Originally called Mammoth Cave, California Cavern was California’s first show cave and is its longest cavern system. Depending on the season, the guided cavern walk tour can be 45 minutes to 80 minutes long featuring an enchanting trail with beautiful crystalline cave formations in historical and recently discovered pristine areas.
The cavern walking tour takes you through several passageways into multiple chambers on a trail system. On the way, you’ll see a wide variety of beautiful white, cream and caramel colored crystalline cave formations including stalactites, stalagmites, cave popcorn, flowstones and helictites, while also learning about the cavern’s fascinating discovery and early uses.
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California Cavern tour Courtesy of KQED
Cavern tours usually include the lights being turned off for a moment to experience total darkness. Ask your guide to notify you when this is about to happen so you can hold on to your young children if they are likely to get scared.
One outstanding feature of this cave is its extensive labyrinth of wild, unlit passageways and crawl-ways which you can explore on two different extended cave expeditions. These trips are not recommended for the claustrophobic, but for those who don’t have a problem with tight spaces they are incredibly fun and distinctively unique.
California Cavern: Wild Cave Trips
The 2-hour Mammoth Cave Expedition available for ages 8 and up is a favorite with scout groups, and features off-trail cave exploring with only cave helmet lights to illuminate the way. It’s a fun adventure and the perfect introduction to the sport of caving.
The more challenging 4-hour Middle Earth Expedition available for ages 16 and up is a true immersion in the sport of caving. Experience mud in a way you never have before, while traversing through cavern passageways and chambers decorated with sparkling crystalline cavern formations in the ceiling above. In your small, guided group, far beyond the walking tour trails, you’ll feel like an intrepid explorer in this unique, underworld environment, carved out and decorated by geological forces. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!
Both of these caving expeditions are available by reservation in advance and have recommendations for preparation that you will receive with your reservation paperwork. If you’re already in the area, sometimes you can be added to a group on the day you call, but we recommend making your reservation at least a week in advance to be sure of a spot. For holiday weekend spots, much earlier reservations are recommended.
A beautiful cave, with an incredible history from California’s famous Gold Rush onwards, California Cavern is a state gem and one of the few showcaves in the United States that offers wild caving expeditions. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club visited in the 1800s and obviously enjoyed his exploration of the cave, writing about it in lyrical detail in his book “Mountains of California” published in 1894.
California Cavern – Additional Activities
Above ground, a popular activity for kids and families is gold panning and gemstone mining in their flume system right next to the visitors center and gift shop which features fantastic nature-store-style merchandise, fun, educational and enjoyable for the entire family.
One of our favorite items is a collection of geodes, which you can purchase and crack right there in the gift shop. Be the first person to see the crystals inside one of the ancient rocks! While you’re in the visitors center, say “hi” to the enormous, genuine, ancient cave bear skeleton.
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