If you are looking forward to a day full of adventure, you must visit Laurel Caverns. It is the largest cave in Pennsylvania, with more than 3 miles of natural passage. When you come here, you will get an opportunity to spend 2 hours beneath the famous Laurel Highlands.
The Laurel Caverns is a privately owned show cave founded in 1968. Before this, the caverns were unregulated wild caves known only to the locals and others by word of mouth. After the cave was founded, the rocky floor in the upper cave was filled with sand from within the cave to make the tours safer. Lights have been installed too for the benefit of the visitors.
Before the first pyramids were built, a portion of the cave’s passage closest to the edge of the hillside had collapsed. A sinkhole was formed, and the entrance to Laurel Caverns lay at the bottom of this sinkhole. The Native Americans were the first humans who discovered the entrance to the cave. Overall these years, several arrowheads have been found near the cave’s opening.
There is no definite information on when the Native Americans first entered the cave. Still, it was likely before 1776 because, in that year, James Downard quarried the edge of the limestone bed in the cave around 2000 ft south of the cave’s entrance. The first deed was done in 1794, but that deed did not include the cave’s entrance.
Richard Freeman was the 1st official owner of the cave who acquired 400 acres adjoining Downard. In 1814, Delaney purchased the 36 acres around the cave’s entrance from Freeman and expanded his farm to 114 acres, thereby owning the then well-known cave.
In 1798 the cave was much publicized after two Smithfield men got lost in the cave for three days. The two men ultimately survived, but the cave entrance was sealed off for many years after this incident. In 1816 the first recorded geological survey took place at the cave on the Delaney Farm. In 1823 John Delaney died, and the farm was abandoned.
However, his name remained associated with the cave for almost 140 years. The name Laurel Hill Caves was not being used anymore after many years. The local people called it Delaney’s Cave. The entrance of the guided tour area did not exist till 1910. During those days, one could enter the cave only by crawling through difficult passages.
The ownership of the cave changed many hands over the years, but the actual developmental work began in May 1962. The small catacomb passages were developed for the guided tours, but the larger lower rooms were considered too pushed back into the mountain for most people to walk. In 1962 there was no electricity in the cave, and power was supplied only by a generator.
A brand new Visitors Center came up in 1969, but it never violated the ambiance of the old main entrance of the cave. After 1993 a simulated cave was designed and built to benefit the physically challenged children and those on school field trips.
It is the biggest cave in Pennsylvania and one of the state’s most popular caves for its various engrossing tour options. However, what makes these caverns different from the other caves in the state is the scarcity of geological formations. The caverns have a lower calcium content, making the passage walls very smooth. There are only a handful of stalactites and stalagmites in the cave. When you tour the cave, you will think that Laurel Caverns is more a dry creek bed than a traditional cave.
Some people say that eerie things do happen at the caverns when the number of visitors is less. Still, all these are said to be rumors because the majority of the visitors to the caverns have not experienced anything spooky, and they refuse to believe that the cave is haunted.
The Laurel Caverns has a length of 16 312 ft.
Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania, boasts three lighted tour options. These trips have been designed keeping in mind the public, and participation in these tours does not require the use of any kind of special equipment or clothing.
It is a 30 min guided tour that involves a long walk (600 ft) through some of the most accessible passages in Laurel Caverns. The tour does not include any steps on the way. The part of the cave that is covered in the Traditional Tour is said to be a maze, and one would see about 1200 ft of colorfully lighted passages.
The guide on tour will show you the different geological formations and the history of the cave and gives you an insight into the resident bat population. The steep slopes of some of the passages on this tour cause an optical illusion known as a gravity hill. This phenomenon is said to be the mainstay of the guided tour of the caves.
At the end of the tour, there is a sound and light show included in the tour price. When the tour ends, one can opt for the Self-Guided tour, for which there is no extra charge.
It is a 30 min tour that involves a 1200 ft long walk through some of the largest, longest, and steepest passages of the lighted part of the caverns. A brief orientation is provided at the start of the tour, and there are about 100 steps in the tour. It is to be noted that this tour does not include the 600 ft that is covered in the traditional tour.
