Spelunking: Coolest Caves in California

There are many ways to explore in this world, both physically and mentally. Some trips focus on both types of exploration. Henry David Thoreau said it best in Walden. "We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature."

One such way to explore is spelunking. Spelunking is the art of exploring caves both shallow and deep inside the Earth. Check out this list of the coolest caves in California and get your adventure on.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Crystal Cave, Sequoia National Park
Not every landmark in Sequoia National Park is easy to spot. Crystal Cave is a treasure trove of ornate marble that has been polished by underground streams and decorated with curtains of stalactites and heaps of stalagmites. Located off the Generals Highway near the Ash Mountain entrance, Crystal Cave is available to explore through guided tours from May-November.

Photo Credit: Yelp

Sunny Jim's Cave, La Jolla
Snuggled amongst sun-soaked La Jolla in San Diego County, Sunny Jim's is one of the only Sea Caves that is accessible by land. To get to the cave one must go through a hand-dug tunnel that starts at the Cave Store. Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum gave the cave its name because the cave's opening resembled a cartoon mascot for British Force Wheat Cereal in the 1920's.

The cave was originally used to smuggle Chinese immigrant and contraband whiskey during the Prohibition. It is accessible to the public for a small fee, but be sure to check out the Cave Store's hours before you go.

Photo Credit: NobodyhikesinLA.com

Gaviota Wind Caves, Santa Barbara
Not your typical cave, these wind caves are a sandstone formation about a mile from the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Ynez Mountains. To get there you will need to hike 2.5 miles round trip with a 600-foot elevation gain. The wind caves offer a great view of the mountains and the sea. Check out this full description of the trail so you don't get lost.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Black Chasm Cavern, city of Volcano
Considered a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, Black Chasm Cavern offers a variety of formations including stalactites, stalagmites, flow-stones, and vast numbers of rare helictite crystals. Black Chasm was first explored by gold miners in the 1850s', who were shocked by all the marble-like formations. Check out guided tour information on their website.


Moaning Cavern, Vallecito
The largest vertical chamber in a public cavern in California, Moaning Cavern is so big it could hold the Statue of Liberty. Guests rappel 165 feet into the Cavern or come in on foot. There is a main chamber, and many small chambers off the original area. Passageways are tight and are named as such. You will find the Meat Grinder, Pancake Squeeze, Birth Canal, and Santa' Worst Nightmare passages inside the Moaning Cavern. Get info on tours here.

Spelunking is not for the faint of heart. Do you have what it takes to crawl through narrow passages, climb over craggy rocks, and master the art of cave exploring? Enjoy these cave adventures right here in California.

Author Aimee Engebretson is an amateur explorer, and prefers to go spelunking above ground. She has lived in Southern California for over 20 years.

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