After our trip to Richmond, Va., which I wrote about yesterday, we made the trek to Luray Caverns, about 2.5 hours northwest.
I've wanted to go to Luray Caverns for a couple of decades. I'd seen the signs on my drives between my hometown in New York and the University of Virginia where I went to college. And, lately, friends had taken their kids there or recounted their own childhood experiences to the tune of "I'll never forget it."
So, since we were (kind of) in the neighborhood, we hopped over there.
My first thought as we drove up to the complex in Luray, Va., was this: Tourist trap. There's a huge parking lot and much more than just the caverns - a museum, a Toy Town Junction, gem sluicing, a garden maze, a ropes course, a golf course, restaurants, a vineyard, gift shops and, yet, more.
If you do it all - or even part of it - it's not cheap. Tickets to the caverns are $27 for adults and $14 for kids ages 6 to 12 and includes admission to the museum and Toy Town Junction. The garden maze admission is $9 for adults and $7 for kids. The ropes course will cost you $7 to $10. And so on ...
And, the place was packed. When we were there in April, we stood in line for just under an hour with hundreds of others for a guided tour of the caverns - the only way you can visit them.
But, stick with me here. Clearing away everything but the caverns, a visit here is well worth it. First discovered in 1878 by a group who, even then, understood its value as a tourist destination, the caverns offer a jaw-dropping look at the world deep inside Earth. The National Park Service and U.S. Department of Interior have designated it a Registered Natural Landmark.
The hour-long guided tour takes you along a 1.25-mile path. You can bring a small stroller, but know that you'll need to carry it up three sections of steps.
The tour takes you from chamber to chamber as you survey the massive stalagmites, columns that rise from the floor; stalactites, which hang from the ceiling; columns where the stalagmites and stalactites have joined; bodies of water so clear they are like mirrors; and the sheet-like flowstones.
There are breathtaking views - from the incredible Dream Lake, where the water is so clear it reflects the stalactites hanging above it, to the beautiful Saracen's Tent, a large folded stone formation, to the Double Column, which stands 47-feet tall.
The Great Stalacpipe Organ, built in 1956, also is a favorite though, I'll admit, I found it a little hokey. The organ uses the stalactites to make the sounds.
Throughout the tour, our guide reminded us not to touch anything as the formations are still growing and changing and evolving. For my kids, that was fine as they were awestruck by the view inside.
After our tour, we went over to the garden maze, which might have been more fun if we weren't exhausted and hungry (I can't recommend the on-site restaurants). That was the one point in our five-day road trip where I could say, without a doubt, that everybody could have used a little bit of separation. If we go again, we'll stick to just a tour of the caverns and eat before we go. And we might opt to go during a less busy time of year. When a friend went in January, there was no line to get in.
Luray Caverns is about 4.5 hours from Raleigh. If you go, check out the Luray Caverns education page to get your bearings and learn a bit about the place.
For more road trips from Raleigh, check our Road Trips from Raleigh page.