Caves in Northern California offer an exciting opportunity to discover what’s beneath the earth and some gorgeous subterranean wonders. 

North California is home to some of the world’s deepest, largest and oldest caves and caverns. Most of them were discovered during the California Gold Rush Era.

If you are a curious soul looking for a spelunking excursion filled with mystery and adventure, you should switch on your explore mode to look inside these marvelous caves in Ca.

Wondering which caves to visit in California? I got you covered! 

In this post, you will read about the top list of caves in California, Caves Tours Northern California, and learn about the history and geology of sea caves, marble caves and some of the most beautiful Lava tube systems in the world.

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A fun fact is that there are more than 1000 caves in California. But among those types, the most common type is the Solution Cave.

Solution Caves are formed by dissolved soluble rocks, such as limestones, by natural acids. Acidic water seeps beneath the surface via services, faults, fractures, or other openings.

Over time, this process has created some of the awe-inspiring and intricate cave systems perfect for spelunking and exploring in California.

Solution caves are primarily found in rock types such as marble, gypsum, limestones, halite and dolomite.


As you read the post below, you might come across both these words; caves and caverns. Is there any difference in the first place?

Caves are natural openings on the ground that vary in size and are typically formed by water erosion.

Caverns are larger and more complex cave systems formed by dissolving limestones and other soluble rocks. They usually consist of multiple chambers, connecting passageways and can typically be several miles long.

Maybe let’s put a simple school-like axiom to solve this.

All caverns are caves, but not all caves are caverns. 


I recommend you go through some of these tips and guidelines before visiting caverns in Northern California.

1) Bring the right gear: Most of the caves in Ca have a moderate temperature between 50°F to 58°F. So, when visiting any cave, make sure to wear layered clothes. The caves might be dark and slippery inside. So, always carry a flashlight, and wear sturdy shoes and a hard hat.

Check out the below links if you want to purchase any hiking accessories:

2) Keep yourself Hydrated: You will have to ascend and descend several steps, and also you might have to go on short hikes in some caves. 

So keep your bag filled with water, snacks and other beverages. You can check out the hydration pack which I use here.

3) Grab a map of the Cave: Some of the caves might not be easily accessible, and also technology might put you at the wrong destination. 

So whenever possible, get a hard copy of the Cave, directions and the surrounding region.

4) Be Aware of the Environment: When visiting a cave, checking the environment beforehand is always recommended. Some of them require you to squeeze into tighter spaces. 

You should avoid it if you are claustrophobic or fear heights. Also, ensure not to disturb its natural inhabitants like spiders, bats and rats. Make sure you won’t leave any trash behind.

5) Know the rules of the Cave: Read the rules and regulations of the Cave since some of them are protected sites and might not allow for rock climbing or taking of any rock or fossils. 

Some sites might not even allow pets since leashes are on the tripping hazards list. Some of the caves might be difficult for strollers and wheelchairs.



  • Entrance cost: $25/car, $15/walk-in (valid for seven days), $45 annual pass
  • Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, visitor centre, rugged hiking trails and vantage points
  • Activities: Hiking and guided tours
  • Accessibility: Car, Walk, Bike

If you are looking for marvellous caves in Northern California, visit Lava Beds, a 46,000-acre national monument located in the extreme North East of the Golden State, at a one-hour driving distance from Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Lava Beds National Monument is a collection of vast, rugged landscapes of Lava flows, cider cones and tubes formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

caves to visit in california

It is home to one of North America’s most extensive lava tube systems, which narrates the story of Native American inhabitants and Modoc people.

There are 700 caves in this region, but 25 have guided trails and are open to the public for exploration.

Check their website before you trip since some of the caves might be closed at certain times of the year. 

The caves are protected sites for maternal bat colonies in the summer and hibernating bats in the winter. 

Start your adventure by visiting the visitor centre. Buy your entry tickets, and a free cave exploration permit, grab a map of the Cave and purchase other accessories like a flashlight or hard hat if you don’t have one.

You can go on a self-guided tour or take a ranger-led time to learn more about the history of these caves and their native inhabitants. 

