Things to Do

It’s About to Get HOT. Stay Cool With a Day Trip Underground.

No matter what the thermometer says outside, these caves stay nice and chilly

At Luray Caverns, rubber mallets hit stalactites spread over three acres to produce this organ's sound. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jon Callas.

While the first few days of summer have been pleasant and mild, it looks like the temperature is about to get turned up in DC. A week with the potential for triple-digit heat indexes is on the way, and crowds are going to head for activities that include AC. But why not let Mother Nature take care of the climate control by heading underground for the afternoon?

Virginia and Maryland are home to several caves, all of which stay below 60 degrees no matter what the outside weather is. Spend a day out of the heat and surrounded by geological wonders at one of these spots that rock.

Luray Caverns

Where: Luray, VA (2 hours/95 miles from DC)

Temperature: 56 degrees, but high humidity makes it feel closer to 65 degrees

Tours leave every 20 minutes and wander along 1.25 miles of paved walkways in the caverns. Highlights include Dream Lake, a shallow lake that reflects a mirror image of the stalactites clinging to the cave’s ceiling, and a song from The Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument. The organ’s sound is created by rubber mallets hitting stalactites across three acres.

101 Cave Hill Rd, Luray, VA, 540-743-6551

Shenandoah Caverns

Where: Quicksburg, VA (2 hours/109 miles from DC)

Temperature: 56 degrees

Shenandoah Caverns is easier to get into than most; it’s the only cavern in Virginia with elevator service. Once you’re below the surface, an hour-long tour on the cave’s gravel path will take you through the cave’s 17 rooms to see geological features such as the Bacon Formations and the Capitol Dome, a bright white stalagmite that resembles the U.S. Capitol.

261 Caverns Rd, Quicksburg, VA, 540-477-3115

Dripping water in Shenandoah Caverns created this formation that resembles the US Capitol. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ilyse Whitney

Skyline Caverns

Where: Front Royal, VA (1 hour, 35 mins/71 miles from DC)

Temperature: 54 degrees

Skyline Caverns is the home of a rare mineral formation called anthodites, so rare in fact that Skyline is the only cave system in the country where visitors can view them. These bunches of needle-like crystals form in bunches on the cave walls and look like a creature that might be found at the bottom of the sea. See them on Skyline’s one-hour walking tour through the caverns.

10344 Stonewall Jackson Hwy, Front Royal, VA, 540-635-4545

Rare mineral formations called anthodites line Skyline Caverns’ walls. Photo courtesy of Flickr user JThoel

Crystal Grottoes Caverns

Where: Boonsboro, MD (1 hour, 23 mins/64 miles from DC)

Temperature: 54 degrees

Owner Jerry Downs claims Crystal Grottoes has more formations per square foot than any other cave in the world. It’s also the only show cave (a cave open to visitors/tourists) in Maryland. Tours leave every 30 minutes, but note that Crystal Grottoes is cash only, and groups wanting to tour during the week will need to make a reservation

19821 Shepherdstown Pike, Boonsboro, MD, 240-217-7623

Crystal Grottoes Caverns opened in 1922 and is the only show cave in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Editorial Fellow

Christine Jackson joined Washingtonian as an editorial fellow in summer 2017. She enjoys writing about art, culture, history, news of the weird and, occasionally, hockey. She is originally from St. Louis, Missouri and is an alumna of the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, more affectionately known as Mizzou. For now you can find her hanging around Cathedral Heights.