To the caves! Beating the heat at Luray Caverns.

It’s been stupid-hot here in the District…like surface-of-the-sun-hellish-sauna hot. And it occurred to me that caves aren’t just for asteroid impacts, thermonuclear war or zombie apocalypses…they’re also pretty good places to escape the heat.

Luray Caverns is about two hours from downtown DC on a nice drive out west on I-66 and then south through the Shenandoah Valley on US 340. The place is busy in the summertime, so your best bet is to buy tickets ahead of time online.


I spent some time growing up in a part of America that was subterranean swiss cheese. It seemed that every few hundred feet there was a cave opening, and so naturally I spent a lot of time doing some amateur spelunking. Most of those under-earth hikes were a little more risky than I care to admit. Nonetheless, that, and a near-obsession with Mark Twain, has imbued upon me a natural love of caves. Now for you hardcore spelunkers, Luray isn’t going to do much for you. It’s gorgeous and amazing…but it’s also very ordered and organized with safe paved and railed walkways and abundant lighting.

And that’s good news for everyone else.

If you’ve never been in a cave, this is a fantastic place to start. The tour lasts about an hour and you’ll pick up some neat factoids to wow your next date (actually, bringing up spelunking on a first date is never a good idea). For you photogeeks (like me!) you can bring a tripod on the tour, but you have to keep up. That was a bit of an issue for me. I took a bunch of photos, but a combination of tripod troubles and focus problems led to some lackluster results. If you are interested in taking your time, and some great photos, give Luray a call in advance. They offer photo-specific tours, but it’s only upon request beforehand. That might be something I do on another trip out there.Luray_9

Also, take a hoodie. Yeah, even if it’s 95 degrees outside (as it was on my visit) down in the cave it’s a mere 54 degrees of beautiful coolness. In fact that’s how the place was discovered in the first place. A rush of cold air in the hot August sun of 1878 led to some enterprising locals digging out the cave’s entrance. Today, there’s no digging…just $24 and a bit of a wait in line will get you into the cool cave.

And while you’re down there you can listen to the largest instrument in the world. There’s no easy way to explain the Great Stalacpipe Organ. Somehow an organ has been rigged to “play” stalactites of various sizes and shapes, thus delivering a crystalline symphony. It’s a pretty fantastic thing to hear for yourself. Aside from the organ you’ll come upon a bunch of alien formations that will give you a whole new appreciation for what lies beneath the surface. This particular spot is the 6th most visited in the Commonwealth, and for good reason. Be sure and watch out for water droplets falling from the ceiling, they are little droplets of geologic history forming new stalactites at the rate of one inch every 120 years…or the offensive efficiency of the Chicago Bears.

Eventually the tour winds back to the surface…the hot, hot surface.

Tags : cavesDC DaytripLuray CavernsspelunkingVirginia
Kris Ankarlo

The author Kris Ankarlo

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