Pandemic life got you feeling blue? Bored looking at the same four walls of your home every day? Kids craving adventure, but so many things are still closed down? Well, I’ve got a secret for you. Turn off Disney+ and get ready to discover a veritable “Cave of Wonders”—without having to travel to Agrabah. Load up the car for a day trip to Luray, Virginia, to discover an underground geological wonder. The acclaimed Luray Caverns are just two hours from the city, and provide unforgettable memories during COVID times! Even if you can never remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, you and your family will have a memorable trip visiting “the largest caverns in the Eastern United States” and the surrounding area. Before you get ready to go spelunking, here’s an inside scoop to make the most of a day trip to the area.
The Caverns were discovered in 1878 and quickly became known throughout the country for its stunning breadth of geological formations (made of calcite, for all you geology nerds). There are towering columns, a small “lake” creating a phenomenal optical illusion, giant cathedral-like rooms, and small, intimate passageways. There is even an organ—the largest instrument in the world—which makes music by tapping on the formations!
Dubbed “Geology’s Hall of Fame,” the Caverns are open from 9-6 daily (9-4 in the winter) and are accessible for literally all ages. It is a National Natural Landmark that sees over half a million visitors annually. Modern enhancements have made the Caverns step-free and stroller & wheelchair accessible! (Note: There are some narrow passages, so double-wide strollers aren’t a good idea, but a regular single works just fine.) Purchase your tickets before you go or once you arrive.
Before we went to Luray Caverns, my husband and I needed to know just how safe it would be for our family. There are many safety precautions in place that can help put your mind at ease. Truthfully, there are certain areas where some crowding is inevitable, but we found visitors and staff alike to be mindful of keeping social distance.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit
- Luray Caverns is a national treasure, and as such, attracts a lot of tourists. To have the most pleasant experience possible, I highly recommend visiting on a weekday as soon as they open. (Aim to leave DC by 7 am, you can do it!) When we visited, it was a Friday at the end of summer. We were in by 10 am and back above ground around 11:20. In many parts of the Caverns, we felt like we were the only ones there! Avoiding a crowd by arriving close to opening time really heightened the experience for us all.
- Make sure to bring a few pennies along to throw into the Wishing Well.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting a little wet. Be mindful as you walk around because water can pool in certain areas and walkways can be slippery.
- The caves can be chilly! If you are visiting in the warmer months when you’re apt to be wearing just shorts and t-shirts, make sure to bring a sweater along.
- The Caverns are very well-lit, but my daughters brought along their own flashlights. While I initially thought this was totally unnecessary, it was very sweet to see them take out their lights to do close inspections of the geological formations.
- Remember that you aren’t supposed to touch anything! This can obviously be difficult for young children, so make sure you prep them beforehand with a conversation about why it’s important to leave the formations alone. (Having a flashlight to hold can help keep little hands occupied so they aren’t as prone to touching things!)
- Kids under 5 are free. Bring those tots!
- A self-guided tour lasts around an hour. If you have a kiddo who always wants food at inconvenient times (unless mine are the only ones?!), make sure to feed him/her an energy-fueling snack before you head inside. (Water is allowed.)
Beyond the Caverns
There is so much more to do in the area that can make for a truly fun-filled day. Included in your ticket to Luray Caverns is admission to a few other attractions: The Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Shenandoah Heritage Village, and Toy Town Junction.
Looking for more? Unleash your inner pioneer prospector at The Stonyman Mining Company Gem Sluice. Kids will love picking out their own gems (ranging from $8 – $30/bag). Get some exercise on the low and high ropes courses at Rope Adventure Park ($7 or $11, depending on the child’s height). And don’t forget to get lost in a one-acre garden maze ($7 kids 6-12, $10 adults).
All these activities will certainly work up an appetite. Just down the road from Luray Caverns, there are a few delightful options for meals or snacks. Try Gathering Grounds Patisserie and Cafe where there is a kid’s menu, smoothies, hearty sandwiches, and drool-worthy baked goods. Compass Tea Room has extensive varieties of teas available. While it isn’t exactly a kid-friendly place, you can certainly grab a delicious drink to-go. Get casual sandwiches to satisfy every palate at West Main Market. If your kids are older and used to fine dining, Moonshadows on Main Street is a local favorite for a delicious meal.
Not to Miss on the Drive Back Home … DINOSAUR LAND!
The Shenandoah Valley is chock-full of sights and activities. There’s SkyLine Drive, gorgeous at any time of year. Roadside produce stands and vineyards are a-plenty. But one unique place is most definitely worth the detour. The one and only Dinosaur Land, located in White Post, VA, will only add roughly 20-30 minutes to your drive home. Just yabba-dabba-doo it! This slice of roadside Americana of yesteryear (literally) is a kid-magnet. With replicas of over 50 dinosaurs (and some other creatures like King Kong and a giant octopus), your budding paleontologists will be in heaven. It’s a pretty simple and laid-back place but will be a stop your family will definitely remember.
When you are planning your trip, make sure to call businesses in advance to confirm their operating status and double-check the safety precautions they are taking during this time! Have you been to Luray? Share your highlights of this national wonder in the comments below.