10 Must-Visit Caves in Northern California: Hidden Treasures

California is filled with hidden gems of beauty and nature. If you are a traveler or an adventure lover, you will be surprised to see the variety of landscapes California has to offer you. Caves in Northern California are the hidden wonders that await a lifetime of adventure and a mesmerizing experience of the underground.

Seated in the picturesque landscapes of Northern California, these caves are breathtakingly beautiful and if you want to have excellent caving adventures, then it must be on your bucket list.

Caves in Northern California

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The geological diversity and the unique personality of each cave take you to another world where nature unveils its beauty and charm in full display.  Whether you are a seasoned explorer or just a beginner, your journey to nature’s best-kept secrets will be unforgettable.

So, let’s dive in and find out the best caves in Northern California to make your cave explorations worthwhile.

1. Moaning Caverns

  • Address:  5350 Moaning Cave Road, Vallecito, CA, 95251
  • Entrance Fees: $23 for 12 and above for Spiral Tour, $130 per person for Expedition Tour
  • Activities: Axe throwing, gemstone panning, souvenir shopping
  • Hours: 10.00 a.m to 4.00 p.m

Welcome to the largest public cavern of Northern California. The moment you step into this unexplored world you are welcomed with different low sounds and hence the name Moaning Caverns.

The sheer grandeur of the cave and the vertical chamber of 165 feet are truly marvelous and catch your attention first. Let your eyes get adjusted with the dim lights and you will be amazed to see the shimmering stalactites and the majestic stalagmites rising above.

Take the staircase to the 65 feet underground chamber and if you have booked the Spiral tour, you can continue with your guided tour. Notice the unique patterns on the wall, the crystal cauliflowers, and the famous “Mushroom Patch” which cascades down.

The more you go down, you will hear more of the soft moaning eerie sounds that add to your overall experience of cave explorations. If you are looking for a great cave photography opportunity in Northern California, then Moaning Caverns gives you the perfect opportunity.

After your exhilarating experience at the heart of the Earth, you can try your hands on gold panning or gemstone mining where you can find your own gemstone.

Moaning Caverns
Moaning Caverns

2. Black Chasm Cavern National Landmark

  • Address:  15701 Pioneer Volcano Rd, Volcano, CA 95689
  • Entrance fees: $20 for Adults, $12 for 50-12 years
  • Activities: Gold panning flumes, gemstone mining, gift center
  • Hours: 9 a.m to 6.00 p.m

Cave tours in Northern California would be incomplete without visiting the enchanting Black Chasm Cavern. Just a two-hour drive from San Francisco, this cavern awaits you with a plethora of experiences to be discovered.

During the Gold Rush era, people of this area came across this natural wonder. The cave is surrounded by amazing geological rock formations which are simply magnificent.

The best way to explore this cave is to book a guided tour as it allows you to know the history and you can see the entire cave from the three viewing platforms. The most unique feature of this cave is the helictites which are formed due to water pressure. The crystallized structures on the wall are a wonder to see.

If you are feeling extra adventurous, you can book the “Labyrinth Tour” which will take you to hidden chambers and narrow passageways and you will explore more of the cave’s mysteries. You can also opt for a self-guided tour at the Miner’s Trail to know more about hydraulic mining history.

Apart from the beautiful formations, you might also catch glimpses of salamanders, bats, or cave crickets. The cave is also home to unique underground plant species.

You can take a stroll above ground around the nature reserve. You will see plenty of woodland creatures greeting you on your way. Sit down on one of the picnic tables and enjoy your meal after a captivating journey underground. Make sure to pick some souvenirs from the gift center shop.

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Caves in Northern California_Black Chasm Cavern
Black Chasm Cavern

3. Subway Cave

  • Address: 43225 E. Hwy 299, Fall River Mills, CA 96028
  • Entrance Fees: Free
  • Activities: hiking, campgrounds, fishing, picnicking
  • Hours: Dawn to Dusk

A spectacular sight of cavernous landscapes, Subway Cave offers an excellent view of underground formations built twenty-thousand years ago. This cave requires you to take many staircases, however, your caving experience in Northern California will be splendid at the Subway Cave.

This is a lava tube cave and due to its tubular shape it resembles a subway hence it got its name. The intricate patterns of the cave’s ceiling create a captivating atmosphere. Make sure to study the formations of rock and lava and the unique designs it features. The hike is only about ⅓ mile but you will get ample time to appreciate the geological wonders and intriguing atmosphere of the cave.

The lava walls of the cave are full of various colors and textures. Subway Cave is mainly a self-guided tour but there are signs along the trail that provide information about the history and formation of the cave. Look out for bats, spiders, and other insects inside the cave. There are no entrance fees for the Subway Cave, however, donations are encouraged.

End your underground venture with a nice stroll around the Lassen Volcanic National Park. Drinking water, picnic tables, and parking facilities are available in the cave area.

