Over Spring Break we spent a wonderful few days at a farm near Shenanoah in Sperryville, VA. It was a great family escape from the city in a beautiful location convenient to a variety of activities and attractions.
One of those places was Luray Caverns, the largest cavern system in the eastern part of the country and a designated U.S. Natural Landmark. It was a perfect outing on a rainy day during our getaway, though it was not our first visit there. Levi and I had been before we even had kids, and I took Owen and Sasha when they were much younger — Sasha was still a baby, and Owen just four years old — before they could really appreciate the magnificence of it all. This trip, however, we were all enormously impressed by the underground world of stalagmites and stalactites, some up to 10 stories high and all of them creating quite a breathtaking scene.
A guided walking tour through the caverns lasted about 90 minutes and was very informative. We learned about the discovery of the caverns by a group of men in 1878 when a cold rush of air from a sinkhole blew out their candle. The guide explained how the limestone, specifically calcite, formations began developing millions of years ago. She also pointed out interesting features of the different stalagmites and stalactites — many of them are named for unique characteristics.
One of our favorites was Dream Lake, a cluster of stalactites reflected into an 18-inch deep pool of water below, but giving the illusion of an expanse of stalagmites. There’s also the Great Stalagpipe Organ, which is fashioned with special attachments that make it play music. A “cascade” of formations creates Titania’s Veil. And the Fish Market was named for what it resembles, fish hanging in a row from the top of a market stall.
You can also toss money into the Wishing Well, which is drained every year, and the money donated to medical research, educational grants, and other charities. Thousands of dollars are contributed annually, and a sign shows how much has been given to each cause — more than a million dollars total so far.
The entire tour through the caverns is just over a mile, and while there are some stairs (steep ones in the beginning and end), strollers are allowed. However, it’s not wheelchair accessible. And something important to know: There are no bathrooms in the caverns, so it’s a good idea to stop at the restrooms before starting a tour.
And while the underground sights are the main attraction, there’s more to see and do at Luray Caverns that’s included in admission. The Luray Valley Museum offers a glimpse into the history of the Shenandoah Valley. The Car & Carriage Caravan is a great showcase of historic transportation, with early horse and buggies, bicycles, the first cars and all kinds of old automobile models. In Toy Town Junction, you can see a collection of old toys. For extra costs, there’s also a gem mining area, a fun maze to follow, and a small ropes course for a little extra adventure.
Luray Caverns is about a two-hour drive from DC, perfect for a day-trip, but also great to include in a Shenandoah escape, like we did. It’s open daily starting at 9am, and the last tour departs at 7pm from June 15 – Labor Day, 6pm from April 1 to June 14 and Day after Labor Day to October 31, 4pm November 1 to March 31 (5pm weekends). Admission for the caverns is $30/adults, $15/ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under. Extra costs are The Gem Sluice ($8, $12, and $30 options), Maze ($9/adult, $7/ages 6-12), and Rope Adventure Park ($11/over 48″, $7/under 48″).