Caves are natural openings in the ground that are large enough to enter. Caves are formed in karst topography, which means the limestone has been exposed to rainwater for so many thousands of years that it has dissolved. There are over 3,000 known caves in Texas, and there are likely more that have yet to be discovered.
There are many caves located in Texas. Some of the locations that you can visit in the state to see its caves are:
- Colorado Bend State Park
- Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area
- Kickapoo Cavern State Park
- Longhorn Cavern State Park
- Westcave Discovery Center
- Bracken Cave Preserve
- Cascade Caverns
- Cave Without a Name
- Jacob’s Well Natural Area
- Natural Bridge Caverns
- Wonder World Cave and Park
- Caverns of Sonora
- Inner Space Cavern
If you want to go caving, Texas is the state for you. Texas limestone and the Balcones Fault System have created an elaborate system of caves in the state ready for your enjoyment. This article will cover the many cave locations in the state and some of the attractions related to the cave systems.
Colorado Bend State Park
The Colorado Bend State Park is located north of Austin and has much to offer. Besides caves, the park has Gorman Falls, a spring, and hiking and biking trails.
The Colorado Bend State Park caves are in their natural state and are not artificially lit. There are three different tours from which to choose for your caving adventure but be sure to make your reservations in advance.
The beginner level discovery tour is the most family-friendly of the tours. On this tour, you will see the Dynamite Cave. This cave is roomy and comfortable to get through the entrance. There is lots of daylight coming through this cave, but a flashlight will be useful in some areas. This tour is perfect for children as young as four, and the tour lasts 45 minutes.
This adventure tour involves crawling and getting into the caving experience. This tour goes a little further into the cave system compared to the beginner tour and is perfect for those who do not mind getting dirty. This tour lasts an hour and a half and is suitable for those ages eight and up.
The advanced caver tour is for climbers with experience. The tour takes climbers into tight chimney cracks and down vertical shafts. You will need to bring a headlamp to explore crawl-aways, and this climb does not use ropes, so climbers will rely on arm and core strength to navigate. This tour is for adventurers aged 16 and up, and the tour is two to three hours long.
Gorman Cave is in Colorado Bend State Park. This cave is unique because it was formed during a time when the underground aquifers were still full of water. Later, the cave appears to have been filled with clay and dirt. Eventually, the Colorado River cut into the cave and drained the water.
Gorman Cave is on a bluff on the side of a gully, and the walls are covered with calcite crystals. The cave is gated past the main room, and the space beyond is said to have ‘bad air,’ meaning the air composition is high in carbon dioxide.
There are two different tours for visitors to Gorman Cave.
- The Wild Walking Cave Tour is a guided tour through both the cave and the park. Be prepared to walk quite a bit and wear sturdy shoes, a flashlight, or a headlamp.
- The Crawling Wild Cave Exploration is a solo tour where visitors are given a map to the entrance and some other necessary information. This tour brings visitors through a narrow passage and some tight spaces. Wear sturdy shoes, knee and elbow pads, and gloves if you choose this tour.
Other areas nearby to consider visiting are the rimstone pools and the Colorado Bend State Park Swimming Hole.
Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area
Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area is home to a cavern with a 320-foot diameter and a shaft that drops 140 feet into the cavern.
Because this is a sensitive resource, visitors are not allowed to enter the cavern. However, one of the interesting features of this cave is the bats that live in the cavern part of the year. In the evenings, these three million or so bats emerge from the cavern at dusk to eat their weight in bugs. People travel from all over the world to witness this event.
The Devil’s Sinkhole Society schedules bat tours around the cavern for visitors, and the tours require reservations. While you are there, investigate nature and bird walks and the tours offered during the day to observe the Devil’s Sinkhole. There is a platform over the sinkhole to view the shaft leading into the cavern.
Kickapoo Cavern State Park
Kickapoo Cavern State Park offers hiking and biking trails, bird watching, and caving, so there is no room for boredom. There are 20 caves at this state park, and the two most prominent are Kickapoo Cavern and Stuart Bat Cave.
The Kickapoo Cavern is 1,400 feet long and is the product of four million years of change. The tours are on Saturday only and are led by staff. You must make reservations early. These tours begin at 1:00 p.m. and are intended for those aged five and up. The tours are about three hours long and are considered moderately strenuous as the cave is undeveloped and in its natural state.
