Tag Archives: cave

Russell Cave National Monument


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.


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.





Road Conditions

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


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


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.


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




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.


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!


  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.

Jewel Cave National Monument


Sometimes overshadowed by nearby Wind Cave National Park, the third-longest mapped cave system in the world is located within Jewel Cave National Monument.  Thick calcite crystals are the sparkly jewels that adorn the walls of this gem in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Jewel Cave.JPG


Lantern Tour, Scenic Tour, Wild Caving Tour

Must-Do Activity

The Wild Caving Tour is reserved for those willing and able to squeeze through the 8.5 x 24-inch crawlspace located out front of the visitor center.  It is a taste of what is to come during sections like the “Brain Drain.”  Thick layers of manganese will permanently stain clothing worn by those brave enough to take this epic 4-hour journey that crawls less than half a mile past rare hydromagnesite balloons and gypsum flowers.

Best Trail

Most of the forest within the monument has burned, but Canyons Trail makes a 3.5 mile loop from the visitor center or Historic Ranger Cabin.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Most cave tours do not allow you to touch anything, but on the Historic Lantern Tour at the historic entrance to the cave (summer only) you can feel the 4-inch long calcite crystals (also called dogtooth spar) that formed like a bathtub ring as water slowly drained out.

August 2012 494.JPG

Peak Season

Summer when the Historic Lantern Tour and Wild Caving Tour are offered.




None to park, but there is a charge for all tours.

Road Conditions

All roads paved.  Note that the Historic Lantern Tour at the historic entrance to the cave is not at the main visitor center where the elevator is.


None, but plenty of places at Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Black Hills National Forest.

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Wild Caving Tour patrons have to prove they can squeeze through this 8.5×24-inch crawlspace.

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Thick layers of manganese will permanently stain clothing worn on the Wild Caving Tour.

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Ranger at the entrance for the Historic Lantern Tour.

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August 2012 505
This formation is known as “Madonna and Child.”

Explore More – How many miles of the cave’s passages have currently been mapped?