On the Texas Cave Trail
Animals from the Ice Age. Ancient formations still in the making. A zipline providing hill country views at one cave and underground concerts delighting at another. Tales of a cavern once serving as an outlaw hideout and Prohibition-era speakeasy. All are just a few of the wonders and legends of five hidden worlds that make up the Texas Cave Trail.
Cave Without a Name
Before the cave opened to the public in 1939, owners held a contest to name the underground gem in Boerne. The winner was a local student who said it should be called Cave Without a Name because it was “too pretty to have a name.” A quarter-mile tour takes visitors on a journey through the cave filled with rimstone pools, a “Frozen Waterfall” flowstone formation, and cave bacon. Monthly concerts, mostly classical but sometimes folk music, are held in the Queen’s Throne Room, which is large enough to seat 200 people.
Caverns of Sonora
“The beauty of the Caverns of Sonora cannot be exaggerated, not even by a Texan.” That’s how National Speleological Society founder Bill Stephenson describes the cave almost completely covered by formations—from cave coral trees to gravity-defying helictites that grow in any direction. In addition to touring the caverns in Sonora, visitors can pan for gemstones as well as camp on the ranch grounds.
Inner Space Cavern
Georgetown’s own jewel, Inner Space Cavern, draws nostalgic visitors and curious newcomers alike. “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who say, ‘I came here as a child on a field trip, and I want my child to experience that,’ or ‘I’ve been driving by this place for 30 years and I finally decided to stop by,’ ” geologist Patty Perlaky says.
In addition to awe-inspiring formations, Inner Space features prehistoric animal bones and a wall depicting a mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, and “other Ice Age movie animals,” Patty says. The Saber Tooth Zip Ride also provides visitors with a view of the hill country from 130 feet in the air.
Manager Taunya Vessels still marvels that the cavern would never have been discovered if not for a crew accidentally drilling into the cavern during construction of I-35 in 1963. “It is something beautiful you don’t even know you are driving over as you travel the interstate.”
Developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Longhorn Cavern is unique in that it was formed by underground rivers rather than by water sinking through the earth. During its history, the Burnet cavern served as a Comanche Indian council site, 1920s speakeasy, hideout for outlaws like Sam Bass, and place for the Confederate Army to manufacture gunpowder.
Visitors can also enjoy hiking and picnicking at the Longhorn Cavern State Park plus camping, boating, and other outdoor fun at the nearby Inks Lake State Park.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Four college students had a hunch that large underground passages lay beneath a limestone bridge in San Antonio and discovered the largest cave in Texas, now known as Natural Bridge Caverns (above), in 1960. Today, visitors can embark on an adventure 180 feet down where ancient formations still in the making include flowstones, chandeliers, soda straws, and stalactites. Above ground, they can find their way through an outdoor maze, pan for treasure, test their agility on a ropes course and zip rails, and enjoy live music every weekend.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Texas is home to thousands of caves, seven of which are commercial; i.e., show caves, and five participate in the Texas Cave Trail. Visitors can scan the code to visit the website, review the trail maps, and print a passport or pick one up at any of the participating caves. Each visit earns another stamp and at the last cave, staff will exchange a completed passport for a free T-shirt. Passport stamps must be collected within one year of the first cave visit to receive the shirt.
From beginner-friendly tours to wild, off-path ones, the Texas Cave Trail offers excursions for caving enthusiasts of all skill levels. The climate in the caves is about 70 degrees year round, with tours averaging from one to four hours. While walk-in tours are available at some caves, others require reservations, so visitors are encouraged to check out the cave’s website before making a trip.
Cave goers can look forward to spending at least a few days enjoying the trail experience.
Thousands of years in the making, Texas’
underground worlds await explorers, whether it’s during a weekend trip or a year-long journey.