Tips:

  • Carry a flashlight with you as the cave is quite dark.
  • The passage is rugged and rough, hence make sure to sturdy footwear.
  • The temperatures underneath can go down, so keep yourself layered with comfortable clothing. A light jacket is recommended.
Subway Cave
Subway Cave

4. Mercer Cavern

  • Address: 1665 Sheep Ranch Rd, Murphys, CA 95247
  • Entrance Fees: $21 for adults and $15 for 3-12 years
  • Activities: gem mining, visitor center
  • Hours: 9.00 a.m to 5.00 p.m

When you are visiting the caves of Northern California, Mercer Cavern should definitely make your list because of its unique features and supreme beauty. Take a drive outside of Murphys town and you will reach the enchanting Mercer Cavern.

The 45-minute tour takes you to a world full of surprises and enigmas. If you are a true admired of geographical structures then the stupendous flowstones, stalactites, and stalagmites will surely catch your attention.

The cave falls at 161 feet which absolutely adds adventurous effects to your cave touring experiences in Northern California. You will come across various forms of helictites as well.

The guided tour provides a complete history of the cavern. You will learn facts about the cave such as Walter J. Mercer discovering this cavern in 1885. You will require to take more than 200 steps to complete your cavern tour. Although the steps are not extremely deep, there are some narrow pathways where you might have to lean sideways.

Keep your eyes open for a magnificent display of aragonite crystals. Make sure to grab some cave souvenirs on your way out and if you have kids, let them have a gem mining session.

Tips:

  • Steps can be slippery, so wear non-slippery and high-grip shoes.
  • The temperatures are below 55 degrees, so it is best to layer yourself with a comfortable jacket.
  • You can click pictures but video cameras are not allowed.
  • Make sure to not touch anything wall as it can cause severe skin damage later on.
Mercer Cavern
Mercer Cavern

5. Lake Shasta Cavern

  • Address: 20359 Shasta Caverns Rd, Lakehead, CA 96051
  • Entrance Fees: $40 for 16 and up, $25  for 7-15 years, and  $15 for 3-6 years
  • Activities: Dinner cruise, boat tours, rock climbing, gemstone mining
  • Hours: 8.00 a.m to 4. 30 p.m

Lake Shasta Cavern is a popular destination among cave enthusiasts. Due to its super beauty, it has attracted a large number of footfall every year. Since this cave is located on private property, you will reach there via a boat tour. Once you get your hands on the ticket, the authorities will call you for the boat ride and you are all set to explore the beauty.

On your way to the cave, you will be able to enjoy the scenic beauty of the lake, and make sure to click some great pictures. There are eight rooms in this cave which are full of geological structures like limestones, dinosaur fossils, stalactites, and stalagmites. The formations are massive and unique in their own ways.

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If you want to discover speleology in Northern California, then Lake Shasta Cavern has everything in store for you. The entire cave tour takes 2 hours to complete and you are expected to climb over 600 stairs. A visit to Lake Shasta Cavern makes for a great day outing with your family as you get to explore a cave and also enjoy the scenic overview of the lake.

Do stop at the visiting center to pick up a few souvenirs. You can book a dinner cruise at the lake if you want to plan something romantic for your partner. The gorgeous sunset along with the delectable food make for a perfect dinner date with a twist of adventure.

Lake Shasta Cavern
Lake Shasta Cavern

6. California Cavern State Historic Landmark

  • Address: 9565 Cave City Rd, Mountain Ranch, CA 95246
  • Entrance Fees: $20 for 13 and up, $12  for 5-12 years
  • Activities: Gemstone mining, gold panning, gift shop, cave expeditions
  • Hours: 10. 00 a.m to 4.00 p.m

Welcome to the longest cave in Northern California. The California Cavern State Historic Landmark was earlier known as Mammoth Cave. When you go for the walking tour inside the mysterious cave, you are expected to see stunning geological formations of helictites, flowstones, stalactites, and stalagmites. Besides you will wonder about the beauty of the crystalline formations in various colors like cream, white, and caramel.

The entire cave has several trails and passageways which you can explore through the walking tour. It usually takes up to 60-80 minutes to complete the entire tour. As you move through the trails, you are not only witnessing the beauty of the speleothems and various formations, you also get to learn about the history of the cave.

During the tour, the tour guides let you experience the dark environment of the cave by turning off the light. This one moment is certainly breathtaking. If you want to get your adrenaline rush high, then go for the Mammoth Cave Expedition or the Middle Earth Expedition.

Both of these tours range between 2 to 4 hours and you will be able to experience the underworld in a whole new light altogether. Get some fun stuff from the gift shop on your way out and you can also let your kids enjoy gold panning and gemstone mining.

Tips:

  • If you want the cave expedition experience, book in advance.
  • Children and infants are not allowed to be carried in backpacks. However, front carriers are permissible.
  • Do not carry food, chewing gum, water, or any other drinks during your cave tour.
  • You cannot bring your walking sticks inside the cave.
  • This cave does not allow any pets.
  • The cave always has a steady temperature of 54 degrees, so dress accordingly.
California Cavern State Historic Landmark
California Cavern State Historic Landmark

7. Crystal Cave

  • Address: Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, CA 93271
  • Entrance Fees: $16 for all ages
  • Activities: guided tours, ALD tours, picnic benches
  • Hours: 10. 00 a.m to 4.00 p.m

When you are looking for the best caverns in Northern California to visit, Crystal Cave must be on your checklist. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is a popular tourist destination for many reasons and one of them is certainly the amazing Crystal cave.

