Last week, we were in Virginia visiting family and decided to take a day trip to see the Luray Caverns near the Shenandoah National Park. I have always wanted to see a cavern and Lurary Caverns is known for its beauty and grandeur being the fourth largest cavern in the United States.

Labeled parts of a cavern. Photo source: Wikipedia Free Commons

Labeled parts of a cavern. Photo source: Wikipedia Free Commons. A stalactite (meaning “to drop” is a type of formation that hangs from the ceiling of caves whereas a stalagmite (meaning “dropping, trickling”) is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings. Source: Wikipedia.

Discovered in 1878 by a tinsmith and local photographer who happened to stumble upon a large sinkhole and started to dig, the Luray Caverns has been one of the most visited and popular caverns on the East Coast and is a U.S. Natural Landmark.  Formed over the course of 450 million years and still changing, the caverns are simply spectacular. Visitors can take an hour-long tour through the maze of cathedral-sized rooms taking in the breathtaking formations of the stalactites and stalagmites that are each an amazing work of art.

I was absolutely mesmerized by the striking beauty of the formations and how each formation was enormous in size and uniquely sculptured into a masterpiece of natural art. The tour starts out where the two men discovered the caverns long ago in the a large open area where “Sir Washington Column” lies.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Sir Washington Column which was named after the first US President.

The tour followed along the cavern going lower and lower below the Shenandoah Valley, bringing us through room after room of formations. Each “room” had a name and we stopped to learn more about the fascinating history behind the caverns formation and take pictures of the magical sites.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly large the rooms were and how gigantic some of the formations reached from above the ceiling and coming up through the ground. The deepest part of the cavern is 164 feet and some of the ceilings in the rooms reach well over 10 stories high.

Our guide told us that millions of years ago a river flowed through here creating the caverns and today the river is far below the surface of the cavern floor. The Luray Caverns are still forming today thanks to the presence of water which drops on the stalactites and stalagmites and causes them to grow, shape and form. If you touch a formation, you will essentially stop its growth due to the oil on human’s hands which creates a barrier making it impossible for water to reach the rock. Thus touching any part of the cavern is strictly prohibited.

My favorite room of all was “Dream Lake”, a giant refection pool which mirrors the stalactites across the top of the water, giving it a surreal depth and appearance of magical beauty. Judge for yourself!

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The mirror pool reflecting the ceiling stalactites across the top of the shallow water.

Dream Lake covers about 2,500 square feet inside cavern and is only two feet deep at the part we are viewing. The reflection across the water was perhaps one of the most beautiful natural reflections I have ever seen in my life. If only my tiny iPhone camera would have done it justice!

Luray Caverns, Virginia Luray Caverns, Virginia

The next area of the cavern we visited is called “Pluto’s Cavern” which is a huge open area with a drop off of 70-90 feet.

Luray Caverns, Virginia
Here we stopped to learn more about the colors of the formations which are all natural and come from minerals. It takes 120 years for one inch of a formation to grow.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Luray Caverns, Virginia

As we walked deeper and deeper into the cavern, it had a musty smell of water. It is believed by the locals that you will have a year of good luck if you receive a “cave kiss” or drop of water fall on you from inside the cavern.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

This giant white formation is known as “The Ghost”. Apparently the discovers believed they were seeing an enormous ghost when they first saw it and only realized their mistake once they slid into it. It was rock solid.

Luray Caverns, VirginiaWe also passed an area called the “Skeleton’s Gorge” where 700-year-old remains of a Native American girl were found. After researching the bones, it was discovered that they slowly drifted into the cave over time and were buried inside.

The next stop was inside the oldest part of the cavern. It has a huge open room with the oldest formation inside the cavern estimated to be 7 million years old. The 40-foot tall formation looks like a couple of things. Some believe it looks like a giant Redwood tree, while others think it resembles a big shaggy dog or a whoolly mammoth. Regardless it was so enormous, I could barely capture it all into one single shot.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The oldest formation inside the cavern estimated to be 7 million years old and look like either a tree, a dog or a whoolly mammoth. Take your pick!

I took this shot below to show the enormity and depth of the cavern. The black outline gate below is another viewpoint looking even further down inside the cavern. You feel quite small inside such a massive place!

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Looking down….