Check out the fun campfire evenings during Labour Day and Memorial Day weekends.

Don’t miss exploring the Petroglyph Point, one of the most extensive representations of Native American rock art in the United States.

Beware of low-hanging rocks and snakes around the trails if you are exploring alone. 

You must do a small uphill hike from the parking lot and navigate the path to the steep metal ladder leading to the lava tube. 

Lava Beds National Monument also has camping grounds but only with basic amenities.

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There are no food or snack kiosks or gas stations around the monument. So ensure to get necessary supplies.

The weather in this region is excellent throughout the year. So you can wear layered clothes, and a sturdy hiking shoe is a must.

If you are driving to this Cave, you need to get a sticker for your car, which indicates that you have yet to travel to any of the caves in the East.

The caves in the East are infamous for causing the white-nose syndrome, a phenomenon caused by a fungus which kills bats while they are in hibernation.

If you are less on time but want to have the most of the Lava Beds National Monument experience, take advantage of these caves: Skull Cave, Mushpot Cave, Catacombs Cave and Valentine Cave.


  • Entrance cost: $19/adult, $11/child older than nine years
  • Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, visitor centre
  • Activities: Guided tours, gold panning, gemstone mining and Hiking trails
  • Accessibility: Drive with a Guided tour only

Located in the foothills of Sierra Nevada and at a two-hour driving distance from San Francisco, Black Chasm Cavern National Landmark features one of the unique formations of Caves in Northern California.

The history of Black Chasm dates back to the late 1800s. You would have guessed it right! 

This unique geological wonder is located near one of the Gold Rush Towns in California and was explored by the Miwok Indians during the Gold Rush era. 

cave tours in northern california

Black Chasm is known for its rare helictite formations formed through hydrostatic pressure caused by water pushing crystallized minerals through permeable cavern walls.

The only way to explore this Cavern is via a guided tour on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The tour starts on a wooden boardwalk comprising dozens of steep stairs. 

I wouldn’t recommend this for someone who has claustrophobia or mobility challenges.

On the guided tour, which lasts for about an hour, you will see many small rock formations and other fascinating cavern features, like stalactites and stalagmites, formed by dripping water.

You will learn about the history and the importance of preserving these fragile formations.

One of the calming experiences on this guided tour for you will be discovering a beautiful blue lake in the second chamber. 

The Black Chasm Cavern is also home to natural inhabitants like Bats, Salamanders and Cave Crickets.

caves in northern California

You will see rare plant species adapted to grow in the dark and unique life conditions underground. 

Ensure you carry a flashlight and wear sturdy shoes to explore this natural underground wonder. The temperature underground may go up to 55-58 degrees. So wearing layered clothes is recommended.

If you have spare time, check out the Miner’s Trail, you will witness some fascinating marble formations discovered during hydraulic mining operations.

At the end of the tour, you can learn gold panning, gemstone mining, and geode cracking and shop for souvenirs in the gift shop. 

There are picnic tables around the Cave if you want to spend a rugged weekend in the wild.


  • Entrance cost: Free
  • Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, parking
  • Activities: Guided tours are available only from June to Labour Day on weekends
  • Accessibility: Self-guided, Hike-in

If you want to visit one of the spooky caves in Northern California, check out Subway Lava Cave, located inside Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

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Subway Lava Cave is a natural cave formed by Volcanic activity during a lava flow 20,000 years ago. 

The Lava on the top of the tube was exposed to natural cold air and hardened while the molten Lava underneath continued to drain out, forming an exciting lava tube system.

The entrance to today’s Cave was formed when a portion of the lava tube collapsed.

northern california caves

Subway Lava Cave is about 1300 feet long and has a maximum height of about 20 feet. The total hiking trail length inside the Cave is about 1/3 of a mile.

I recommend you carry a flashlight and be cautious since the place is relatively isolated and might need help. 

You need to ascend and descend several steps to reach the entrance of this Cave.

There are two trails via which you can explore Subway Lava Cave; underground and above ground. 

When you reach the end of the underground cave trail, hike up the stairs and continue to your right on the above-ground path back to the start.