Stuart Bat Cave is a smaller cave and home to thousands of bats part of the year. Those who visit this cave come to watch the Mexican Free-tailed bats leave at dusk to eat insects.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
Longhorn Cavern State Park is located less than two hours from Austin. The park was developed in the 1930s and boasts the Longhorn Cavern. There are a couple of different tours to consider.
Cavern Walking Tour
This tour is guided and brings you 130 feet underground and on a journey to an ancient riverbed. This tour totals just over a mile and takes 90 minutes to complete. There are fifty-two going down into the cavern, and there are some areas where the ceiling is low, and visitors must duck.
During the tour, visitors will hear stories of the history of the cavern and will visit areas of the cave, such as the Moon Room, the Gunpowder Room, and the Underground Ballroom. This tour is appropriate for guests of all ages.
Wild Cave Tour
The Wild Cave Tour is a more primitive tour requiring a higher level of physical conditioning because of its physical demands. This tour takes a solid two to three hours to complete, and those participating can expect to get dirty.
The Wild Cave Tour explores the undeveloped lower areas of the cavern. Some areas require crawling to navigate. Guests should be at least age eight and possess the ability to navigate narrow passages.
Westcave Discovery Center
Westcave Discovery Center is a nature preserve in the Texas Hill Country. The Westcave is unique because it gives research insight into the drought history in this area of Texas. The discovery center features a learning center, and the preserve includes 45 acres of uplands. The uplands are a part of the preserve and give visitors a look at the savanna that gives life to a tremendous amount of wildlife.
It is considered a small cave, and the temperature in the cave is like the temperature is outside of the cave. Usually, caves are considerably cooler. Because this cave is warmer, it impacts the composition of the caves’ formations. When researchers study the formations inside of the cave, they learn valuable information about temperature changes throughout the years.
The tours to the canyon and the cave are guided only. You can make reservations up to four weeks before you plan to visit.
Hamilton Pool Preserve
If you are visiting Westcave Discovery Center, it pays to plan a trip to visit Hamilton Pool Preserve. Hamilton Pool Preserve is a historic swimming hole where Hamilton Creek creates a beautiful waterfall over the limestone into a canyon.
What is unique about this pool is that it is a collapsed grotto, or a small cave, at the bottom of the canyon. The top of the cavern is still intact, covering part of the swimming hole. Swimmers can swim into the covered area with the floor of the cave underwater.
You will want to make reservations to visit the Hamilton Pool, as the area is small, and space fills up fast.
The Airmen’s Cave was discovered by two military personnel while stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base, and it is located in Austin near Barton Creek. After clearing the entrance, they explored the cave and created a map. Eventually, the cave had to be closed to the public to preserve it in its natural state, but the cave is open to the public on specific days of the year.
Bracken Cave Preserve
Bracken Cave Preserve is located near San Antonio, Texas. Bats make their home in Bracken Cave. Fifteen million Mexican free-tailed bats are calling the cave home, and it is the largest colony in the world. These bats perform an excellent service to neighboring farmers with their capacity to eat insects that damage crops.
The preserve includes 1,500 acres that are home to plants and a diverse grouping of animals and birds. The preserve is managed by Bat Conservation International, who is committed to protecting this cave and the surrounding natural resources.
Tours must be scheduled in advance, and the tours can last up to three to four hours and require walking up to a half a mile of gravel. The best time to visit this cave is from July to August.
Cascade Caverns in Boerne, Texas, is a ‘Living Cave.’ This designation means the rock formations are still growing and changing, so the cave may look slightly different each time you visit.
This cave is part of a formation referred to as a shallow marine to shoreline formation. In other words, it is the area between the shore and deeper water. Also, this cavern has been open to the environment, and archaeologists have discovered evidence of prehistoric animals. This cave is a part of legends dating back hundreds of years.
The tour through this cave is three hours long. There are quite a few stairs on the tour, and visitors need to be able to crouch in some areas. The cave stays cool year-round and has five different rooms. One of these rooms, the cathedral room, includes a waterfall inside the cavern.
