Luray Caverns

Want to explore a unique underground treasure? Visit Luray Caverns in Virginia, the fourth-largest cavern in the United States.

A day trip from beautiful Georgetown was one of the highlights of my recent visit to the USA from France. My hosts wanted me to experience a unique U.S. natural landmark, so they took me to Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Luray Caverns is a magnificent natural wonder, an extensive system of limestone rock that has continuously formed and changed shape for more than 450 million years.

I’ve visited a few caves in France, but Luray Caverns is the largest and most spectacular formation I have come across. Exploring the cavern is perfectly safe, with guard rails lining the paved walkways. And, unlike some caverns in Europe, you don’t need a flashlight. The lighting is beautiful, and you get a little booklet—a sort of mini-guide to the formations—when you buy your ticket. I’m glad we got there early. It allowed us to take in the beauty of the formation and learn the history of the cavern formation without the crowds.

Discovering the Caves that are Luray Caverns

William Campbell, Andrew Campbell, and Benton Stebbins were the first to enter the caves. The three men accidentally stumbled onto the caves on August 13, 1878.

Alerted by a cool breeze coming from a borehole, they started digging. The men made a tiny entrance allowing Andrew Campbell, the smallest of the three, to slide down with a candle. More digging created a giant hole, so all three could descend using a rope. The men discovered an underground magic treasure of stalactites and stalagmites—a gigantic cavern with 64 acres of unique geological formation.

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Three men accidentally discovered the caves in 1878 in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Photo by Khlongwangchao via iStock by Getty Images

Visiting Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

Almost immediately as you descend into the caverns, you notice the colors—lots of yellow, red, brown, and surprisingly, a fair amount of white. The guidebook starts with a scientific explanation of the theory behind the cavern rooms, the ceilings, and the walls. It then gives a brief account of the cavern’s treasures—with 16 short paragraphs describing each chamber.

The interconnected chambers of varying dimensions are all uniquely sculptured. Some formations are enormous, extending from the ground to the ceiling; columns of stalactites and stalagmites have grown together over the years. Other structures are thin and somewhat translucent. Surprises at every twist and turn with numerous pillars, intricate designs, and guard-like figures, I was utterly in awe throughout the visit.

Giant's Hall inside Luray Caverns.

Giant’s Hall inside Luray Caverns. Photo by SergeYatunin via iStock by Getty Images

An enthusiastic child expressed the awe and questions I contemplated. “Look at that!” “How did that rock get there?” “Can I touch it?”

We were standing in front of a double column at the Giant’s Hall, the deepest part of the cavern, with probably the largest airspace. Curious to hear how the child’s father would explain the growth of limestone formation, I listened shamelessly.

“Hundreds of years ago, water covered this entire area,” he began. “Water continues to drip continuously into these chambers, and they become solid with time through a complicated chemical procedure. That’s why the structures are constantly changing. Touching is not a good idea as water must reach the rock without barriers. Nothing must interfere with limestone formation. Just think, these formations took 120 years to form one cubic inch.”

That was it. In a nutshell, a father delivered cave chemistry with confidence enough to whet his son’s appetite.

My Favorite Stops in Luray Caverns

Wonder and wow moments filled my entire experience. Here are a few of my most memorable stops as we toured inside Luray Caverns.

The Great Stalactite Organ

The Great Stalactite Organ is one of the fascinating discoveries at the Luray Caverns. Imagine an organ in the middle of a cavern playing on its own. The genius behind this creation is Leland Sprinkle, an engineer who spent three years perfecting his work of art, completing it in 1957.

The organ sounds come from solenoids placed behind stalactites, the pointy formations from the ceiling. By selecting different shapes and sizes of the stalactites, Sprinkle could vary the tones of the organ.

The Stalactite Oregon in Luray Caverns.

The Stalactite Organ deep inside Luray Caverns. Photo by zrfphoto via iStock by Getty Images

The Wishing Well

The Wishing Well is a 6-foot-deep pond, spectacular bluish-green, and Luray’s most profound body of water. Visitors toss coins and notes into the pool and make a wish, a habit that started in 1954. A board above the well lists the amount donated over the years.

Luray Caverns' Wishing Well.

The Wishing Well in Luray Caverns. Photo by UnnaB via iStock by Getty Images

Fried Eggs

Towards the end of the visit, I came across a site that looked perfectly natural yet very different from anything else I’d seen. There were two smooth formations, stalagmites that workers had accidentally snapped from their bases as they worked on enlarging the tunnel.

Luray Caverns fried eggs.

Workers accidentally damaged two stalagmites. They now resemble fried eggs. Photo by ZRFphoto via iStock by Getty Images

So Many Formations in Luray Caverns

Names like Fish Market, Tatiana’s veil, and Pluto’s Ghost are exotic names for these marvelous formations. We got to the last area named Stebbins Avenue, named after the discoverer who urged the others to join him in the search for this beautiful, sacred, and magical place. You will have to decide which is your favorite!

Luray Caverns

It may be challenging to decide which part of the Luray Caverns is your favorite. Photo by candu via iStock by Getty Images

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When You Visit Luray Caverns

There was a long line at the entrance as we left two hours later. Luray is, after all, an ideal educational outing for all the family. The caverns are open every day at 9 am. Closing time varies, so it’s a good idea to check the website for details before going. Adults pay an entrance fee of $32, and children pay $16. Luray offers discount prices for groups of over 20. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Luray Caverns in Virginia or another outdoor adventure.

Want to explore a unique underground treasure? Visit Luray Caverns in Virginia, the fourth-largest cavern in the United States. This is a great day trip from Washington, DC and a perfect family adventure any time of the year.


Exploring Virginia’s Luray Caverns

Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: Valentino Pattaya