About a two hour drive due West of DC those looking for a taste of easy adventure will find “a very special place with a great history,” according to John Graves, President and CEO of Luray Caverns Corporation and part of the fourth generation of the Graves family to own and operate the Caverns.
Discovered in 1878, Luray Caverns recently held its annual “Discovery Day” celebrating the 141st anniversary of the day a handful of adventurers happened upon a sinkhole issuing cold air up from underground. Complete with period costume guides and candles illuminating the chambers (much as they would have had to before electricity was introduced in the Caverns), this year’s Discovery Day also featured a recent addition which makes the underground wonder more accessible than it has ever been — a brand new all-ability access entrance, which allows tours to take place on an all-paved walkway with a step free entry.
It’s the latest in a lengthy list of additions and improvements to the Caverns and grounds that make a day at Luray a delight and a value for the family.
With the area now featuring a ropes course, a garden maze and other area attractions, there truly is something for everyone. A cavern tour ticket even includes free entrance to the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, the Luray Valley Museum– a collection of historic buildings from rustic 19th-century life along with artifacts from the time — and Toy Town Junction. Protip: Don’t miss stopping by Heartpine Café for a bite and to taste some local craft brews and ciders.
But obviously gaining access to these largest caverns in Eastern America is the main attraction. Even those not easily impressed will marvel at the (named Cavern features) Washington Column, Skeleton’s Gorge, Pluto’s Ghost, and Dream Pond…not to mention the famous Stalacpipe Organ, which Graves tells us almost never happened.
“Leland Sprinkle, a man that worked on the Manhattan Project, came with his son to Luray Caverns and he was inspired by Saracen’s Tent and proposed the Stalacpipe Organ. Dad laughed at the idea, but Mom didn’t laugh,” says Graves. “‘You gotta do that,’ she said. So if it hadn’t been for my Mother, we wouldn’t have the largest musical instrument in the world.”
Now the organ is a showpiece of the Caverns, which draws millions of visitors (including small carried pets) each year for its leisurely hour long tours that take place in what was once an ancient sea. And at the near end of their tour, these guests will find the Wishing Well, dedicated in 1954, where coins thrown in will be collected and donated to designated charities once a year. Graves calls it, “One of the greatest things we’ve ever done.”
And they’ve done a lot.
Virginia is home to thousands of caves — many public — but Luray Caverns’ investments and ease of exploration make it a clear favorite. It’s hard to say which addition or improvement is the most significant, but all are reasons to plan a daytrip now to see this wonder, whether it’s your first, fifth, or fiftieth time.
Luray Caverns, 101 Cave Hill Road, Luray, VA; Open 365 days a year. Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Adults $28, Children ages 6 to 12 $15, Children under 5 free.