streams, and rock formations! Source:Hockinghills.com
10 most popular Caverns in the U.S.
Most searched Cavern Park-related topics in the last 5 years. Below the list is a short description of each cavern and its main features.
- Longhorn Cavern State Park
- Kickapoo Cavern State Park
- Carlsbad Cavern National Park
- Louisville Mega Cavern
- Inner Space Cavern
- Florida Cavern State Park
- Glenwood Cavern Adventure Park
- Moaning Cavern Adventure Park
- Kartchner Caverns State Park
- Rickwood Caverns State Park
Longhorn Cavern is located in Burnet, 90minutes from Austin, Texas.
To reach Longhorn Cavern you have to descend 130 feet. The tour is 1.1 miles round trip. Some passages are low, but the caverns are worth the walk Source: https://visitlonghorncavern.com/
Kickapoo Cavern State Park
Kickapoo Cavern State Park is west of San Antonio, Texas.
The park has 20 known caves. The largest caves are Kickapoo and Stuart Bat Cave. Unauthorized entry to the caves is not allowed to protect the creatures inside them.
Kickapoo Cavern is about 1,400 feet long.
Stuart Bat Cave is shorter than Kickapoo and is the seasonal home of the Mexican free-tailed bats. They live in the cave during the summer months. While in the cave they leave each evening to hunt insects. It is possible to see them as long as you follow the rules posted. Source: Kickapoo Cavern.
Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Carlsbad Cavern National Park is located in New Mexico.
Carlsbad has different routes to access the main rooms, and some are untouched to preserve natural access to wildlife.
Carlsbad has the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. The cavern trail is 1.25 miles (2km) long and will take about 1.5 hours to walk.
The Big Room is (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m). The cave trails have incredible views and formations of all shapes and sizes. nps.gov
Louisville Mega Cavern
Louisville Mega Cavern is in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Mega Cavern was a massive limestone quarry, with miners blasting the rock for 42 years. It has a recreation area, a recycling center, and a warehouse.
The site is a 100-acre limestone cavern. Recreation facilities include Zip lines, a rope challenge course, an underground tram, walking paths, and bike tours. Source: https://louisvillemegacavern.com/
Inner Space Cavern
Inner Space Cavern is located in Georgetown, Texas.
Inner Space was formed by water passing through Edwards Limestone.
There were large openings in the caverns during the Ice Age. The evidence lies in the skeletons of large Ice Age animals like mammoths, giant sloths, and saber-tooth skeletons found in the caverns. Source: Wikipedia
Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Cavern State Park, located in Florida, is a natural void chiseled by Civilian Conservation Corps workers, to offer visitors a chance to walk into the cavern.
Florida Cavern has large underground rooms with stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and draperies.
Glenwood Cavern Adventure Park is hidden in Iron Mountain, Colorado.
Part of the tour takes place outside in the unpredictable weather of Colorado. Once inside, you can see the underground landscape that took millions of years to create.
The Caverns have formations like stalactites, stalagmites, and soda straws. Soda straws are speleothems in the form of hollow mineral cylindrical tubes. Source: Visitglennwod.com
Glenwood caverns also have cave bacon and flowstone. These are the mineral buildups produced on a long thin sheet, with undulations similar to crisp slices of bacon. Variations in the chemicals in the slowly dripping cave water create colored stripes similar to alternating bands of fat and meat". Source: EOS.
Moaning Caverns is located in California.
These caverns have different tours depending on your fitness condition.
Moaning Caverns has California's deepest cave chamber. To see it, you must descend sixteen stories down via a spiral staircase.
The cavern has impressive stalagmites and flowstones. It also has Moaning holes. These are rock formations caused by dripping water that generates moaning sounds. These sounds inspired the cave's name.
Moaning Caverns park also has outdoor attractions that include ziplining and wall climbing. Source: Moaningcarverns.com
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park is located in Arizona and is in almost pristine condition.
Among the different formations in the caverns, are the longest soda straws, with 21 feet and 3 inches, and the tallest column in Arizona, with 58 feet.
The world's most extensive formation of brushite "moonmilk". This is a residue from limestone comprising aggregates of fine crystals of varying compositions.
The Kartchner Caverns also have needle quartz formation and shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams. Source: azstateparks.com
Rickwood Caverns State Park
Rickwood Caverns State Park is located in the State of Alabama.
These massive caverns were water-formed about 269 million years ago during the Mississippian period.
The caves' limestone formations are illuminated, and the caverns also boast an underground pool.
Rickwood Caverns still contain active "living formations", as mineral-filled water droplets build colorful structures and flowstones.
The cavern reveals that it was carved from an ocean bed. It has shell fragments and fossils of marine life clearly visible along with the cavern ceiling and walls. Source: Northalabama.org
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