What if I told you that not all caverns are created equal? If you’re the kind of person that thinks once you’ve seen one cavern, you’ve seen it all then it might not matter to you. But if you’re like me – an amateur rock nerd and mega cavern gawker – you’ll care.
I’m fortunate enough to live in the part of the country that’s chock full of caverns. I’ve visited some in Virginia, Maryland (there’s one!) and Pennsylvania. They’re all very different in terms of mineral composition and therefore appearance. But they’re also very different in terms of the experience offered to the visitors.
There’s a cavern I’ve been to that has the reputation of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. If you go, you better be prepared to pay a lot of money, pay it in cash, and don’t ask any questions. It’s a interesting cavern but not a thrilling experience I’d recommend over and over again.
Lincoln Caverns, on the other hand, is pretty much the exact opposite. Located in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in the south central part of the state, it’s easily accessible from nearby highways. And it’s reasonably priced. And the guides are friendly and knowledgable. And the formations in the (not one but) TWO caverns are very unique. And there’s history!
The caverns were discovered in 1930 when a nearby highway was being constructed. The equipment literally blasted the cavern open in area where remnants of the blast can still be seen. The highway is literally on the other side of the now walled up entrance. Once discovered, the farmer who owned the land opened up the cavern to any and all who wanted to visit. Unfortunately, the delicate nature of caverns wasn’t quite as well known back in those days. Patrons would often take pieces of the stalagmites and stalactites as “souvenirs” of their trip not knowing they were destroying thousands of year of natural formations.
The caverns were purchased a short time later by a New York entrepreneur, Myron Dunlavy, Sr., who was fascinated by caves and caverns. Since that time, the buildings have changed and more caves have been discovered but it still remains in the family being managed by Ann Dunlavy, the granddaughter of Myron, Sr.
What I’ve learned in talking to the locals is that Ann is passionate about the keeping the scientific integrity of the caverns and ensuring they are preserved for future exploration and discovery. In fact, I wasn’t able to meet Ann when I was visiting because she was attending a conference for fellow cave and cavern owners from all over the country.
In showing you what’s remarkable about Lincoln Caverns, keep in mind one thing: CAVERNS ARE DIFFICULT TO PHOTOGRAPH WELL! Caverns are truly something that should be observed with your own eyes but these photos will hopefully show you how much there is to experience at Lincoln Caverns.
Let’s Start with Whisper Rocks
The tour starts in the newer cave which has an entrance at the top of a hill. If you’ve never been to a cavern, be prepared to hike a little and walk up and down stairs. You’ll also probably want a light jacket as the temperature remains in the 50s year round.
We had plenty of opportunity to view flowstone, one of my personal favorites. As the name suggests, it’s created from mineral deposits from flowing water and Whisper Rocks had several dramatic formations like this.
Another of my favorite formations was one that might have a occurred a little too close to mealtime. If you look at the ceiling of this photo, you’ll see a ribbon formation. With the light shining through, you’ll see color variations making it look just like… BACON! In fact, it looks so much like bacon that I don’t even remember technically what it’s called.
And while we’re talking about food in caves, do you see all the carrots hanging from the ceiling? They’re actually baby stalactites often known as straws or “cave straws.”
Now for this next photo, you might see more tiny objects hanging from the ceiling. These actually look like roots… BECAUSE THEY ARE! Although there was still several feet between the roof of this portion of the cavern and the actual surface of the ground, there were tree roots in several places that grow deep enough to enter the cavern. Definitely my first time seeing roots in a cavern!
From the map posted above, you’ll also see that the caverns have had many entrances including the one below. It’s a tiny little entrance but was used previously by parishioners who had come to conduct their church services in the caverns.
Heading into Lincoln Caverns
After the spectacular sites of Whisper Rocks, you’ll head down the hill to the entrance to Lincoln Caverns, the original attraction. When we visited, they were setting up for their annual event, Ghosts & Goblins, where visitors can explore nature the way Halloween intended it.
Within the cavern you’ll see a few spooky sites and some delicately strewn cobwebs throughout the cavern. The lighting is also changed to create a truly unique Halloween experience.
After the long entrance, you’ll descend a spiral staircase to see the great hall where the caverns were originally discovered when the highway was being constructed. It’s now closed up with a large wall (and door!) and you can view structural supports in the cave.
Lincoln Caverns definitely has something different from Whisper Rocks to offer. Whisper Rocks has what you might think of as more typical cavern formations. Lincoln Caverns has unique crystalline structure like the wall shown below.
And kids (and grown-ups!) will love the formations that offer a glow-in-the-dark effect, which is especially effective at Halloween!
Where you’re a rock nerd like me, love getting back to nature, or like a climate controlled family-friendly activity (we love them in the summer!), Lincoln Caverns are worth a visit especially if you’re taking advantage of all there is to do near Raystown Lake.
One last thing… don’t pass up the gift shop when you’re all done. Let your kids whine for rocks and souvenirs because it’s worth it to check out the jewelry selection. This is my new favorite necklace and was only $20!
Fadra, Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I read this with such pride it brings tears to my eyes. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you but so glad you enjoyed your visit. Caves are truly unique treasures of the earth. When you visited I was with my cave friends in Colorado. This is truly a unique business, as there is a true sense of camaraderie between cave owners and managers, always sharing ideas and support to help all cave attractions offer quality and excitement to their visitors. And of course, when they enjoy these experiences, they will most likely include more cave adventures in their future travels. Happy caving!
I’ve also been to the Lincoln Caverns and was fortunate to meet Ann. Wow! Fadra wrote a lovely article, and I agree completely that the caverns and the way they are managed are exceptional. I’m a geology professor at Franklin and Marshall College and have explored caves worldwide. I’m so impressed with this wonderful cave system in my own Pennsylvania backyard. Ann and her staff have a marvelous vision of how to protect and share the caves with others via education and well-run tours. Thank you!
I’m so glad you shared your experience and love of Pennsylvania caves. I love exploring caverns and this was truly one of my favorites. I’d love to hear some of your other favorite caves you visited. We traveled to Montana this summer and really loved Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park!