Arizona is crammed with caves and caverns. There are far too many to fit into a lifetime, and even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. Due to the delicate nature of many of the caves, most are off-limits to the general public. But a small percentage welcome spelunkers, offering visitors the chance to wonder at their subterranean beauty. If you want to explore the best underground lairs in the state, check out our guide to 10 of the most beautiful Arizona caves.
10. Yucca Cave, Canyon de Chelly
The Yucca Cave ruins can be found in the Canyon de Chelly. Although the area is studded with trails, the best is the White House Ruin Trail, which will take you past caves, burial sites, ancient peach orchards, and farming fields before finishing at the Chelly National Monument. According to historians, around 50 people used to live on the site, but it’s lain abandoned since the 1930s.
9. Cave of the Domes, Grand Canyon National Park
If there’s one thing the Grand Canyon National Park isn’t short of, it’s caves. No one’s done an official count, but it’s thought there might be anything up to 1000. Unless you have a lifetime to dedicate to spelunking, you can’t possibly visit them all, but it’s definitely worth making time for Cave of the Domes. A well as being one of the very few that’s accessible to the general public, it’s extraordinarily beautiful, with breathtaking stalagmites and intriguing rock formations.
8. Coronado Cave, Hereford
Located in the Coronado National Memorial south of Sierra Vista on the Arizona-Mexico border, Coronado Cave is an undeveloped cave that’s certainly not for the fainthearted. There are no lights, no paved walkways, and no handy tour guides to hold your hand. Providing you’re up for the challenge, however, it’s a must-visit, boasting two cavernous rooms that stretch an impressive 600 feet back. Before you set off, pop by the Visitor Centre to pick up a permit. From there, it’s a three-quarter-mile hike to the cave.
7. Grand Canyon Cavern, Seligman
Next up is Grand Canyon Cavern, a fascinating cave located on Route 66 near Peach Springs outside the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s been open to the public for over 75 years, and is a hugely popular destination for both experienced spelunkers and amateurs. The accompanied tours are absolutely fascinating: after descending 21 stories into the cavern, you’ll discover prehistoric fossils, the bones of long-extinct animals, and some intriguing geological features. The site is excellently managed, with a gift shop, a convenience store, picnic grounds, a campground and RV park, and a motel. There’s even the chance to stay in an underground hotel room.
6. Kartchner Caverns, Kartchner Caverns State Park
For years, people rumored that southern Arizona was home to a spectacular but as yet unknown cave. The rumors were true. In 1999, Kartchner Caverns opened up to the public for the first time. Since then, it’s become one of the most popular caves in the state. Widely considered to be among the most beautiful caves in the world, it boasts two breathtaking rooms and an equally stunning 13,000 feet of passages. Accompanied tours are available and come highly recommended. Once you’ve finished the tour, be sure to stop by the adjacent Discovery Centre to check out the interactive exhibits. The park also features campgrounds, hiking trails, a gift shop, food vending machines, picnic areas, and regional displays.
5. Peppersauce Cave, Santa Catalina Mountains
According to cavecreektoday.com, Peppersauce Cave looks an awful lot like the little cave R2D2 attempted to hide from the Jawas in in “Star Wars: A New Hope.” While you’re unlikely to run into any cute little robots during your visit, it’s still worth a visit. It’s relatively remote, and you won’t find any tours, but the beauty of its secret rooms makes it more than worthwhile.
4. Yakulla Caverns, Phoenix
If you’ve got kids, don’t miss the chance to visit Yakulla Caverns. Located at Phoenix Zoo, the caverns are a man-made attraction that’s designed to resemble a vast wet cavern system. With a splash pad, misting system, water slides, springs, multiple water features, and a giant play river, it’s a great place for kids to splash around in. It’s not all fun and games though – thanks to the beautifully constructed stalactites, stalagmites, shields, and waterfalls, it also serves as a great way to educate little ones on the wonders of the natural world.
3. Lava River Cave, Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Around 700,000 years ago, a volcano exploded near Flagstaff. The resulting lava flow created an underground tube measuring almost ¾ of a mile long. It’s perfect as a way to escape the heat in the summer, rarely exceeding 40 degrees F. Facilities are basic, so don’t expect any accompanied tours or facilities. On the plus side, there’s no admission charge. The height of the tunnel varies dramatically, ranging from less than 3 feet in places to over 30 in others. It’s easy enough to explore, but expect a bit of a scramble down the entrance’s boulder pile.
2. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Cave, Tucson
Natural caves are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for artificial ones too. Named as one of the best caves in Arizona by arizonaedventures.com, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Cave is a lifesize recreation of a limestone cave. It’s wonderfully realistic, right down to the stalactites and stalagmites. If you want to enjoy a “true caving experience,” be sure to explore the 75-foot trail with its low ceilings and narrow passageways. Before you leave, stop by the museum’s other underground exhibit, which allows visitors an inside look into the burrows and subterranean habitats of numerous desert animals, insects, and reptiles.
1. Cave of the Bells, Sawmill Canyon
As Only In Your State says, if you’re up for some spelunking in a quiet section of the state and in a pristine cave, don’t miss Cave of the Bells. Tucked away in a remote part of Coronado National Forest in Sawmill Canyon, it’s accessible only via a dirt road and, ideally, by a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. Before you set off, stop by the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Tucson to pick up the access keys – you’ll need to part with $100 to get them, but you’ll get it back on your return. Once you finally make your way into the cave, you’ll find plenty of beautiful passages and rooms to enjoy. There’s even a small, hidden lake to discover.