Some of Virginia’s mainstay attractions are the multitude of caverns scattered throughout the mountain ranges and valley. Starting long ago, the slow work of water weaving its way through cracks and crevices carved passageways through cavities in the mountain. The minerals and deposits left behind formed otherworldly sculptures and structures — the stalactites and stalagmites we admire today. Some of the caves have fascinating stories of discovery, whether a boy out exploring with his dog stumbled into one, or soldiers found places to take shelter. Soon, explorers were pushing the boundaries of discovery and pressing deeper into the depths, naming formations and clearing pathways as they went.
Today, several of the larger caverns have been “civilized” and welcome thousands of visitors through their deep-down halls each year. It’s the perfect exploration to take on whether the day is hot or rainy — these underground rooms maintain a constant temperature of about 54 degrees year-round.
Luray Caverns is a great place to start. Just 40 minutes north [map], your trip is rewarded with a tour and included admission to the Garden Maze, the fascinating Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, as well as the Luray Valley Museum where you’ll get to step back in time for a bit. Also on the property is the Luray Singing Tower (aka, the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial), where you might be lucky enough to catch a free recital during the summer.
But let’s talk about the wonders that await underground.
Guided tours start with a descent down a set of stairs (note: there is no elevator access at this cave system, and there really are a lot of stairs). Passageways and walkways are well-lit, and you can expect to cover about 1.25 miles of ground throughout the tour. There are a limited number of places to sit, so wear comfortable shoes and plan accordingly (there are also no restrooms along the way). As you meander through the caverns, you’ll encounter formations with names like Titania’s Veil, Pluto’s Chasm, Dream Lake, and Fried Eggs, and you’ll quickly understand how they got their names.
The highlight, perhaps, is the world-famous, one-of-a-kind, truly remarkable Stalacpipe Organ. In fact, it’s considered the largest musical instrument in the world, and was conceived by Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle, a mathematician and electronics scientist at the Pentagon. So dedicated was he in his dream that he spent 36 years experimenting and designing the project, which relies on small hammers to tap individual stalactites which vibrate in correct tune. Connected with over five miles of wire, the organ is set to play automated tunes at each tour. However, its four keyboards can also be played manually, as many people witness during the many weddings held in the Cathedral’s depths every year.
Back above ground, don’t miss a chance to take a spin through the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum. Whether you’re interested in cars or not, seeing the progression of beautifully preserved automobiles (and even earlier wheeled selections — from wagons to baby carriages) will impart a greater appreciation for human ingenuity, design, technology… and even our vanity. There are some real beauties featured. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.
The Valley Museum also holds some distinct treasures. The 1536 German Bible is awe-inspiring, and you’ll find various relics from the Civil War, actual clothing samples from various time periods, and some curious contraptions developed to make the lives of these hardy souls easier. It doesn’t take long to walk through, and you can do so at your own pace.
So, when you see that exit for Luray, turn off and treat yourself to a wonder-filled day! We frequently send our guests up Skyline Drive, taking the Thornton Gap exit for a nice 35-mile scenic experience. You’ll find the downtown area of Luray is also a great place to stretch your legs and grab some lunch, too (though food is available at the Caverns).
Have you been? Let us know what your favorite part was in the comments!
COST: $24, which includes all the attractions mentioned here.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone with mobility issues.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Wear comfortable footwear that won’t slip, use the restroom before the tour starts, bring your camera, bring a jacket if you’re easily chilled. Allow about an hour for the tour, and at least 20 minutes to do justice at each of the museums.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.luraycaverns.com