Caves are a great attraction to visit during your trip. They offer an opportunity for the traveler to experience the beauty of nature while still being safe from natural disasters. However, for those who have never been in a cave before, it can be pretty exciting and scary at times. Something about being in the dark causes one’s imagination to run wild with thoughts of what might happen next. The best way for travelers to get over this fear is by researching caves beforehand to know what they are getting into when they enter their first one. This blog post will give you information on California Caves worth visiting!
In California, you can find a variety of caves that will make for the perfect adventure. Some are easy to get to, and others require some more work. In addition, the state is home to five national parks and many other sites that offer great opportunities for exploring caving. There are also different caves in California, including lava tubes, sea caves, and limestone caverns.
I am here to tell you about some of the unique places in California that I have been fortunate enough to visit. If you are traveling, this blog post might just help you decide on a few destinations.
1. Lava Beds National Monument
This national park is located near the Oregon border and has some of the unique formations in the world. These caves were formed when lava flowed across a Native American trail and created a river of rock. It made some fantastic caverns, including the “Caveman Bridge,” over 40 feet high and was used by early inhabitants of this area to cross over the lava flow. The cave also features volcanic decoration, such as large spears of obsidian jutting from ceilings and walls all around you. The best time to go is during April or May, when flowers bloom on top of lava beds that have been dormant for thousands of years. Unfortunately, there are no camping sites here, but visitors can stay at a hotel in Tulelake. However, if you are interested in staying overnight, there is a lodge just outside the park that offers camping and rooms.
2. Mendocino Sea Caves
Mendocino is one of the northernmost points on the California coast, and right near it is a long strip of sandstone cliffs called “Sea Stacks.” These sea stacks have created several caves along this coastline, thanks to erosion from wind and water. While exploring these caves, you will notice moist air billowing out of the cave’s opening, which I found fascinating to see since I live in Michigan, where our winters are so harsh.
One thing about Mendocino Coast caves is that they are only accessible during low tide. You can find this schedule online or ask at your hotel.
3. Caples Creek Cave
This cave is located just outside the Sequoia National Park in their southern extension, called Giant Sequoia National Monument. It was created by a stream that flows through the Sierra Nevada mountains and is surrounded by large pine trees everywhere you look! Crawling through the tiny entrance is like entering another world where you feel small in comparison to giant rocks towering over your head as they will fall at any moment. The best part about exploring the hills around Sequoia National Park is seeing all of the old-growth trees. This national park has some of the living organisms on earth, including three species of conifers over 2000 years old.
4. Salton Sea Caves
These caves are located near the Salton Sea, one of the largest inland seas in America. These sea caves are carved into tufa, a type of limestone rock that can be found around this area. This place is filled with dense salt crust due to the high salinity levels found here, and it makes for some incredible scenery on hikes up nearby mountains or hillsides. You will notice large mounds of salt around you as you follow trails looking for new caverns to explore! The best time to explore the Salton Sea is between November and March, when temperatures are not too hot yet bring thousands of birds, such as snow geese and cranes, to this area.
5. Sequoia National Park Caves
Sequoia National Park is home to the oldest trees on planet earth, including the “General Sherman Tree,” which is 2200 years old and 275 feet tall! This place has many caves and caverns spread throughout the park’s forested areas, and each one has its unique features. Unfortunately, I could not visit any of these caves during my trip since they are only accessible by long hikes through dense woods, which takes hours out of your day (if you don’t get lost, such as happened to me).
6. Tide pools near Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
This natural area is near the San Simeon coast and features many tide pools that are perfect for exploring. In addition to tide pools, you can also discover sea mammals such as seals and dolphins.
7. Morro Rock Caves
This place is located just outside Morro Bay which was recently named one of “America’s Prettiest Towns” by Forbes Magazine thanks to its pier-side beach views. This landmark has a group of caves that have been around for thousands of years, but these caves were only rediscovered in the 1930s when people found ancient artifacts inside. Many people chose not to disclose this location after finding old bones and weapons, so if you go exploring here, please take care of your surroundings since you may be disturbing critical historical items.
