The United States contains thousands and thousands of caves—Missouri alone has over 6,000!—and for certain adventurous types, spelunking (the exploration of caves) offers an irresistible allure. Unfortunately, many caves are on private property, and it’s increasingly common for caves to be closed to the public for health and safety reasons.
There are still many incredible caves to visit, though, and we’ve put together our top 3 recommendations for those who want to explore and camp near some of the coolest caves (literally and figuratively) in the United States.
Image from The Dyrt user Leandra P.
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the largest known cave system in the entire world, with over 400 miles of caves—and that’s just the portion that has already been explored! This cave system consists of huge chambers connected by serpentine passageways through stunning limestone.
To get the full cave experience, you can even book an underground boat tour that will take you through the cavernous twists and turns while your imagination runs away with every bump and echo.
There’s easy and accessible camping close to the entrance of the cave at the Mammoth Cave Campground, and spelunking isn’t the only activity available to park visitors. From the campground, you have access to 90 miles of quality hiking and biking trails, or you can spend the day canoeing or kayaking on the Green River or Nolin River nearby.
Photo from By Daniel Spiess - originally posted to Flickr as Bracken Cave Bats, CC BY-SA 2.0
Natural Bridge Caverns is a collection of the largest caverns in the entire state of Texas, and these caves are still actively growing. The family who owns and runs the Caverns offers many different tours, including one that is lit only by hand-held lanterns.
One of the most amazing parts of this cave system, though, has to be Bracken Cave, which is home to the world’s largest bat colony. During the summer, over 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats make their home in Bracken Cave, and in the evenings, you can sit by the exit to the cave and watch all 15 million fly and spiral out at once as they set out on their evening insect hunts.
When you visit Natural Bridge Caverns, you can camp at KL Ranch Camp Cliffside in New Braunfels, which is just a short drive away. Natural Bridge Caverns is family-owned and operated, and so is this campground. When you’re not exploring the caverns, you can fish, canoe, kayak, tube, and enjoy picnics by the river.
Image from The Dyrt user Kristin Y.
One of Missouri’s many nicknames is the “Cave State,” and there are some truly spectacular caves—some of which have never been explored! Meramec Caves is one of the greatest in the whole state, and its nestled into the Ozark Mountains in Meramec State Park.
During your visit, you can choose from many different ranger-guided tours that take you through the gorgeous caverns, stalactites, and stalagmites formed in the ancient limestone. Fisher Cave is one of the most popular and accessible destinations, but it is also possible to acquire permits to explore some of the other caves in the Meramec Cave system.
Rumor has it that the infamous Jesse James and his crew of robbers hid out in the Meramec Caves to escape the authorities!
The campground at Meramec State Park puts you as close as possible to the caves for easy exploring access. The facilities and showers are nice and clean, and there’s even a convenient camp store nearby. When you’re not inside the caves, you can also enjoy great fishing, floating or canoeing on the river, and hiking on the easy-to-moderate trails (some of which lead to the caves).
If you’re looking for ways to add even more adventure to your camping trips, adding cave exploration is a fun and easy way to add excitement. If you’re brand new to caving, there are often great guided tours. For more experienced spelunkers, there are thousands of caves that still await exploration. Adventure is out there—or rather, under there—and it’s up to you to find it!
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