You might also see Bats, spiders and other insects inside the Cave! It is always recommended to wear layered clothes and sturdy shoes here.

Look out for the exciting placards inside the Cave, which narrate the history of the Cave and also some geology lessons for you to take home. 

caverns in northern california

Some of the old stories depict that the native inhabitants used the Subway Cave for thousands of years, while some of the other recent stories highlight how this Cave was used as a hideout for the bandits in the later years.

Ensure to check the status of the Cave since it is open to the public only at certain times, like April or May. It generally remains closed during snowfall.

If you have spare time, go hiking in some of the beautiful rustic trails of Lassen Volcanic National Park, which offers lovely vistas of Lassen Peak.


  • Entrance cost: $35 / 16 years and above, $21/ 3 to 15 years old, Free for Kids less than two and below
  • Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, parking
  • Activities: Guided tours, rock climbing, gemstone mining
  • Accessibility: Catamaran and Bus rides with a guided tour

One of the best caves in Northern California is Lake Shasta Cavern, located in the heart of Trinity Alps in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest at the foothills of Mount Shasta.

Lake Shasta Caverns, formerly known as Baird Caves and Chalk Caves, were discovered in the late 1800s and are one of the Northern Ca caves added to the list of National Natural Landmarks. 

cave tours northern California

These caverns are known for their spectacular natural cave system and intricate limestone rock formations formed due to the continuous flow of water, a sight to behold.

You need to take a guided tour, which starts with a lovely catamaran ride from the McCloud arm of Lake Shasta.

Lake Shasta was formed in 1945 due to the dam’s flooding into the areas below the caverns. If you are with kids, they will likely enjoy this ride.

Followed by the boat excursion, you need to take a 10-minute bus ride which traverses through the gorgeous hilly stretch before reaching the Cave’s entrance.

The tour lasts about an hour and will be guided by incredibly knowledgeable staff. 

After this insightful tour, you will have a fair idea about geology and caverns.

sea caves in northern california

You will learn about the most incredible formations, including stalactites, stalagmites and other exciting features like flowstones and soda straws.

Don’t miss the gorgeous underground Lakes, once home to the Wintu Indians, a type of Northern California’s early settlers.

The route inside the Cave is quite broad, so you need not worry about squeezing into tight spaces. You will see bats, salamanders and sometimes, if you are lucky, you might even spot a bear. 

The temperature inside the Cave is moderate. So carry a jacket in case you need it. Sturdy shoes are a must since you need to scramble around 600 stairs.


  • Entrance cost: Free
  • Facilities: picnic areas, parking
  • Activities: Caving, Rock scrambling and Hiking
  • Accessibility: Hike-in

Pluto’s Cave is one of the hidden caves in Northern California, located in Klamath National Forest and at a 40-minute drive from Mount Shasta.

Lol! The name is apt! It took me a long time to figure out and reach this Cave. Check the route beforehand since navigating on google maps might lead you to a residential area. 

The hint is you need to look out for the trail parking lot signage, park your car there, and a few steps from there will lead you to this hidden wonder.

Pluto’s Cave is the remnant of Mount Shasta Lava flow and has existed for about 190,000 years. The Cave was discovered in the late 1800s by a cattle rancher.

The fascinating lava tube cave is about 1,200 feet in length, 20 feet in width and has a height of 10 feet.

Over the years, the area has been split into three zones. Unfortunately, the first Cave is a bit dusty; you may get a stench of urine due to the water seeping through the caverns!

famous caves in California

The second part of the Cave collapsed from the top, forming a skylight-like structure, ideal for photography and a night sky viewing experience.

The third part of the Cave is an extended version of the second one but with a lot of graffiti. I insist on stopping on the second part of the Cave since it gets a bit dark and spooky after a mile from there, leading to a dead end.

Pluto’s Cave has few Bats but more Rats and Rattle Snakes. Though the Cave has a skylight for natural lighting, it is better to carry a flashlight or a headlamp. Some spots are pretty treacherous, so wear shoes with a solid grip.