8. Lake Tahoe Caves
This place is filled with many crystal clear blue caves that are filled with water year-round! This majestic mountain lake has an elevation of 6,225 feet and a surface area of 191 square miles, making for plenty of places to explore along the shoreline. This lake is so huge you could fit all seven California coastal counties inside its borders! My favorite cave here is “Horn Creek Cave” because it features a small inner chamber surrounded by two entrances where sunlight beams in from above. The best times to visit Lake Tahoe are between May and September, when temperatures dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night, making for excellent exploration after the sunsets.
9. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
This place is located near San Diego and has many caves that are great for exploration. I have not personally visited any of them yet, but I plan to go on an adventure here soon! The best times to visit this area are between March and October, when it’s sunny outside since these caverns will be filled with water during the winter. During the summer months, they should be dried out so you can explore them during warmer weather. The entrance fee for this state park is $10 per car or $5 per person, which makes it very affordable too, especially if you want to explore more than one cave here!
10. Horse Caves of Calico Basin
Located just south of Las Vegas, this place is excellent for exploring several caves filled with crystal clear water year-round! This area was used as a filming location for the original TV series “Star Trek” where Captain Kirk and his crew walked through these same caves visiting aliens on other worlds. These particular caves are also well known in the caving community since they offer “wild cave tours,” which means you can use special gear to explore further into these caverns if desired.
11. Emerald Pools Trail
This trail is located just outside Zion National Park, where I have visited twice in two years via long backpacking trips. Although there are no caves in Zion itself, there are several places between here and Bryce Canyon National Park where you can go exploring. I would recommend going during the winter months since most of these caves will be flooded with water in the summertime due to high temperatures and large amounts of rain. This trail is part of a popular “hike-a-bike” loop that takes several days to complete, where you bike down into all three major Zion canyons.
12. Moaning Caverns
Located near the San Bernadino Mountain Range, this place is home to one of California’s largest caverns which stretches for over half a mile inside the earth! Several beginner caving tours are offered here, too, making it great for people who have never explored caves before and want to try cave hiking or spelunking. I have personally been to this cavern twice, and I was amazed by its vast size and how clear the water was inside. There is a small lake too called Lake Moaning where people can see trout swimming around, but that’s only about half an acre large, so don’t expect to do any fishing here!
13. Lone Pine Peak Caves
This remote location is located just outside of Death Valley National Park, which can be accessed by taking Route 190 out west from Big Pine. Just follow this road for about 30 miles, and you should see a sign on your left side indicating where to turn off for Lone Pine Peak. The caves here are much smaller than those at Moaning Caverns, but they offer excellent views of Death Valley and Telescope Peak, so it’s worth checking out! I would recommend going during the winter months when temperatures will be more relaxed, making for a more straightforward adventure since these caverns can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime.
14. Oregon Caves National Park
This place is home to several well-known caves, such as the Oregon Ice Cave and the Kings Canyon Cave, stretching over 3000 feet deep inside the earth. People come here from all over to experience these fantastic caverns since they feature some of the finest examples of calcite crystals found in North America! The ice cave was formed long ago when snow collected at the entrance of this cavern year-round which eventually created large chunks of ice. They have been as heavy as several tons, but usually, they are around 50 pounds or less, making it easy to walk on them without any trouble. Even though I live nearby, I have never been able to visit this place since it’s always busy during my regular visits due to day-use only rules.
15 . Sequoia National Park
Located near the Giant Sequoia trees, this remote location has several caves and Sequoia National Forest, part of the National Park System. Many of these caverns are located on private property, so you need permission to enter them, or else you will be fined by authorities or even arrested. There are also many waterfalls in the area that drop into large pools where hikers like to swim during summertime, but be careful since flash floods do happen.