Before visiting Cascade Caverns, call to verify the cavern is not flooded, as flooding happens periodically from May to September.
Cave Without a Name
Cave Without A Name is another cave near Boerne, Texas, and it is often thought of as the most beautiful. It received its name because it was declared “too pretty to have a name.” The cave includes formations of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, drapery, flowstones, and rimstone dams.
The family-friendly tours depart throughout the day and last close to 60 minutes. Visitors can take pictures in this 66-degree cave through all six of its rooms.
The main chamber of the cave is open to the public and is considered a show cave. Also, in the main chamber is where the six rooms are located. One of these rooms, the Queen’s Throne Room, features three domes at the ceiling. These domes provide incredible acoustics, so the room hosts concerts throughout the year for visitors.
The second area of the cave has a grouping of caverns linking to the Guadalupe River, which means the caves do have the potential to flood. Also, this connection to the river means there are flooded underground passages accessible for those who enjoy cave diving.
The property surrounding the cave is 187 acres and offers hiking trails and campgrounds. Other activities include mine sluicing, the geode saw, and a labyrinth.
Jacob’s Well Natural Area
Jacob’s Well Natural Area is an 81-acre area that includes Jacob’s Well. This well is an artesian spring putting out thousands of gallons of water every day from the Trinity Aquifer. The well is the second-largest submerged well in the state of Texas. Jacob’s Well is 140 feet deep, and the main cavern is over 4,341 feet. Also, there is a second cavern a third of the size as the main one.
The tours to the well are free for part of the year on the second and fourth Saturdays of all the months except for summer months. The free tours are by request only.
If you are visiting Jacob’s Well, plan to do some walking through rough terrain. Sturdy shoes are a must. You can bring food into the area, but grilling is not permitted.
Swimming is often allowed at Jacob’s Well, but there are months the well is going through a restoration period, and swimming is prohibited. The Well needs this time to restore because of the effect visitors have on the aquatic wildlife. Be sure to call ahead to verify swimming will be allowed if you hope to swim. Also, reservations are essential as the area is small and tends to fill up quickly.
Jacob’s Well is considered challenging for cave divers and often dangerous. The San Marcos Area Recovery Team (SMART) has been diving the well for 25 years.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns is a cavern system near San Antonio. This cave system is a part of two different layers of limestone. One of these layers is the Glen Rose, which is the older layers of the rocks and is in the lower chambers at Natural Bridge Caverns. The other layer is the Kainer Layer.
There are five different tour options to consider if you are visiting Natural Bridge Caverns.
- The Discovery Tour is the original and most popular tour. This tour departs every ten to 40 minutes and lasts 75 minutes. You can expect to walk less than a mile, but there are some stony areas. Plan to wear sturdy footwear because of steep areas that might be wet. This tour depth is 180 feet, and the temperature in this area of the cavern is 70 degrees.
- The Hidden Passage Tour shows off the cavern’s more delicate formations, such as the unusually long stalactites. Also, you will be able to experience total darkness during this tour. The tour lasts around 70 minutes, and the tours leave every 40 minutes. The walking distance is a third of a mile, and the depth is 180 feet.
- The combo tour is the best option if you wish to participate with both the Discovery Tour and the Hidden Passage Tour. You will first attend the Discovery Tour for this combo.
- The first tour of the day begins at 9:00 a.m., and the Lantern Tour experience is unique. While on this tour, you use lanterns and experience the Discovery Passages the same way those who discovered the cave did many years ago.
- If you want a little more excitement, the Hidden Passage Adventure Tour is a great option. Expect to crawl and to slide around in the Natural Bridge Caverns during this tour. This tour is for ages 13 and up. This tour might take as long as four hours, and visitors will be lowered 160 feet in a well shaft.
- The other option for adventure is the Discovery Adventure Tour. You can expect to get dirty with this tour, too. This tour usually lasts three hours and includes a climb up a muddy hill and crawl through a passage to see an undeveloped room in its natural state.
When you are done exploring the caves and Natural Bridge Caverns, there is plenty to do at the surface. There are zip lines and rope courses to enjoy as well as playgrounds with climbing suitable for all ages.
