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Ultimate Guide to California Cavern, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Ultimate Guide to California Cavern, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

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Nestled in the foothills of Sierra Nevada, California Cavern is the first cave that was open to the public in the state in the 1850s. It is still going strong after 170 years, and the unique sights still amuse visitors as they used to do in the yesteryears. The caverns boast of an elaborate network of tunnels and huge crystalline chambers. 

Ultimate Guide to California Caverns, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

California Cavern, California 

No words can describe the immensity of the cave and the grandeur of the fretted domes and tall columns. The most striking feature of California Cavern is the underground lakes. The pools of water look pitch black, but when you focus light on the waters, it appears crystal clear. In the flood season, you can step into the water without even seeing it!

History of California Cavern

California Cavern is historically significant as it is a major cavern system and is one of the earliest recorded caves (1850). There are official documents that verify organized tourist activities back in 1854! This is the 1st show cave and the longest cavern system in the state.

Official records state that Captain Joseph Taylor discovered the cave in 1849/1850. It was opened for public tours making it the 1st show cave in California. It was named Mammoth Cave by Taylor but was renamed Cave City Cave in 1894.

Local stories confirm that Taylor had found the entrance to this cave accidentally while setting up target practice. California Caverns was the 1st of its kind to be operated as a tourist attraction in the Sierras.

Some of the notable visitors included Mark Twain and John Muir, and the caverns were registered as California Historical Landmark # 956. Today, the cavern is operated by Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation as a show cave.  

Geological Cave Formations in California Cavern

The California Cavern are known for their magnificent geological formations. When you walk through the passageways, you will see a wide range of beautiful white, cream, and caramel-colored crystalline cave formations. These include stalactites, cave popcorn, stalagmites, helictites, and flowstones. One would see the beautiful, pristine white formations such as soda straws growing out of the ceiling of California Caverns.  

Wildlife in California Cavern

Visitors have reported that California Caverns is home to brown bats, millipedes, amphipods, and salamanders. However, one may not see them all on tour, but they are around. If you are lucky, you can get a view of the tiny millipedes or the unique amphipods.  

Download our FREE California Cavern Guide (Unofficial)  

Is California Cavern Haunted?

California Cavern is the 1st show cave in the US and one of the most visited by tourists. It does not have the reputation of being haunted. 

How Big are California Cavern?

The network of passages stretches for two and a half miles making it the most extended cave system in the state.  

California Cavern Tours

The guided cavern walking tour is of two variations – one is held during the summer and fall season while the other tour is held in the winter and spring season.

The Trail of Lights Tour, which takes place in the summer and fall season, is 60 to 80 minutes long, while the Trail of Lakes Tour is 45 to 60 min long. Both the tours are similar except for the pools of water that one will find throughout the cavern when the water table rises. Some of the rooms may become hard to access in the Trail of Lakes tour when the water level increases, but you can enjoy the reflection of the crystalline formations of the wall. 

The tour will take you through well-lighted passageways and walkways. There are approximately 60 steps throughout the tour. You will be taken to the Jungle Room, which has been named for the vast array of crystals protruding from the ceiling, and some of them are several feet long.

During the tour, lights will be turned off for a moment so that you experience total darkness. The guide will tell you when this will happen so that you can hold on to the children so that they do not get scared. There are a couple of special wild cave tours that demands special attention. 

world of caves facebook group

Mammoth Cave Expedition

It is an extended cavern trip perfect for those who want more than a walk and are eager to crawl, squirm, and wriggle through natural passages. The participants must be at least eight years old, and adults must accompany minors. The duration of the trip is around 2 to 3 hours. 

Middle Earth Cave Expedition 

In this expedition, the groups explore 80% of the cavern system from the east entrance to the westernmost exist in California. It is about a mile long, so you need to have loads of stamina for this. The first hour consists of walking and crawling, and then the visitors pass through the Middle Earth section, which was discovered in the 1980s.

Although the scenery is beautiful, you need to walk through sticky cave clay that is almost knee-high. The participants must be at least 16 years of age, and an adult should accompany minors. The trip time can extend up to four hours depending upon the situation. 

California Cavern Tour Prices and Discounts

The charges for the different tours are as follows – 

Walking Tour

  • Adult: USD 14.95
  • Child (ages 3 – 12): USD 7.95

Mammoth Cave Expedition 

  • Ages 8 and up: USD 99 

Middle Earth Expedition

  • Ages 16 and up: USD 130

Is California Cavern Cold?

The temperature inside the cavern hovers between 56 to 58 degrees F. The air temperature and humidity remain cool and comfortable as the cave is naturally ventilated. It is an ideal place to escape the extreme heat during summer and the cold during winter. 

signatures at California Cavern

What to Wear?

The temperature inside the cave is comfortable throughout the year, but one may feel the chill during the winter. So, it is safe to carry a light jacket with you whenever you come here. 

California Cavern Hours

It is accessible on all days from 10 am to 5 pm. 

What to Do at California Cavern (Beside Tours)

After the tour gets over, one of the most popular activities for kids and families is gold panning and gemstone mining in the flume system, which is right next to the visitor’s center.

The kids will love the visitors center as there is a huge and genuine ancient cave bear skeleton. The gift shop is the main highlight of the above-ground activities. It has real fossils, cut rock crystals at excellent prices. One will also find informative literature that will tell you about the caverns and the nearby sites.

What to Do at California Cavern (Beside Tours)

There are also educational kits and materials available here that educate you about the prehistoric and contemporary animals in the region. 

Best Time to Visit California Caverns 

One can come here anytime as the caverns remain open throughout the year but, as per popular sentiments, the best time to come here is during autumn. Try not to come here when the winter rains begin as some cave areas become less accessible.  

How to Get to California Caverns 

The California Caverns are on Cave City Road, around 4 miles from Mountain Ranch Road and 11 miles east of HW 49 in San Andreas. If you are coming from Los Banos, you should look out for the signboard and billboard placed along Highway 99 as they help find the site in Mother Lode country. 

fornia Caverns 

Hotels near California Caverns 

There are several quality accommodations options near California Caverns, namely The Victoria Inn & Murphy’s Suites. 

Visiting California Caverns 

Do you need more information before visiting California Caverns? Call (888) 488 – 1960 for an information packet. 

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