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The Grand Canyon State, Arizona, is known far and wide for its natural wonders. There are over 2400 verified caves in the state, not counting the ones hidden underground, with no viable entry point.
Not all of these caves are accessible to tourists, mainly because of their fragile ecosystems. Luckily, though, some of the best caves in Arizona are perfect for trekking.
Exploring a cavern or going caving is often a unique experience. That is because these wonders of nature are full of incredible mineral or rock formations, wildlife, and an often unknown but ancient history to discover. While most caves in Arizona are inaccessible, we can share a handful of the ones you can visit on your next trip to Arizona.
1. Kartchner Caverns
Address: 2980 AZ-90, Benson, AZ 85602
The stunning limestone cave, the show cave of Kartchner Caverns State Park, is the one cave tour you can’t miss. Known for its magnificent speleothem formations that date back 50,000 years, the Kartchner Caverns are a cave nerd’s destination. Just discovered in 1974, the caverns are some of the newest show caves you’ll likely find.
Truly the highlight of Kartchner Caverns State Park, the Kartchner Caverns have two areas open to the public: the Throne Room and the Big Room. In the Throne Room, you’ll discover one of the longest soda straw stalactites in the world at a whopping 21 ft!
Meanwhile, in the Big Room tour, you’ll find the most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk. The Big Room is closed during the summertime because it is a vital nursery roost for cave bats.
See Related: Things to Do in Cave Creek, Arizona
2. Colossal Cave
Address: 16721 E Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641
A short drive outside of Tucson in Colossal Cave Mountain Park, you’ll find Colossal Cave. Inside, there are 3.5 miles of passages to explore.
Given the ancient age of this cave, it is referred to as a karst or dry cave. That means the formations inside of it are dry or dead and cannot grow. This is unlike other caves that are constantly growing stalagmites or other formations.
The guided tour through Colossal Cave is perfect for the whole family. It takes only about 40 minutes to complete at just half a mile.
Plus, it’s always roughly 70 degrees, offering respite from the sometimes unforgiving Arizona heat. Being so close to Tucson, visiting the caves is a perfect adventure from a posh accommodation like JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort.
See Related: Things to Do in Phoenix, Arizona
3. Lava River Cave
Address: 171B Forest Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
Not to be confused with the Lava River Cave in Bend, Oregon, this cave is the longest lava tube in Arizona. The cave was found in 1915 and is located within the Coconino National Forest.
Although the cave is accessible to the public, it’s not a show cave. It is natural without artificial light. You can access it via dirt roads in the park, which can sometimes be impassable with cars in the winter or extreme wet conditions.
You’ll need to pack some layers to comfortably see this natural work of art. It’s usually about 40 degrees, even in the summer.
Be sure to pack warm clothes, a headlamp, a portable lantern, and high-sided hiking boots. For the super safety conscious, consider a helmet.
See Related: Best Resorts in Arizona to Unwind
4. Coronado Cave
Address: 9P2Q+8M5, Hereford, AZ 85615
There are only a few undeveloped, accessible caves in Southern Arizona, and Coronado Cave is one of them. This large cavern is 600 feet long and generally 70 feet wide.
Getting to the entrance involves moderate to strenuous, with some scrambling required to get to the cave entrance. Guided tours are available here through the National Parks Service.
When you don’t want to say goodbye to the park area, try booking the nearby Bear Mountain Ranch at Ramsey Canyon. This handsome, rustic getaway is just on the outskirts of the park.
It sleeps nine across five bedrooms and is pet-friendly. Remember that the cave is not pet-friendly, so make other arrangements when you go exploring.
See Related: The Ultimate Scottsdale Itinerary You’ll Want to Copy
5. Cave of the Bells
Address: Santa Rita Mountains, Patagonia, AZ 85624
Found in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains near Gardner Canyon, the Cave of the Bells is likely the most remote little cave you’ll discover in Arizona. Accessible via a ten-foot drop to the locked entrance (the Forest Supervisor’s office in Tucson has the key you can rent), this is definitely more of a spelunker’s cave.
Parts of the Cave of the Bells are only accessible by crawling or climbing with the use of rope. There is even a lake inside the cave 260 feet below the cave entrance. If you aren’t physically prepared for this kind of adventure, we recommend sticking to the show cave in Kartchner Caverns State Park.
See Related: Things to Do in Tucson, Arizona
6. Grand Canyon Caverns
Address: Peach Springs, AZ
Two and a half hours outside of Phoenix, the country’s largest dry cavern awaits. Known as the Grand Canyon Caverns, these caves are accessible thanks to an exploration elevator.
Tours are available in the caverns, with paved walkways and handrails to make them more accessible. While the caves are a beloved tourist attraction now, they were even used as a fallout shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Even more impressive is that the Grand Canyon Caverns hold an extra special secret. Within the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn, guests can stay in a suite that’s inside the caverns themselves.
This single suite option at the inn puts guests 200 feet below ground in the Grand Canyon Caverns for the night. It’s said to be the deepest and quietest accommodation on earth! Contrary to its name, the Grand Canyon Caverns are actually about two hours from the North Rim entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.
See Related: Where to Stay in Phoenix: Best Areas & Fun Things to Do
7. Peppersauce Cave
Address: Oracle, AZ
Regarding Arizona caves, the Peppersauce Cave is one of the state’s hidden gems. This limestone cave doesn’t offer a tour and requires using the cave’s metal ladders to access areas like the Big Room. It’s a popular spot for cavers to visit partly because of the various passageways one can explore.
This is a much more secluded cavern, ten miles outside Oracle. Those with limited mobility or visitors who cannot walk unassisted or use ladders should sit this trip out.
Reservations for camping at Peppersauce Campground are available for visitors who don’t want to travel far each day for their adventure.
See Related: Things to Do in Page, Arizona
8. Onyx Cave
Address: Santa Cruz County, AZ
Another popular spot for cavers is the petite Onyx Cave, located in the Coronado National Forest. This cave does not offer tours, though its .5 miles of passageways are amazing for adventurers to see. These limestone rocks were made over thousands of years and embedded with the fossils and remains of ancient sea creatures.
Like with the Cave of the Bells, the Onyx Cave needs a reservation through an organization in Tucson. You must contact Escabrosa Grotto, Inc. at least two weeks before your visit to give them time to get you a key and process your reservation. If you don’t mind not having a proper tour and can spelunk with the best of them, the Onyx Cave is a fascinating little place to explore.
See Related: Things to Do in Scottsdale, Arizona
What is the longest cave in Arizona?
The longest cave in Arizona is the Lava River Cave, formed hundreds of thousands of years ago during a volcanic eruption. This lava tube-style cave stretches 3/4 of a mile long. Getting to this cave can be a journey on Its own, though it is an incredible feat of nature.
Is Kartchner Caverns worth visiting?
Yes! These are the only show caverns in the state of Arizona, making the Kartchner Caverns an interesting journey for the whole family. These caverns are also not located far from town, offering visitors less seclusion than some of the other caves listed here.
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Amanda is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Her work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, “Chicago Like a Local” and other travel journals available on Amazon. Amanda’s favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park she’s visited.
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