If you are looking for a quick and easy day adventure and want to explore the history of our area, then check out some of the local caves and mine adventures within the vicinity. We have some of the most fascinating caves in the entire United States, and luckily for us they are within a short drive from the Sacramento Valley.
Our family has visited a couple of the caverns, but we still have many more to explore. With younger children, it is harder to keep their attention and their little fingers off of the sparkling crystals that hang above them, but the tours we took were perfect for curious kids and the sheer beauty kept their amazement.
Our first cavern tour was to Black Chasm Caverns. Located in Amador County, this cavern was worth the drive; and if you visit in the springtime, this makes for a perfect weekend drive as the countryside is beautiful. The cavern tour was approximately 45 minutes and was led by a very knowledgeable guide who showed us the stunning helictite formations. We had the opportunity to see some of the greatest collections of sparkling helictite crystals and experience the “thrill” of entering into a cave. Black Chasm cavern is well-known for their beautiful rock formations, and they are definitely worth seeing! They also have gemstone mining above ground for the kids to collect real gemstones…. an attraction for kids of all ages!
Once you have explored the caverns, I highly recommend taking a hike at the “Zen Garden”. This was by far my favorite adventure of our day. The entrance to the Zen Garden Trail is located just passed the entrance to the caverns. The trail is not obvious, so ask for a map when you visit the caverns visitors’ center. There is a small set of steps near a large tree off the road… seriously, not the best directions, but this is a must-see experience. The trail offers a landscape of standing stones that are beautiful to walk through and impressive to view. The kids were climbing, hiking, and amazed at the wonders that nature provided in this “playground”. This hike isn’t necessarily for those who are used to just a flat terrain… there were quite a few areas that became steep and offered a bit more to our “adventurous” side.
Another local cavern to visit is Mercer Caverns, located in Calaveras County. Just one mile outside of the town a Murphy’s (this is a great area for a weekend trip), it will take a little less than 2 hours to drive from downtown Sacramento. Mercer Cavern will amaze you with its stunning stalagmites, crystals and re-crystallized limestone. Any kid will want to explore and learn the geology of the area after visiting this cavern. The tour was about 45 minutes and descended into the cave, approximately 161 feet below the ground level with a very knowledgeable guide who helped keep the kids entertained and learning about the history of the caves. Along with Black Chasm, they also offer a Gem Mining station above ground for the kids to try their skills and mining.
I had read that both of these caves were kid friendly – and they are for a certain age group, however, they don’t necessarily take into account the attention needed to follow along with the tour guides. Yes, the cave is suitable for anyone who can walk up and down a steep set of stairs, but take into account the age of your children and if they can hold the attention of the tour guides. If you have kids that are a little older, they will thoroughly enjoy the tour and will be amazed at the sights they will see and the facts they will learn on this tour.
One thing to remember when visiting the caverns is that they are cool – approximately 54 degrees year round. This wasn’t an issue for us, since we were visiting in the winter and were already dressed for the weather, however, if you plan on visiting in the hot summer months, remember to bring along a sweater.
Other popular cave tours in the area include:
California Caverns located in Calaveras County
Moaning Cavern located in Vallecito. For the more adventurous explorers, they also offer zip lining and cave rappelling at this location!
Gold Bug Mine is great for the youngest explorers- you just walk in and explore the cave vs. descending down steep stairs. They are located in Placerville.
So if you have an interest in geology, the history of our area, or you just want to go on an adventure with your family- then check out some of the local caverns in our area. This will make for a great family day trip, or even into a weekend vacation.
By Heather Crivellone