Wear a mask since the cave area is dusty. It is recommended to go through the rules and regulations of Pluto’s Cave displayed on a placard near the entrance.


  • Entrance cost: $19/Adult, $11/ for 5-12 years old ( walking tour); check out the price below for other tours
  • Facilities: picnic areas, parking, souvenir shop, restrooms
  • Activities: Guided tours, Hiking, cave expeditions, gold panning, gemstone mining
  • Accessibility: Hike-in with a guided tour

Located in the Calaveras County near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, California Cavern State Historic Landmark is one of Northern California’s most glorious underground Caves.

The history goes back to the 1800s; you will notice that these caves are located close to one of the Gold Rush Towns in California, Murphy’s.

Gold miners used to mine Gold in the nearby region and used this Cave to relax during the Gold Rush Era.

California Cavern State Historic Landmark was initially called Mammoth Cave, referring to Kentucky’s famed Mammoth Cave system.

On a guided walking tour, which lasts for about 60 minutes, you will learn about the intricately interconnected limestone cave formations formed over thousands of years due to the continuous flow of water.

caverns in northern ca

Fun fact: It is a common practice in this Cave to leave your signature on a wall. You will see around 5000 signatures; the highlight is the signs of John Muir, Bret Harte and Mark Twain.

The unique crystalline chambers with impressive stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone formations will take you to the days of Indian Miwok tribes who lived in this area and used this Cave as a prison.

The NPS offers detailed tours to explore one of these best caverns in California at your convenience.

Mammoth Cave Expedition tour: 2-hour cave expedition costs about $90/per person. 

This tour will squeeze you into much tighter places deep inside the Cave, and you must ascend and descend several steps. Not recommended if you are claustrophobic.

Middle Earth Cave Expedition. 4-hour cave expedition, recommended only for those experienced in spelunking. You will have to do a lot of rock scrambling, hiking up and down and also raft across Tom’s Lake.

This tour might dirty your clothes since you might have to step into clay and wet areas. Get equipped with the necessary gear before this tour.

I recommend you check a few of these hiking gear before heading for this adventurous 4-hour cave excursion.

Trail of Lakes tour: Take this tour to glimpse the intriguing underground lakes during winter and spring. 

During all these tours, you might encounter various fascinating creatures, such as bats, salamanders and spiders, which can be seen throughout the year.

Check out the other activities like gemstone mining and gold panning, which will take you back to the Gold Rush Era.


  • Entrance cost: $22/Adult, $16/ for 3-11 years old ( Spiral tour); check out the price below for other tours
  • Facilities: picnic areas, parking, souvenir shop, restrooms
  • Activities: Guided tours, Hiking, cave expeditions, axe throwing, gemstone mining, gold panning
  • Accessibility: Drive-in only with a guided tour

Moaning Cavern is one of the deepest and largest caves in Northern California, located at the foothills of Sierra Nevada and within a driving distance of 10 minutes from Angels Camp.

Moaning Cavern, discovered during the Gold Rush era, was formed millions of years ago by the erosion of ancient limestone deposits.

The name is associated with a low moaning sound from the Cave’s entrance, and that may be because of the air blowing near the door through this single-longest cave chamber in California.

On a guided tour, explore this geological wonder filled with flow stones, drapery, stalagmites and stalactite rock formations. Be ready to ascend and descend several steps to reach the entrance.

There are two types of tours to explore these caverns in Northern Ca. A simple guided walking tour costs $22 for 12 years and above and $16 for children between 3 to 11 years.

For a more adventurous tour, you must buy the $115 ticket, available only for people older than 12. 

There is an exclusive military discount of 10% on all tickets.

On the guided tour, you will learn that many pre-historic bodies were discovered in this pit, and historians say most of them would have fallen from the top of a steep staircase that descends 100 feet into the Cavern’s depths.

There are many towering columns and deep passages in this Cave, which is still a play area and an area of research for geologists yet to be explored.

Try axe throwing, gemstone mining and gold panning at these gorgeous caves. For added adventure, try rappelling that takes you into the core of the Cavern.


