Vacation underground: 10 spots for below-the-earth adventures
Hanging out above ground is so last season. Whether you're a music fan, thrill seeker or history buff, you can discover some of the country's coolest vacation spots — both literally and figuratively — right beneath your feet.
No matter which state you're planning to visit this spring or summer, there's a good chance it possesses a natural or man-made underground attraction where you can enjoy your favorite activities like never before. So channel your inner Fraggle or Ninja Turtle and head below ground for 10 incredible subterranean adventures.
1. Go ape on a zipline
Beneath the city of Louisville, Ky. sits Mega Cavern, featuring the world's only fully underground zipline course. This one-of-a-kind attraction includes a dual racing zip and two challenge bridges as well as on-the-fly geology education from your tour guides so you can learn while you cruise. Ziplining not your thing? Try out the aerial ropes course or bike park instead.
2. Listen to some bluegrass
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Nothing quite says "underground club scene" like the Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tenn. Located more than 333 feet below ground, this cavernous venue plays host to a variety of Americana, country and bluegrass stars, from Blues Traveler to Kasey Chambers, for the acclaimed PBS series, Bluegrass Underground. Be sure to take a tour of the second longest cave in Tennessee before snagging your seat for the show.
3. Run a 10K
When winter hits the Midwest, competitive races tend to freeze up. But every January, Children's Therapeutic Learning Center in Kansas City hosts the Groundhog Run at SubTropolis, the world's largest underground business complex. Runners stream in from across the world to participate in the only 100% underground sanctioned 10K race in the country. And with the temperature hovering around 68 degrees, you can worry less about the weather and more about all that nipple chafing.
4. Take a cruise on a kayak
In Crystal City, Mo., outside St. Louis, experience the darker side of kayaking by taking your favorite sport out of the sunlight. Crystal City Underground features an 150-acre lake in an abandoned silica mine where you can travel through history from the comfort of your kayak, led by an experienced tour guide. As of March 2017, the Underground is closed due to flooding, but is expected to open just in time for summer adventures.
5. Get a taste of brewing history
Deep under the streets of Cincinnati lives the scrapbook of the city's brewing legacy. The Cincinnati Brewery Tour takes visitors underneath the Crown/Schmidt Brothers Brewery or Jackson Brewery to explore the cellars, caves and tunnels where beer lovers waged their undercover war against those Prohibition-loving killjoys.
6. Rappel into the deepest pit in the U.S.
Plunging 586 feet underground, Fantastic Pit at Ellison's Cave in Walker County, Ga. is a free fall that thrills even the most experienced climbers and spelunkers. Because of its depth and risky climbing environment, the Fantastic is best left to the experts. But if you have the training, it's a sight to behold and a journey you'll never forget. The rest of us can just look at your pretty pictures.
7. Go freshwater scuba diving
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With 1,200 miles of coastline, Florida is a dreamland for scuba divers. But some of its best scuba tours are inland at Ginnie Springs. This freshwater dive takes aquatic tourists into the Ginnie Springs Ballroom to explore the breathtaking geologic formations considered some of the most amazing in the world. Or, visit with rare species and navigate the intricate caverns in the Devil's Spring System.
8. Show off that bikini bod
Thousands of years ago, the dome ceiling of an underground river outside Austin collapsed, opening the "roof" to an awe-inspiring swimming hole. Walk down the trails to Hamilton Pool Preserve to enjoy the blue-green water and waterfalls that make this destination a must-do. Reservations are accepted starting April 1, so book yours as Hamilton fills up quickly during the summer months.
9. Take a stroll through a garden
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If you've ever complained about yardwork, you're about to get served by Baldassare Forestiere. In the early 1900s, this Sicilian immigrant carved out a subterranean system of patios and grottoes in honor of the ancient catacombs of his homeland. Today, when you visit Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, you can see his unbelievable craftsmanship and botanical expertise for yourself — and hang your head in shame.
10. Explore Seattle the First
After the Great Fire of 1889, the city of Seattle rose from the ashes by rebuilding on top of itself. Left beneath the earth was a time capsule of the Emerald City's history. Bill Speidel's Underground Tour guides you through the tunnels where buildings from the past, including an abandoned bank and house of ill repute, still sit and ghosts are said to haunt visitors who descend into their territory.
Nicole Plegge is a freelance writer and pop culture aficionado based in St. Louis. While she's busy writing for a variety of websites, magazines and blogs, she still can't get over never being able to attend the Eastland School for Girls.