Adventure underground: Winter is prime time for spelunking

Photo: Courtesy Luray Caverns Photo: Courtesy Luray Caverns

As winter sets in caves offer surprisingly balmy family adventures. With temperatures hovering around 53 degrees, a subterranean visit provides hours of active outdoor fun sans the cold. From paved walking tours to rigorous guided explorations through wild caverns, the following resources will help you take advantage of the region’s many spelunking opportunities.

Luray Caverns (Luray)

Discovered in 1878, Luray has the largest series of caverns on the East Coast and is the granddaddy of American grottos. Featuring massive cave formations like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, mudflows, flowstone and mirrored pools, a 1.5-mile hike through the caves offers eye candy galore. Don’t miss the Great Stalactite Organ—a lithophone that taps stalactites of various sizes to produce tones similar to those of xylophones, tuning forks and bells. Adults $27, children $14.

Outdoor Adventure Experiences (Dayton)

In addition to rafting, fishing, hiking, canoeing and climbing, OAE offers guided tours of various wild caves throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Options vary in intensity and tend to include some degree of crawling, squeezing through narrow passages, rappelling and climbing into and/or out of pits. Tours are scheduled both day and night, with the most intense experiences featuring wading or even swimming through underground streams and lakes. Adventures are open to everyone over 4 feet tall. Starts at $160 for groups of two to four.

Skyline Caverns (Front Royal)

Opened to the public in 1939, Skyline Caverns is one of the only caves in the world where you can view anthodites. Made of calcite, the rare clusters of perfect, six-sided crystals blossom like sea urchins from the cave’s ceiling. Tours are offered daily, and feature about 1.8 miles of subterranean walking. Adults $22, children $11.

Lost World Caverns (Lewisburg, West Virginia)

Offering both standard walking tours and wild caving experiences, LWC is great for families with wide age gaps. The walking tour is just more than a half-mile long, with the highlight being the 30-ton Snowy Chandelier, one of the nation’s largest compound stalactites. Meanwhile, wild tours take four to five hours to complete, feature a picnic lunch and carry visitors through more than a mile of fantastic chambers and passageways. Gear is provided and participants should be prepared to get muddy. Walking tours are $6 for kids under 6 years old, $12 for anyone over 13. Wild excursions run $79 a person.