Sometimes, words just aren’t enough, and that’s the case with Luray Caverns.
You need to see it, because words like “stalactite” and “stalagmite” are dry-sounding geological terms that just don’t convey their visual impact. These delicately carved limestone formations, created over millennia by drops of acidified water, hang from the cave’s ceiling or rise from the floor in a bewildering array of complex designs. This process is still at work today–forming new wonders at a rate of about one cubic inch every 120 years.
The paved walkway, knowledgeable guide and illuminated route can’t keep you from wondering–what was it like in 1878, when Andrew Campbell and his 13-year-old nephew Quint dropped a rope and climbed down here for the first time? Exploring by candlelight, each step was literally an adventure into the unknown, and navigating the cave and finding your way back took a special kind of nerve. One wonders how far the earliest explorers ventured.
For most visitors today, the 1.25 mile path is more than sufficient to overload the senses. They will see pools of water so clear they mirror the rocks above them, hear musical notes played on the Great Stalacpipe Organ, and view stadium-sized chambers filled with towering rock spires. Combinations of color—red, orange, brown, yellow and white—decorate the cave in a milieu of earth tones.
While the cave tour itself is the reason half a million people from all over the world visit, there is actually much more to see on the Caverns’ grounds. The Luray Valley Museum houses Shenandoah Valley artifacts from the 1750s to the 1920s. The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, houses some of the rarest automobiles and carriages in the world. Take the kids through the half-mile Garden Maze and try to navigate a path through the eight–foot arborvitae. Or test your coordination, and your nerve, on one of three skill levels at the Rope Adventure Park. (Trained staff help every participant, and safety gear is provided.) And Toy Town Junction displays thousands of toy trains, cars, trucks, tractors, etc. that show kids what entertainment was like before video games.
In between the cave and the museum tours, grab a bite at either the Heartpine Café or the Stalactite Café, right on the property. Or drive a couple of minutes down to Main Street in Luray and find several other restaurants, like the Speakeasy Bar and Restaurant at the Mimslyn Inn.
Basic Tour Tips
On weekends and holidays the lines can be long. Try to pick a weekday or off-season month to go, if possible. The caverns are open year-round.
Guided tours start every 20 minutes.
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. The path is paved and lighted but there are some steps to negotiate. The temperature is reportedly a constant 54 degrees, but humidity makes it feel more like 65. Nothing more than a light jacket may be needed.
Plan on about an hour for the guided tour of the cave—but factor in extra time for the associated attractions on the property—the Garden Maze, the Luray Valley Museum, , Toy Town Junction, and the Rope Adventure Park.