A one-hour tour inside the cave takes you to the beautiful geological formations which is truly a treasure. When you follow the trail down to the cave, you will witness the canopy of greenery and a waterfall over the creek.

Safety tips are provided at the beginning of the trip, so you can enjoy your cave tour without worry. You will be welcomed by the giant spider-like web gate which is a famous mark of Crystal Cave. There are three main rooms inside the cave for visitors.

Keep your eyes open to see the various formations on the wall. The second room is quite tall and features some unique formations which are worth taking pictures of. The final room is a massive one and guides usually turn off the lights to let the visitors have a real feel of the cave. You can sign up for different tours like “Explorer’s Lantern Tour”, “Adventure Tour”, “Life on other worlds”, “Wild Cave Tour” and others.

Tips:

  • It is only open in the summer months from May to September. This year, the cave is closed and it will reopen in 2024.
  • Leave your backpacks in the car.
  • Do not carry food inside the cave.
  • For low temperatures, a light jacket is recommended.
Crystal Cave
Crystal Cave

8. Pluto’s Cave

  • Address: Montague, CA 96064
  • Entrance Fees: Free
  • Activities: hiking, caving, picnicking
  • Hours: Morning to Sunset
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Just a 40 minutes drive from Mt. Shasta, Pluto’s Cave is another nature’s wonder that you must visit when you are looking for the best recommendations of caves in Northern California. Once you reach the spot, you need to follow a short trail that leads you to the entrance of the cave. This is a lava tube which is about 1200 feet long.

The opening of the cave is huge and as you move ahead of the cave keep your eyes open for marking done by earlier explorers. You might find an odd smell which is mostly the smell of poop by bats and other animals.

In the first part of the cave, you will find some dust and the trail can be a bit rough. However, if want to take good pictures, you must spend some time in the second part of the cave. You can take another route after coming out of the cave, to have a great scenic view of Mount Shasta.

Tips:

  • Carry your own flashlight as the inside of the cave can be pretty dark.
  • Make sure to wear sturdy shoes to avoid slipping.
  • The cave temperature is below 40 degrees, so keep some warm clothes handy.
Pluto’s Cave
Pluto’s Cave

9. Mendocino Sea Cave

  • Address: Little River, California
  • Entrance Fees: $80 per person
  • Activities: kayaking
  • Hours: All day

One of the most popular sea caves in Northern California, Mendocino Sea Cave gives you the best opportunity to explore underground rivers and streams through an enchanting kayaking experience.

You will be surprised to see the beauty of the sea caves as they are naturally formed over the years through erosion and have unique features and characteristics.

Book a guided tour and you can have a superb sea experience of the cave. You do not require any prior experience in kayaking. This quaint and pretty coastal town of Northern California can be your perfect getaway and adding a sea-caving experience only will add up to the fun.

There are plenty of sea resorts and retreats available, so you can totally plan a romantic weekend with your partner.

Mendocino Sea Cave
Mendocino Sea Cave

10. Lava Beds National Monument Cave

  • Address:1 Indian Well, Tulelake, CA 96134
  • Entrance Fees: $15-20 per person
  • Activities: hiking, walking, touring
  • Hours: 10.00 a.m to 4.00 p.m

You have probably heard the name of this famous cave many times and that’s why our list had to end with the ever-so-popular Lava Beds National Monument Cave of Northern California.

The property is spread across 46,000 acres and there are numerous caves to visit. From age-old history to adventure, Lava Beds National Monument is a dream destination for all adventure lovers out there.

When you are at the cave, make sure to some of the popular caves such as Golden Dome Cave, Sunshine Cave, Sentinel Cave, Skull Cave, and Ovis Cave. however, start your cave tour with Mushpot Cave which has lights and is quite short in distance.

There are easy-to-access trails that allow visitors to tour the cave in a smooth way. Also, you will see quite a few hiking trails there, so don’t forget to put your hiking shoes on. Some of the challenging caves are Lava Brook, Labyrinth, Juniper, and others.

Tips:

  • Carry a helmet and flashlight to stay safe inside the cave.
  • Do not carry food or beverages inside the cave.
Lava Beds National Monument Cave
Lava Beds National Monument Cave

Final Thoughts

Cave touring can be a truly unique and fascinating experience. Our curated list of the best caves in Northern California will help you to choose the right one for yourself. So, what are you waiting for? Hop on and start your journey into the underworld.

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FAQs:

1. What is the best time of year to visit caves in Northern California?

A: The best time to visit caves in Northern California is from February to April and October to November. However, due to construction work, sometimes the caves remain closed. So, it is recommended to check the official website of the cave you plan to visit.

2: Are there any age restrictions for cave tours in Northern California?

A: There are no age restrictions for cave tours in Northern California. However, people do not bring children below the age of 3 years as the darkness and the cold temperatures can be challenging for children.

3: What should I wear and bring when visiting caves in Northern California?

A: Most caves have temperatures below 55 degrees. So, it is best to layer yourself with a light jacket.

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