The colors come from minerals and all are natural except for green. The green color as shown on some of the photos below is caused by the lighting inside the caverns which creates cave algae. The staff tries to clean most of the algae off however some parts are too difficult to reach. Luray Caverns hopes to convert all lighting to LED soon which will hopefully resolve the discoloration.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Enormous stalactite hanging from the ceiling.. Some green color is show in the background on the formations.

Luray Caverns, Virginia Luray Caverns, Virginia

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Up close view of the green cave algae caused by the lights inside the cave.

We also passed by this enormous “tent” formation which is quite a site to see.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

This is a giant “Tent” formation which takes longest to grow….300 years per inch.

As we reached the deepest part of the tour, we were brought to “Giants Hall” and it is no wonder they named it that! The room is enormous with a 47-foot column called the “Bride and the Groom Cathedral”. People have actually been married at this place and the oddest wedding of all featured a couple dressed as Batman and his bride (who wore a cape!).

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The Cathedral where weddings are held. Serious!

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The back of the cathedral near the organ.

The last site to see inside the Cathedral was the remarkable cave organ. Build in 1957, the cave organ is the largest instrument in the world. It works by using little hammers high up above inside the formations (like this one below) which tap and hit the rock formations to create the sounds. We even heard a live demonstration.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The “organ”. Its pipes are located high above inside the formations hanging from the ceiling.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Up close view of one of many hammers that make the organ music.

The last part of our tour passed by the “Wishing Well” which has raised millions of dollars for charity since 1954. Every year, the coins are pulled out from the bottom of the well and donated.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The Wishing Well (see the coins sparkling inside the water)

Luray Caverns, VirginiaAs we walked out towards the stairs that would bring us out of the cavern and back into the light, we passed by one of the only parts of the cavern that you can touch: The “eggs”. These have stopped forming and growing.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

The Eggs which no longer grow.

All and all, it was a great way to spend the day and Luray Caverns are unforgettable. I would highly recommend visiting the caverns if you are visiting Virginia. It can be easily combined with a visit to the Shenandoah National Park.

If you go:
Like most tourist sites, the caverns are very popular. Over a half million people visit each year and it is most popular during the summer months. The caverns are open year round. Hours and Times vary so check the website here for the latest, up-to-date information at

All information above given during my one-hour tour of the caverns.


    1. Wow, that is great. I had never been to a cave before even though we traveled a lot as children. I had wanted to see one for a long time and was really excited about the visit. It was so spectacular inside. 🙂

  1. Oh wonderful! Thanks for the memories. I visited Luray Caverns years ago as a child. My favorite job was a tour guide at Blanchard Springs Caverns in Arkansas. In fact, I was pregnant when I was hired. I got to ride down on the top of the elevator 250 ft. for part of my training. That was cool! They told me that I didn’t have to do it because I was pregnant, but how could I pass up that experience? Since Blanchard Springs Caverns is operated by the National Forest Service, I had to wear the Smokey the Bear green uniform. Well, the bigger I grew, the less I could fit into my uniform and at that time the Forest Service didn’t have uniforms for pregnant women. So, I helped design the first uniform for pregnant women for the Forest Service. Both Ron and I were spelunkers. We loved taking wild cave trips. Sigh…I miss those days.

    1. What a GREAT story! how cool to work inside a cavern! I can only imagine too wearing the uniform while being pregnant. Must have been a hoot! And designing the first uniform for other expectant moms….that is really great. I wonder if today they would have all sorts of strange issues with a pregnant woman doing a job like that. I think it is awesome! How adventurous too! 🙂

  2. Wow. That was a trip down memory lane. I went with my family when I was …mmmm 9 or 10, managed to slam my hand in the car door in the parking lot and didn’t really pay attention to much of the cave. I took my daughter back a few years ago when we were doing college visits. A happier visit and such a cool place!

    1. I can’t believe how many of my readers have been here! It was my first time inside a cave. Glad you got a better experience. The first one didn’t sound so red hot. 🙂

  3. I love this type of cave, Nicole. I loved seeing the ‘Bride and Groom Cathedral’. Just imagine getting married down underground! Your pics are really great, and I so enjoyed doing the tour with you. 🙂

    1. Cool! You’re lucky. This was my very first cavern! I have always wanted to see one but never managed to. There is one near Tucson Arizona where my parents live that I want to see. I agree, they are spectacular and quite magical inside.

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