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Arizona is one of the most naturally beautiful states in the country and is home to several mysterious caves in the state’s red rock setting. While many travelers head to the Grand Canyon or Sedona, why not see Arizona in a different way and go caving? The great thing about the caves is they generally stay a refreshingly cool 70 degrees, no matter what the heat is outside. We’ve rounded up some of the best caves in Arizona.
Colossal Cave is an enormous cave system in Arizona home to some of the best caving in the area. There’s a guided route that runs half a mile through some of the caving system, where you can find out more about the cave’s history and legends, alongside interesting facts about the cave’s geological composition. The regular guided tour takes around an hour to complete. There are almost 400 steps running down the cave, which make you feel like you’re heading to the core of the earth. Along the way, you’ll see stalactites, stalagmites, and helicities. Be sure to visit the “Old Baldy” formation, which is the only formation visitors are permitted to touch in the cave.
The beautiful Kartchner Caverns can be found in Kartchner State Park. The caverns are home to what’s known to be the world’s longest stalactite formation, alongside plenty of mysterious nooks and crannies for you to explore. The caves were discovered in 1974 and they are limestone caves home to rare minerals and formations, alongside a big bat population. The cave’s stalagmites and stalactites are still growing, although this is hard to see with the naked eye. To find out more, head to the nearby Discovery Center, where you can find out facts about the bats and some of the fossils that have been found in the cave.
There are three different types of cave tours open to the public. These are the Rotunda tour, which is 90-minutes long, the Big Room Tour, which is around two hours long, and a special tour where you can explore the cave just with a helmet and a headlamp, as explorers did when they first discovered Kartchner Caverns back in the 1970s.
Grand Canyon Caverns
The Grand Canyon Caverns is a limestone cave known as the largest dry cavern in the U.S. Using an elevator, you’ll head 200-300 feet, or 21 stories, below the earth’s surface into the eerie cave setting. Once at the bottom, you can explore the cave through a variety of walking tours of different difficulty levels. For the more adventurous traveler, head to the off-trail guided tour, which is over two hours of trekking through the cave, and you’ll discover rarely-seen areas and unique formations.
For an extra special visit, stay in the cavern’s underground hotel room, which lies at 220 feet below the earth’s surface. There’s only one room, however, so you’ll need to book with plenty of time in advance. The caves can be found just off Route 66, on the way to the Grand Canyon if you’re driving from Las Vegas. There’s also an Inn and a restaurant on-site if you’ve worked up an appetite or are looking for a place to sleep.
Lava River Cave
The Lava River Cave is a long lava tube that lies in the Coconino National Forest. The cave was reportedly formed over 700,000 years ago after a volcanic eruption. Today, visitors can explore the cave’s mysterious lava tunnel and surrounding caverns. The cave is very cold (even in summer) and the temperature can drop to around 30 degrees, so you’ll need to wear warm clothes. The cave is a do-it-yourself hike, meaning you need to read up before you head there. While you’re preparing for the route, take a look at the Best Places to Go Camping in Arizona and make the most of the incredible nature across the state.
Cave of the Domes
Cave of the Domes lies in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park. While there are around 1,000 caves in the Grand Canyon area, the Cave of the Domes is the only one open to the public. The cave is relatively hard to get to and is a one-day hike just to reach its entrance. The experience is definitely worth the walk, however, as inside the cave visitors can see wonderful displays of stalactites and stalagmites. You need a permit to enter the caves, so arrive prepared! It’s one of the most beautiful Hiking Experiences in Arizona.
While not a cave per se, Antelope Canyon is home to stunning cave-like formations. There are two slots of the canyon, known as “Upper Antelope Canyon” or “The Crack”; and “Lower Antelope Canyon” or “The Corkscrew.” From thousands of years of geological formations, the rock of the walls in both slots looks like flowing water and is one of the most photographed sights in Arizona.