The Shenandoah Valley is home to many places that would make any intrigued explorer positively giddy with excitement. The valley itself is beautiful during every season of the year and while the least visited season is the winter, it's still just as lovely under a blanket of snow as it is when the sun is shining high over grassy pastures.
The surrounding landscape is known as the Blue Ridge Mountains and it's only natural to assume that where there's mountains, there's bound to be caverns. The Shenandoah Valley happens to be abundant in not one, but two, underground caverns: Luray Caverns and Skyline Caverns. Both take visitors on an adventurous route down into the earth, showing off some of Mother Nature's most stunning handiwork. With the two being only 30 minutes from one another, the choice of choosing one or the other is quite a challenge - so, what do they each have to offer? Let's find out.
Of the two, Luray Caverns is the larger of the two and is also the largest underground cavern in the eastern U.S. Therefore, those looking for a fully-immersive experience - and perhaps first-timers - will gain full insight into how a cave such as this forms, with a variety of examples at which to observe. This is also why Luray Caverns has gained such a reputation as being one of the most-visited underground caverns in the eastern half of the country, and it seems more visitors each year due to that. Therefore, visitors should also expect some crowds during the peak season.
- Fact: All the formations within Luray Caverns are calcite, which is a crystalline form of limestone.
The cave system is estimated to be about four million years old and many of its features have been forming for thousands of centuries. As a result, Luray gives way to rooms that are the size of cathedrals with ceilings that reach ten stories high. Many of its features are seemingly almost too perfect, thanks to being untouched for so many years and maintained by the delicate environment of this massive cavern. Guests will also find themselves dazzled by an array of underground pools, as well as optical illusions which leave one wondering if the room is upside-down or rightside-up.
Defining Features Of Luray Caverns
While visitors will see multiple wonders on their tour of this cavern, there are two main features that stand out for just about everyone who visits.
- Giants Hall. This massive column is the result of both a stalactite and a stalagmite coming together. It reaches a total height of 47 feet, and is one of the most notable features in the entire cavern due to its sheer size and unique composition.
- The Great Stalacpipe Organ. Perhaps one of the most unique features of any cavern in the world - not just in Luray - is the Great Stalacpipe Organ. This incredible instrument allows guests to hear what a stalactite sounds like thanks to its ability to gently tap on formations spread throughout three acres underground. The result is something altogether eerie and incredible.
Visiting Hours & Admission
- Hours: Daily from 9 AM - 4 PM
- Admission: Adults – $28, Children (6-12) – $15, and free under age 6 (includes a tour of the cavern, the Car & Carriage Museum, Toy Town Museum, and Luray Valley Museum)
Skyline Caverns is, indeed, a much smaller operation which does mean that its tours do not have the glitz and glamour of what some might consider Luray Caverns to have. With that being said, tour groups are smaller and can often be more informative, as there's more time to spend on the cave's unique features.
- Fact: It's the only cavern in the world with a full display of Anthodites, therefore making it a world-class destination in terms of cave formations.
Skyline Caverns is estimated to be about 60 million years old, thus giving it a slight edge over that of Luray's history. It was discovered in 1937 by a man named Walter S. Amos, who had done rigorous topography research before finally unearthing this incredible cave system. The cavern has been open since 1939 and since the cavern is smaller, it's very possible that guests might find themselves in a group of three or maybe even less! The area around the caverns is also home to a nature trail, a miniature train rail, and the Enchanted Dragon Mirror Maze. Therefore, something can be found for all ages above the ground, as well.
Defining Features Of Skyline Caverns
- Each stop along the route of Skyline Caverns gives way to unique formations, such as: The Captial Dome, Rainbow Trail, The Painted Desert, The Wishing Well, The Grotto of Nativity, Cathedral Hall, Fairyland Lake, The Shrine, and The Anthodites.
- Rainbow Waterfall. This incredible underground waterfall cascades down 37 feet, and is one of several underground streams that visitors will see on the tour.
Hours & Admission
- Hours: The hours for Skyline Caverns vary throughout the year (check their website for more info prior to visiting); usually 9 AM - 4 PM
- Admission: Adults (14+) – $22, Children (7-13) – $11, Children 6 and under are free
So, Which Shenandoah Valley Cavern?
When it comes down to choosing between the two, it's personal preference. For those who are ready to be humbled by incredibly massive cavern formations and don't mind larger tour groups, Luray Caverns is the way to go. It's also a great option for adults as there is some walking involved, and the additional museums cater to a mostly older crowd.
For those who appreciate a smaller, more intimate tour and are more concerned with seeing smaller, unique formations, then Skyline Caverns is a great option. It's also perfect for those with children, as the outdoor activities are just as engaging and fun.