Cool! Seven caves you can explore in Arizona

Posted at 11:12 AM, Jun 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 16:25:22-04

Did you know Arizona has caves? A few of them actually.

While most are open to the public, some are not. Some have been developed specifically for public tours, while others remain relatively untouched.

Despite the summer heat, some of the caves stay a refreshing 70 degrees year-round, and others get even cooler!

Scroll down to learn more about a few of Arizona's caves:

Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns

The KartchnerCaverns were discovered by two cave explorers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, in 1974. The land was purchased from the Kartchner family by Arizona State Parks in 1988 in order to preserve the caves.

There are three cave tours that the public can sign-up for -- the Rotunda/Throne Room, a 90-minute tour; the Big Room Tour, which is ½-mile long and takes just under two hours to complete; and a special Saturday “helmet and head lamp” tour which will lets cavers discover the cave as it was discovered in 1974.

The cave is 70 degrees year-round with 99 percent humidity.

Kartchner Caverns
2980 S. Highway 90
Benson AZ 85602
Admission: $13 - $30
877-MY-PARKS (877-697-2757)

Colossal Cave

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Colossal Caveis part of the 2,400-acre park in Vail, Arizona. The inside of the cave -- naturally kept at 70 degrees year-round -- has various formations, including stalagmites and stalactites.

The regular guided tour is a half-mile long and lasts 45-50 minutes. You’ll be taken through the cave and learn about its formations and geology. Make sure to visit “Old Baldy,” the only formation in the cave you’re allowed to touch. Touching the other formations can severely damage them.

Tours are offered daily on the hour. The “ladder tour” and “wild cave” tours explore partially-developed parts of the cave. Those have age and ability restrictions on them. 

Colossal Caves
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, AZ 85641
Admission: $8 - $16

Grand Canyon Cavern

Grand Canyon Caverns

The Grand Canyon Caverns were reportedly discovered by a woodcutter in 1927 who hoped his new find would lead to gold. Unfortunately, it didn’t. But, it did lead to cave exploration.
Today, an elevator takes you 21-stories (more than 200 feet) below the surface of the Earth to see the dry caverns. The temperature is 56 degrees year-round with no humidity, according to the company.
There are five tours that range in time from 25 minutes to longer than two hours.
The ‘Caverns’ have developed over the years into a tourist stop with a restaurant and inn. The “Cavern Suite” lets you sleep in the cavern, 220 feet underground.
Grand Canyon Caverns
115 mile marker on AZ-66
Peach Springs AZ 86434
Admission: $10 - $100, depending on tour

Lava River Cave

Lava River Cave

The Lava River Cave is a mile-long “lava tube” within the Coconino National Forest. It was reportedly formed more than 700,000 years ago after a volcanic vent erupted. The heating and cooling formed the cave ceiling, floor and walls, according to the National Forest’s website.

The cave varies from 35-45 degrees in the summer -- sometimes you may even see ice, according to the website. You’ll want to dress warmly, wear closed-toed shoes, and bring flashlights. This is not a guided hike. There are no restroom or food facilities. Visit NPS’s website for tips on what to bring and how to get there.

It is about 14 miles north of Flagstaff on US 180.

Lava River Cave, Coconino National Forest
35°20'32.2"N 111°50'08.2"W (Fire Road 171B and 171)
Admission: Free
More information

The Cave on Cave Creek

The Cave on Cave Creek (not open to the public)

The Cave on Cave Creek is protected and managed by the Desert Foothills Land Trust. It is not open to the public, but the Trust offers six guided tours a year -- three in the spring and three in the fall.

The Cave is believed to be where “Cave Creek” got its name, although there is some speculation that it was named after a miner, Edward G. Cave, according to a blogwritten by Kraig Nelson, preserve steward with the Trust.

Pictographs and petroglyphs that are estimated to be between 500 and 2,000 years old line the cave walls, said Mary Marren, director of community engagement for the trust.

This year’s tour schedule have not yet been released. To keep up to date, you can sign-up for the trust’s email notices.

Cave of the Domes, Grand Canyon National Park

“Cave of the Domes” at Grand Canyon National Park

The National Park Service estimates that there are 1,000 caves throughout the Grand Canyon. Only one is currently open to the public, Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa.

It is part of the Grandview Trail and takes about a day’s time to hike there and back, according to Ed Schenk with the National Park Service. The cave is home to various formations, stalactites, stalagmites and flowstone.

A permit is not needed to visit the cave. Unauthorized exploring of the other caves at the Grand Canyon is illegal. The Park says the artifacts inside the cave have historical value and should not be tampered with.

Coronado Cave

The Coronado Cave is part of the Coronado National Memorial Park in Hereford, Arizona. It is 600 feet long and up to 70 feet wide in some parts, according to the NPS website. 
It is undeveloped, unguided and open to the public. No permit is required to visit. The cave is “absolutely pitch black” so the NPS recommends you bring two light sources, gloves, extra batteries, closed-toed shoes, and a helmet. View more tips.
Coronado Cave
Coronado National Memorial
Admission: Free
Cave of the Bells (not open to the public)
Cave of the Bells is part of Sawmill Canyon within the Coronado National Forest in Tucson. It is not open to the public and is not considered to be a mild or easy hike, according to a spokesperson.
Because of that, and to protect the cave from vandalism, the entrance is gated and locked. Access to the cave’s trails is coordinated through the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Tucson and requires a $100 refundable deposit, per its website.
Here are some general cave tips from the National Park Service. Rules vary from cave to cave.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes or hiking shoes, pants, gloves and clothes that can get dirty
  • Bring two sources of light as some caves are very dark
  • Do not go into a cave alone and let someone know where you are and when you'll be back.
  • Do not remove anything from the cave or damage the formations