  • Entrance cost: $20/Adult, $13/ for 3-12 years old
  • Facilities: souvenir shop, restrooms, visitor centre
  • Activities: Guided tours, Hiking, cave expeditions, gemstone mining
  • Accessibility: Drive-in only with a guided tour

Located less than a 2-mile distance from the Gold Rush Town of Murphy in Calaveras County, Mercer Caverns is among the gorgeous Caves in Northern California.

Mercer was discovered by Walter J. Mercer in 1885. He noticed a thin draft of air coming through a small hole in the ground. 

Tracing the source led him to a network of intricate passageways, chambers and rooms.

The main draw of the Mercer Caverns is its world-renowned array of delicate frost-like crystal formations known as Flos Ferri Aragonite.

The Cave has won multiple awards and one of the grand and prestigious prizes at the 1900 Paris World Exposition, making this one of the most famous caves in California.

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Take a guided tour to explore these interesting geological rock formations. The time begins with a descent of about 200 steps along a wooden walkway.

As you descend, you will witness and learn about flowstones, stalagmites and stalactites. 

Further down the Cave, check out the Cathedral room, full of incredible rock formations, a fairyland chamber, a treasure room and the lava tube.

Interesting fact: During the exploration of Mercer Cavern, the skeletal remains of six different people have been found; four adults, one child and one infant, along with the remnants of an extinct Sierra ground sloth and a giant anteater.

Get ready to hike up and down about 400 steps in total. Though the Cavern is not congested or comprised of tight spaces, you will still burn enough calories navigating the path into the Cave.

Check out the unique geological underground wonders like the lakes and rivers.


  • Entrance cost: $22 per person; check below for other tours
  • Facilities: souvenir shop, pit toilets, picnic areas in Sequoia National Forest
  • Activities: Guided tours and Picnics
  • Accessibility: Drive-in only with a guided tour

Boyden Cavern is a 3.2-mile-long limestone cave designated national landmark in the Kings Canyon National Park.

These stunning Caves in Northern California were discovered by two brothers who were prospecting for Gold during the Gold Rush Era.

Boyden caverns are formed over millions of years by the flowing river’s slow erosion of marble rock. 

caverns in northern california

Take a guided tour which lasts for about 60 minutes, to witness and learn about the intricate passageways and a fantastic array of stalactites, stalagmites, and flow stones.

Learn about the natural underground waterfalls and pools, adding charm to the scene. Wear sturdy shoes since the steep entrance and the Cave has many slippery areas. 

Check for the private extended tours, which last about 2-4 hours and cost around $50 per person.

Boyden Cave is also home to several bat species. Townsend’s big-eared, Little Brown and Western Mastiff Bat may be there. You may also spot rats, lizards and rattlesnakes.



  • Entrance cost: For Pinnacles National Park: $30/car, $15/walk-in, valid for seven days
  • Facilities: Restrooms and Parking inside Pinnacles National Park
  • Activities: Guided tours, Cave expeditions, Hiking
  • Accessibility: Drive-in with a guided tour and Hike-in

Located inside the Pinnacles National Park at a 60-mile driving distance from Monterey, the Balconies Cave is one of the underrated Caves in Northern California.

The Balconies caves are Talus caves, formed by falling rocks due to natural activity several decades ago.

If you are driving to this Park, you should note that the West and East entrances of the Park need to be connected.

solution caves in california

So I recommend going around the Balconies Cliff trail and back up through the Cave via the Cave trail, and it is easier than going down through the Cave.

The trail is moderate and requires a bit of squatting. But it is worth it due to the spectacular views of the Pinnacle.

You will notice some giant boulder-filled gorges and impressive rock formations in the Balconies Cave, making this a popular hiking spot in the region.

Ensure to carry a flashlight as it gets pitch dark inside the Cave. The cave area will be open from 7:30 AM to 8 PM daily.