Wonder World Cave and Park
Wonder World Cave and Adventure Park has many features and will not disappoint with all the attractions. This Balcones Fault Line Cave is known to be the first show cave in Texas. This cave is considered a “dry-formed” cave, so it lacks the formations that dripping water is responsible for creating.
What is fascinating about this cave is an earthquake created it. Equally intriguing is the ability to see the layers of the earth’s crust clearly. In the lower portion of the cave, there is a well where you can see the Edwards Aquifer. Also, later in the tour, visitors can see the fossils created in the ancient seabed.
This tour takes two hours, and there are combo tickets available that include a tour through three other attractions other than the cave. There are other activities to enjoy when you are above ground. There is a petting zoo, food trucks, and picnic tables.
Caverns of Sonora
The Caverns of Sonora in Sonora, Texas, is internationally recognized as a beautiful cave. It is located halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park.
The cave temperature of the Caverns of Sonora is 72 degrees year-round. It is considered warm for a cave due to the humidity bringing the air temperature to 85 degrees. There are approximately 360 steps on these tours, so walking shoes with sturdy soles are recommended. Also, this is a formation-rich cave, so a camera is okay to bring on the tour, but bags and purses need to be left behind.
There are various tours to consider at the Caverns of Sonora.
- The Crystal Palace Tour is a small tour for up to 12 people. This tour is less than two hours long and travels through nearly two miles of passages.
- The Discovery Challenge Tour is a little more adventurous. This tour leads through a maze of passageways where visitors rappel into the Devil’s Pit. This tour is around 4 hours long and is for groups of two to six.
- The Photography Tour is an opportunity for visitors to take the time to photograph the cavern features without rushing.
Inner Space Cavern
The Inner Space Cavern was discovered when the highway department was reviewing if the ground was stable enough for a highway. Instead, they found the Inner Space Cavern.
There are several tours to consider when visiting Inner Space Cavern.
- The Adventure Tour goes through the most decorated rooms to see the formations. This tour takes an hour and 15 minutes, and it departs every 20 to 30 minutes. You will want to wear comfortable and sturdy shoes while on this tour, and this tour is family-friendly.
- The Hidden Passages Tour is for ages seven and up and is considered an intermediate skill level. This tour is an hour and a half long and requires the use of a provided flashlight. This tour is guided through an undeveloped part of the cave, so closed-toed shoes are necessary. If you have physical limitations or claustrophobia, check with the staff before signing up for this tour.
- The Wild Cave Tour is for ages 13 and up and is considered an advanced level tour because of its physical demands. It does not require caving experience, just physical ability. This tour leads visitors through undeveloped areas of the cave.
Once you are above ground, there is a playground, fossil displays, and a mining area to enjoy on-site.
Why Does Texas Have So Many Caves?
For the most part, Texas caves formed because soluble rocks such as limestone dissolve as rainwater mixed with carbon dioxide. This rainwater began to dissolve soluble rocks and create caves and passages. A great deal of the Texas bedrock is soluble, so the terrain has sinkholes and caves that create underground water channels.
Millions of years ago, most of the state of Texas was at the bottom of an ancient sea. When plates shifted, cracks appeared and drained the sea, but the waters that drained created the states’ abundance of caverns and reservoirs.
Why Are Texas Caves a Protected Natural Resources?
Caves in Texas are a resource that is considered fragile. Yet, despite being a fragile resource, these caves still perform an excellent service to our ecosystem.
Caves and the areas around the caves are home to several unique species of animals. Furthermore, caves not only help filter drinking water for those who dwell above ground, but they help reduce flooding above ground.
Caves are vulnerable to the urban sprawl occurring above ground and the pollution that goes along with it. Also, it is worthwhile to recognize the importance of these areas to not just tourism, but for education and scientific study. Because of their significance, the caves are afforded much protection.
While many caves in Texas are open to the public, many are still being studied, so they are closed. Also, caves are often closed, even temporarily, to allow the wildlife and the caves themselves to rehabilitate.
In the End
The landscape of Texas includes countless caves, both known and still undiscovered. In those caves, visitors can see chambers, fossils, and even waterfalls. Furthermore, these fantastic caves have so much to teach us in regard to the wildlife that call these caves home.
These incredible caves are some of the best in the world and visiting them is a perfect way to get out of the summer heat and have an adventure.