The geology and history of the Laurel Caverns are explained through the displays in the Grand Canyon passage. The arrows will show you the way through the cave, and there are employees of the Laurel Caverns who monitor this tour and are always available for your help. At the end of the tour, one may opt for the Traditional Tour at no additional charge, but one must wait for the guide.
It is a 60-minute excursion that allows one to see the full lighted portions of the cave. There are no additional charges for this tour. One will begin with the Traditional Tour and end with the larger and steeper passages in the lighted portion of the cave. If you are coming in groups, you may request a guide on this tour.
This is meant for serious caving enthusiasts who do not mind getting dirty, can move through tight spaces, and can move large boulders. To participate in the tour, you must have multiple light sources, a good pair of shoes, and proper clothing. A half-day tour usually lasts for 3 hours.
It is another name for the Upper Caving Tours. In this tour, the participants can view both the upper and middle zones of the Laurel Caverns. In these tours, the physical challenges are immense, and all participants should be trained in safe caving practices. All participants must be above nine years of age, wear proper hiking shoes, carry two light sources, and wear clothes that cover arms and legs.
Reservations are not required for the lighted portions of the tour unless you are coming in a group of fifteen persons or more. The rates are the same for all the tours – Traditional, Self-guided, and combo.
Laurel Caverns Spelunking (half-day)
Upper Caving Tour
The cave temperature remains constant at 52 degrees throughout the year, making it a perfect escape on a hot summer day.
What you will wear to the caves will depend significantly on the tour you have chosen. However, a few basic requirements are a must to visit Laurel Caverns. For clothing, you need long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and hiking boots that have good tread. You should also bring a set of fresh clothes as you might get dirty on the tours.
The Laurel Caverns is open on all days of the week. It operates from 9:30 in the morning to 4:00 pm.
Cave exploration is the main activity that you can do at the Laurel Caverns. Once you climb out to the surface, you can do the gemstone panning activity, check out a simulated cave or view the Pittsburgh skyline on a clear day.
Spread across 10,000 sq ft, the Grottos of Learning is the largest simulated cave in the world. The cave was created to study the birth and growth of geological formations like stalactites. It is an excellent place for the kids as they can view real stalactites and even explore a dark cave with lanterns. It is an ideal exploring activity for kids aged 4 to 9 years.
It is a popular activity in a cave-like setting in a room located right next to the Laurel Caverns gift shop. The participants are given a card wherein they know all about the gems they might find, a shifting tray, and a bag to hold the gems they find. The cost of this bag depends upon the size, but it is usually less than what is charged elsewhere.
There is a Lookout facility on the back deck of the Laurel Caverns facility, which affords a beautiful view of the surroundings.
The souvenir shop has reasonably priced items so that everyone can afford a lovely souvenir. The prices of the souvenirs start from USD 3, and you will get plush toys, T-shirts, and small gift items.
Laurel Caverns is the biggest natural bat hibernaculum in Pennsylvania. The cave remains closed to the public during the primary months of the bat hibernation season, from November to April. So, you must visit Laurel Caverns anytime between May and October as the cave remains empty of bats.
These caverns are at the top of a Chestnut Ridge and thousands of acres of forest lands that are publicly owned. The caverns are in the midst of a 4-mile by 5-mile forested area with just one good paved road. It must be remembered that all roads leading to Laurel Caverns are paved, and you must use the roadside signs with common sense to reach Laurel Caverns.
If you are coming from Hopwood, you take Route 40 EAST for three miles to reach the top of Summit Mountain. Then turn right past the entrance to the Historic Summit Inn and get on Skyline Drive. Now follow Skyline Drive for five miles, and the entrance to Laurel Caverns will be on your right.
There are camping sites and quality hotels near Laurel Caverns to enjoy quality accommodation. Benner’s Camping & Cabins, Hopwood Motel, and The Lodge at Chalk Hill are some of the best accommodation options near Laurel Caverns.
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The Laurel Caverns is the largest bat hibernaculum in Pennsylvania, and it remains closed to the public from November to April to protect the bat populations. The cave doors are open again in May, and people are allowed to visit till October.
Download our Laurel Caverns Guide (Unofficial)
Do you need more information before visiting Laurel Caverns? Call (800) 515 – 4150 for an information packet.
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