Spelunking In California
For some people, exploring caves, known as spelunking, is a casual hobby — for others, it’s an obsession. Whatever your level of interest, California is a great place to head underground.
Whether you want to explore caves on an easy guided walk, a day-long trip, a remote adventure or if you just want to leave the crowds behind and head in alone, the Golden State has a range of interesting subterranean locations suiting most tastes and most levels of daring.
The Sierra Nevada mountains are famous for attracting prospectors looking for gold in the mid-19th century, but these days they lure visitors hunting for underground thrills. Black Chasm Cavern is a popular spelunking destination found in the Sierra Nevadas, about 60 miles east of Sacramento.
The limestone cave, which is a designated National Natural Landmark, can be explored on a 50-minute walk with the Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation. Guides will show you stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and rare crystals, and explain how they’re created.
Go It Alone
If solo spelunking is more your thing and you don’t want a guide to show you the way, head to Subway Cave in Lassen National Forest, just over an hour’s drive from Redding in northern California. The cave is actually a lava tube left by volcanic activity which can be walked through unguided.
Inside, the cavern is completely dark and the temperature is always a chilly 46-degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you take a flashlight and jacket. The site is open from late April to November.
Spelunking and More
For a trip that combines spelunking with a boat ride and nature bus tour, head to Lake Shasta Caverns at the southern end of the Cascades mountain range. The caves are accessible only by taking a catamaran across Lake Shasta from Lakehead, then boarding a bus up North Grey Rocks Mountain to the cavern entrance.
The bus passes through the natural habitat of black bears, mountain lions and bald eagles. In the ancient limestone caverns, you’ll be guided through the glistening Cathedral Room with its unusual rock formations and sparkling crystals. Daily tours run year-round.
Away From It All
If just being down a cave doesn’t satisfy the adventurer in you, try heading for the challenging Lava Beds National Monument near Tulelake, in a remote area near California’s northern border.
The lava tube caves, which were created up to 65 thousand years ago, form a network of explorable chambers, some of which are accessed via ladders or stairways. There are three categories of difficulty but, even on the easiest sections, visitors are advised to use flashlights, sturdy shoes and head protection.
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