Tag Archives: cave

Coronado National Memorial

Overview

There was no international border in 1540, but this valley in southern Arizona is where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition crossed into the U.S.A.  His Spanish army marched north in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, discovering multiple pueblos (including Pecos) and establishing a route for missionaries to follow. 

Highlights

Coronado Cave, Montezuma Pass, Coronado Peak

Must-Do Activity

The park does not actually contain a statue or large memorial to Coronado.  It does have a steep three-quarter mile trail to a 600-foot long limestone cave bearing his name, which visitors can explore on their own with flashlights.

Best Trail

From the parking area at Montezuma Pass it is half a mile to Coronado Peak.  This “sky island” at 6,864 feet in elevation offers excellent views north towards the Huachuca Mountains in the surrounding Coronado National Forest and south into Mexico.  From there, Joe’s Canyon Trail leads 3 miles down to the visitor center and works great with a car shuttle. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The small but educational visitor center provides information on trails, the history of the Coronado expedition, wildlife, and the “I Hike for Health” program.  Plus, you can dress up in replica Spanish Conquistador armor, which is very heavy.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/coro/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Paved to the visitor center and a good gravel road the final 2 miles up to Montezuma Pass.

Camping

Coronado National Forest surrounds the memorial’s 4,750 acres, offering both campgrounds and free dispersed camping.

Explore More – Disillusioned by not finding the Seven Cities of Cibola, in which present-day state did the Coronado expedition turn around in 1541?

Sequoia National Park

Overview

In 1890, Sequoia became the second National Park in the United States in order to protect its famous groves of giant sequoia trees, not to be mistaken for California’s coast redwoods.  The park’s hub in the Giant Forest contains the General Sherman tree, the largest by volume in the world.  Most of the park is in the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet. 

Highlights

General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney

Must-Do Activity

The remarkable giant sequoia tree can live over 2,000 years, reach three hundred feet in height, and grow the largest wood volume of any single-stemmed tree on the planet.  They are only found in 75 protected groves scattered throughout California’s Sierra Nevadas.  Bring your whole family to see how many people it takes arms linked to reach around the base of one of these massive trees.  With circumferences reaching over 100 feet, you are going to need a big family! 

Best Trail

Crescent Trail starts near the General Sherman tree, winds up the hill, and then connects with the Trail of the Sequoias, which passes the dense clusters of the Senate and House Groups.  It is especially nice when there is snow on the ground.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Any time of year is great to visit, but the winter is perhaps the prettiest as the snow contrasts nicely with the orange bark of the giant sequoia trees.

Peak Season

Summer due to the high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow.  The rough Mineral King Road is closed in winter.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds near the Giant Forest, as well as two on the rough road to the remote Mineral King section of the park.  All backcountry camping requires a permit and is on a quota system during the summer.


This design we created to celebrate Sequoia National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?

Russell Cave National Monument

Overview

Humans have been visiting Russell Cave in northeast Alabama since about the time its limestone roof collapsed creating an entrance around 10,000 years ago.  A timeline of human invention was preserved in the floor of this hunting camp for millennia, from atlatls to bows, pottery to pump drills.  The park rangers were the friendliest we encountered during Pretirement and often offer demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.

Highlights

Museum with American Indian artifacts, boardwalk to cave entrance, nature trails

Must-Do Activity

There are a select few artifacts displayed on site in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.  From there a short boardwalk leads through the forest to an overlook of the archaeological digs at the cave entrance, which you cannot enter. 

Best Trail

Two nature trails (0.6 and 1.2 miles long) split off from the boardwalk to explore the surrounding hills.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This cave is not famous for its pretty cave formations, but for its incredible archaeological record.  If you want to see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, I recommend you head west to the impressive Cathedral Caverns State Park.

Peak Season

Summer, when it can be muggy and buggy.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ruca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but RVs are not recommended on Highway 156 if entering from the north.

Camping

DeSoto State Park has a campground and primitive camping is allowed at three sites in nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Explore More – How far down into the cave floor did archaeologists dig in the 1950s?

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Overview

East of Provo, Utah in Uinta National Forest lies tiny Timpanogos Cave National Monument.  Accessing the cave requires a guided tour (fee) and a one-and-a-half mile hike that climbs 1,092 feet, but the destination is completely worth the effort as it has an amazing collection of helictites and other cave formations.

Highlights

Cave tour, Canyon Nature Trail, Alpine Scenic Drive, Timpanogos Peak, camping

Must-Do Activity

The cave tour actually takes you through three caves that were connected by manmade tunnels after the National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1922.  It is a bit strange to find yourself turning a door handle when inside of a mountain, though. 

Best Trail

Most caves run by the NPS have an elevator, but Timpanogos Cave requires a one-and-a-half mile hike that climbs 1,092 feet, which might not sound too bad until you consider it starts above 5,600 feet in elevation.  The paved trail has many scenic overlooks at which you can stop to catch your breath.  Canyon Nature Trail is a flatter option near the visitor center if you are not hiking up to the caves.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Timpanogos Cave has the best collection of gravity-defying helictite crystals we have ever seen. 

Peak Season

Summer, closed October to May

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/tica/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

There is an entry fee ($6) for Alpine Scenic Drive through American Fork Canyon, which is covered by the America The Beautiful Pass.  Tickets ($8 per person) for cave tours often sell out on weekends, so reservations are recommended (they can be made 30 days in advance).

Road Conditions

Alpine Scenic Drive is paved, but parking is limited at the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds (both developed and primitive) along the 20-mile Alpine Scenic Drive through Uinta National Forest.  They can fill up due to its proximity to Salt Lake City, Utah, but backpacking is free and does not require a permit.

Explore More – How do helictites form in twisted shapes that defy gravity?

Top 10 Caves in National Parks  

Some of our favorite units in the National Park Service system include caves.  Here is a list of our 10 favorites.  We now have a page just for all of our Top 10 lists.

  1. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Thurston Lava Tube is an electrically lighted half-mile walk through a high-ceilinged cave.

  1. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky)

Reservations are recommended for the ranger-guided two-hour tour of Gap Cave.

  1. El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)

Short lava tubes are open to the public if you pick up your free cave permit at a visitor center.

  1. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Lehman Caves is only 0.6 miles long, but it is full of beautiful formations, like Parachute Shield.

  1. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

Boxwork is an uncommon cave formation and 95% of the world’s known quantity is right here (see photo at the top of page).

October 2017 Ohio 057.JPG

  1. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

The many tour options will keep you coming back to this wonderful park.

  1. Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Start by hiking switchbacks up 1,092 feet, then your ranger guide will show you the gravity-defying helictite crystals.

  1. Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

The Wild Caving Tour here is reportedly the most difficult in the entire National Park Service System.

  1. Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Pick up a guidebook and chart your own course through dozens of unlit lava tubes.

…and finally our #1 cave in a National Park!

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  1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Visit this incomprehensibly huge cave during the summer to witness the Evening Bat Flight Program.

Honorable Mention

Sequoia National Park (California)

Having not yet visited Oregon Caves National Monument, we will defer to Crystal Cave for this spot since it is the first cave Scott ever entered in 1988.