If I was to ask you what the signature attraction of Sequoia National Park is, chances are that you’d give me a funny look and say, “Giant Sequoias??!?!”. In some respects, you’d be justified in giving me that treatment, since the park is indeed named, Sequoia National Park. But, even though the park is named Sequoia National Park, and the Giant Sequoias are stunning, spectacular, and stupendous, the signature attraction to some people is not the trees, it is something secret that lies deep beneath the shallow roots of those gentle giants. That’s right: I am talking about caves. One of the little known facts about Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is that beneath the trees, and under all of the hiking trails, there is an extensive network of caves. According to the National Park Service, even if the Giant Sequoias didn’t exist, chances are that Sequoia and Kings Canyon would still be National Parks because of the caves. Think about that for a second: this is an area with amazing biodiversity both above ground and below ground, which is something that exists in few places around the world.
While Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have over two hundred discovered caves, the crown jewel and most accessible cave of the park system is Crystal Cave. Crystal Cave is a marble karst cave that contains over three miles of passages; and it is currently operated by the Sequoia Natural History Association, who assumed responsibility for control of the cave in 1982; prior to that point in time, it had been under the control of the National Park Service from 1918. For an in depth discussion of the cave’s geologic history with passage maps and other information, click here.
Directions: The Crystal Cave is located in the Southern region of Sequoia National Park off of the General’s Highway. There is a well-signed turnoff on both sides of the road for the Crystal Cave. In terms of proximity, the Crystal Cave road is closest to the Giant Forest portion of the park. Do note that the Crystal Cave road is a two-lane narrow road, and the cave is located at the very end of the road.
Tips: As the cave can only be accessed by guided tour only, you will want to have tickets before you drive down the road. It’s also good to know that the cave is only open from late spring (May) to mid-fall (late September, October). In terms of the best time to visit the cave/get tickets to visit the cave, you would be best served going early in the season or late in the season. During the high months – June, July, August, it is hard to get tickets for the tours. The best tip I can give you for getting tickets during the high months would be to purchase the tickets immediately when you enter the park at the Foothills entrance.
In terms of tours, all of the tours are great; and very informative. Do note that the cave is always 48 degrees, which is “cold” for some people, so dress accordingly! There is also a half mile walk downhill to the cave; and a half mile walk back uphill from the cave that is somewhat steep. However, on the plus side, there is no time limit to complete the walk back from the cave, so if you do feel that it is strenuous or steep, take your time, and enjoy the scenery around the cave – forests, waterfalls, and the views of Sequoia National Park. And, if you're wondering whether I'd recommend visiting the Crystal Cave, my answer is an unqualified "yes". This is a great way to introduce anyone to spelunking, and a great place to view one-of-a-kind geologic features.