Tag Archives: cave

Pinnacles National Park

Overview

California has nine National Parks, which is more than any other state, including Alaska.  The newest is Pinnacles National Park, upgraded from a National Monument in 2013.  Rising above the agricultural Salinas Valley, it does have quite a long history, going back even before President Theodore Roosevelt officially recognized its significance in 1908.  The park’s West Entrance is accessible from Highway 101 and the East Entrance is closer to Interstate 5 and the Central Valley.  It is actually faster to hike from one side to another, than to drive two hours around. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Scenic views, talus caves, rock climbing, endangered California condors

Must-Do Activity

In addition to its striking rock spires, the park is known for talus caves, which are tunnels formed by boulders falling and catching between narrow canyon walls.  Flashlights are necessary to navigate through them, although small gaps in the chaotic ceiling often allow shafts of light through in picturesque fashion.  You might spot a bat flying through the caves, which are seasonally closed for their protection.

Best Trail

Mild temperatures make this a park for hiking in all seasons.  Just be sure to hold onto the chains while navigating the Steep and Narrow section of the steep High Peaks Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While you may not see a bat in the talus caves of Pinnacles National Park, it is likely you will spot the nine-foot wingspan of a California condor slicing the blue sky outside the caves.  This is perhaps the most successful of all release sites for this species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there is not a road connecting the East and West Entrances, which are about a two-hour drive apart.

Camping

The West Entrance gate is locked every night as it is day use only, but there is a campground that takes reservations at the East Entrance.  No backcountry camping is allowed.

Related Sites

Yosemite National Park (California)

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Sequoia National Park (California)

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

Explore More – Accessible by a nine-mile roundtrip hike with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, how tall is North Chalone Peak?

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Wind Cave National Park

Overview

The seventh-longest mapped cave in the world, Wind Cave was discovered in 1881 by Black Hills settlers who noticed a whistling sound coming from its narrow natural entrance.  It was named a national park in 1903 and is famous for its boxwork calcite formations.  The National Park has a herd of approximately 400 bison, in addition to pronghorns, prairie dogs, turkeys, coyotes, white-tailed deer, and elk.

Learn more in our guidebook A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Museum, cave tours, Rankin Ridge lookout tower, Highland Creek Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The interior of Wind Cave is a constant 53°F, so bring a jacket if you sign up for one of several tours.  For first-timers we recommend the Natural Entrance Tour, which involves entering a vapor lock revolving door and stair steps, not squeezing through the actual tiny natural entrance.  On the Candlelight Tour you carry lightweight metal candle-lanterns, just like 19th-century tourists.  It is only offered in the summer and explores an unlit section of the cave, but no cameras are allowed due to the open flames. 

Best Trail

There are several good trails that traverse the prairie and canyons that can be connected in a variety of loops.  We enjoy backpacking (free permit required) on Highland Creek Trail, where we always see bison.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We have always loved the view of this bridge on Highway 87 over Beaver Creek.  There is also a wooden trestle “Pigtail Bridge” further down the road.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for entry, but $12 per person for each cave tour ($30 for Wild Cave)

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but bison are most commonly spotted along Road 5, a graded dirt road through the scenic eastern section of the park bordering Custer State Park (admission fee).

Camping

The NPS runs Elk Mountain Campground or you can backpack camp with a free permit from the visitor center.  The surrounding Black Hills National Forest offers campgrounds and dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

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

Explore More – Wind Cave contains what percentage of the boxwork calcite formations discovered in the entire world?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

Overview

In the remote southwest corner of Oregon, this marble cave system has been federally protected since 1909.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked extensively on the trail system and chateau-style lodge in the 1930s.  In 2014, an additional 4,000 acres were added to preserve the surrounding old-growth forests, the most biodiverse conifer-dominated ecosystem in the world.

Highlights

Cave tours, Oregon Caves Chateau, Big Tree, Mt. Elijah

Must-Do Activity

The Oregon Caves Chateau is currently closed for renovation, but is scheduled to reopen to guests in 2021.  That means the main reason to visit is to take a tour inside the cave, but bundle up because it remains a brisk 44°F year round.  The standard tour is 90 minutes, has a height requirement of 42 inches, and includes 500 stairs, which can be strenuous at 4,000 feet in elevation.  In the summer, a candlelight tour, off-trail “wild caving” tour, and family-friendly tour (for those with small children) are also offered.

Best Trail

The Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail covers 9.2 miles and gains 2,390 feet in elevation while providing the best views of the surrounding mountains.  At a minimum, you should try to hike the Big Tree Trail 2.6 miles roundtrip to the largest diameter Douglas-fir tree in Oregon.

Instagram-worthy Photo

After your cave tour exits far uphill from its entrance, continue on the Cliff Nature Trail for a great view of the lush Siskiyou Mountains.

Peak Season

Summer, since cave tours are only offered from late March through November.

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entrance fee to the park, but there is a charge for all cave tours (which can be reserved in advance).

Road Conditions

The paved entry road is winding and climbs steeply.  Most surrounding Forest Service roads are unpaved and one climbs to provide access near the top of the Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail.

Camping

Cave Creek Campground is located 4 miles from the cave entrance.  Trailers are only permitted at Grayback Campground, further down the hill.

Explore More – Which native conifer tree provided the siding for the Oregon Caves Chateau?

Top 10 Caves in National Parks  

Some of our favorite units in the National Park Service system include caves, from lava tubes to highly decorated caverns. This is a list of our 10 favorites.  Check out our page dedicated to all of our Top 10 lists.

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

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

9. Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

A marble cave surrounded by a beautiful old-growth forest.

8. 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.

7. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

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

6. 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

5. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

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

4. 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.

3. Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

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

2. 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 Mentions

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky)

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

Sequoia National Park (California)

Crystal Cave was the first cave Scott ever entered in 1988.

Scott and his older brothers in 1988