  • Entrance cost: Free for Park, For the Cave system: $12/adult for 17 to 54 years, $10 for Seniors above 55 years, and $ 6 for children aged 6 to 17
  • Facilities: Restrooms, Parking, Gift Shop
  • Activities: Guided tours, Cave expeditions, Hiking, Gold panning
  • Accessibility: Drive-in with a guided tour and Hike-in

One of the artificial Caves in Northern California, Gold Bug Park and Mine, are located in Placerville at a 50-minute driving distance from Sacramento.

The Gold Bug Park and Mine is an old mine from the Gold Rush Era, which was in operation during the 1800s. 

Today you can take a guided tour to explore the various passageways and chambers of the mine.

Get to know about life in a miner’s day and other valuable and interesting facts about the glorious 19th century. 

Take a tour of the Stamp Mill and Blacksmith shop. You can opt for the 30-minute self-guided audio walking tours that will help you understand the process of gold mining and gold panning.

Carry Jackets and Wear Layered Clothes with sturdy shoes. It gets pretty cool underneath the mine trail. You might spot some Turkeys waddling around the Park.


  • Entrance cost: Currently Temporarily closed
  • Facilities: Restrooms, Visitor Center, Museum
  • Activities: Guided tours, ASL tours and assisted listening devices
  • Accessibility: Drive-in only with a guided tour

One of the exciting caves in Northern California is the Crystal Caves, located inside the Sequoia National Park at the Sierra Nevada foothills.

There are around 200 marble caverns inside Sequoia National Park, and Crystal Cave is one among them, known for its stunningly beautiful rock formations and cave passageways.

Carved out of marble by a slow-moving underground river, Crystal Cave is filled with sparkling stalactites, stalagmites and other crystal formations of various shapes and sizes.

Take a guided tour to explore these caves, or rent an audio guide for a self-guided walking tour. The guided tour comes in different customized packages from 30 minutes to 6 hours.

Book tickets in advance; you cannot purchase any onsite or in the Park.

Check out the beautiful underwater large pool of crystal clear lake. The temperature inside the Cave is moderate, making it a great place to escape the summer heat.

Learn about the geology and history of the Cave, as well as appreciate the unique ecosystem that thrives within it.

Wear sturdy shoes since you must take a short steep hike to reach the Cave’s entrance.


  • Entrance cost: $80/adult, $40/ kid until 12 years old
  • Facilities: All necessary equipment for the guided tour
  • Activities: Guided Kayak tours
  • Accessibility: Kayak only with a guided tour

One of the most exciting and unique sea caves in Northern California is the Mendocino Sea Caves, located along the shoreline of one of the best Northern California Beach Towns, Mendocino.

Mendocino Sea Caves are a series of above and underwater caves carved out of the sandstone cliff formed over millions of years by the compression of sand and mud.

The Pacific heavily erodes the sandstone, resulting in gorgeous intricate and varied cave formations. The walls and ceilings of the Cave are smooth, and in some places, you can even find colourful algae-covered rocks.

Mendocino Sea Caves are a hot spot for kayakers and sea divers. 

You can opt for a guided kayak tour that goes through the deep passageways, and you will be provided with all necessary safety gear.

Enjoy the beauty of the stunning Mendocino shoreline, the rock gardens and the archways as you Kayak through one of the most beautiful Northern Ca Caves.


  • Entrance cost: Free
  • Facilities: Parking
  • Activities: sunbathing, beach combing, cave expeditions, tide pooling
  • Accessibility: Hike-in

One of Northern California’s incredible gems and beautiful caves is the Secret Cave of Seven Mile Beach, located in Santa Cruz.

Secret Cave of Seven Mile Beach is on the oh-not-so-popular list, but you should check out this place if you want a lovely weekend gateway in Santa Cruz.

The Cave is filled with natural rock formations, and the sounds of waves crashing against the cliffs is a treat to your ears.

Recommended – 25 Best Hikes In Santa Cruz For Outdoor Lovers

Appreciate the fantastic Pacific views inside the Cave and look for an impressive array of Marine life. You will find sea anemones, sea stars and jellyfish.

The hike to the Cave is quite tricky, and you must do a bit of rock scrambling through rough and craggy rocks. But once you reach there, you will get soaked in the beauty of this natural wonder.



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