Colorado is a state known for its breathtaking natural beauty, and one of its most unique features is its diverse range of caves. Caving, also known as spelunking, is a thrilling activity that allows you to explore the depths of these underground wonders. If you’re an adventure seeker looking to try something new, or simply want to marvel at the wonders of nature, then caving in Colorado is an experience you won’t want to miss.
Colorado’s caves are as diverse as they are stunning. From the expansive underground chambers of Glenwood Caverns to the narrow passages of Fairy Caves, each cave offers its own unique challenges and rewards. Whether you’re a seasoned caver or a beginner, there’s a cave in Colorado that’s perfect for you.
But caving isn’t just about exploring the beauty of these underground worlds. It’s also an opportunity to challenge yourself physically and mentally. Caving requires strength, endurance, and a willingness to push your limits. It’s a chance to step outside your comfort zone and discover what you’re truly capable of.
Of course, caving also requires careful planning and attention to safety. Before embarking on a caving trip, it’s essential to research the cave you want to explore, pack appropriate gear, and plan for emergencies. By taking these precautions, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable caving experience.
In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about caving in Colorado. From the history of caving in the state to the best caves to explore, we’ll cover all the essential information to help you plan your next adventure.
We’ll also provide tips for staying safe while caving and a comprehensive list of gear you’ll need for your trip. So, whether you’re a first-time caver or a seasoned pro, read on to discover the wonders of caving in Colorado.
History of Caving in Colorado
Colorado has a rich history of caving, with many caves having been explored for centuries. The Ute and other Native American tribes used caves in the area for shelter and as sacred spaces.
In the 19th century, explorers and miners began to discover and explore many of Colorado’s caves, often searching for valuable minerals such as silver and gold. One of the most famous caves in Colorado, the Cave of the Winds, was discovered by a miner in the 1880s.
During the early 20th century, caving became a popular recreational activity, and many caving clubs and organizations were formed. One of the oldest and most respected caving organizations in the United States, the Colorado Cave Survey, was founded in 1949 and has been instrumental in exploring and mapping many of Colorado’s caves.
Today, caving is a popular activity for adventurers and nature enthusiasts in Colorado. The state is home to many beautiful and unique caves, each with their own distinct features and challenges. Cavers can explore underground rivers, underground lakes, and intricate rock formations, while also learning about the geology and history of the area.
Colorado’s caving community is also committed to preserving the state’s caves and the wildlife that lives within them. Many caves are closed during certain times of the year to protect bat populations, which are vulnerable to disease. Cavers also take precautions to prevent damage to cave formations and to minimize their impact on the environment.
Caving vs. Spelunking
Caving and spelunking are often used interchangeably, but they do have some differences. The former, caving typically involves exploring wild caves, while spelunking usually involves exploring caves that have been developed for tourism.
Cavers often have more advanced skills and equipment than spelunkers, who typically just need a helmet and a flashlight.
Best Caves to Explore in Colorado
Colorado has over 1,000 known caves, but not all of them are open to the public. Here are some of the best caves in Colorado that you can explore:
1. Glenwood Caverns
Glenwood Caverns, located in Glenwood Springs, is a popular cave system that offers a variety of tours and activities for visitors. The cave system features many unique formations, including cave bacon, cave popcorn, and flowstone.
Visitors can take a walking tour of the caves, ride an underground tram, or even try their hand at gemstone panning. In addition to the caves, Glenwood Caverns also has a variety of thrill rides and attractions, making it a fun destination for the whole family.
2. Cave of the Winds
Cave of the Winds, located near Manitou Springs, is one of the most famous caves in Colorado. The cave system features many beautiful formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, and draperies.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the caves or try their hand at adventure caving, which involves crawling and climbing through narrow passageways. In addition to the caves, Cave of the Winds also has a variety of outdoor activities, including a zip line and a ropes course.
3. Fairy Caves
Fairy Caves, located in Glenwood Springs, is a smaller cave system that features some of the most beautiful cave formations in Colorado. The cave system was first discovered in the 1890s and was opened to the public in the 1900s.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the caves and see unique formations such as cave bacon, soda straws, and helictites. Fairy Caves is also home to the famous King’s Row formation, which is considered one of the most beautiful cave formations in the world.
4. Fulford Cave
Fulford Cave, located near Eagle, is a challenging cave system that requires advanced caving skills to explore. The cave system features narrow passageways, deep pits, and underground waterfalls. Visitors can explore the cave system on their own or with a guide, but should only attempt the cave if they have proper training and experience.
5. Rifle Falls Cave
Rifle Falls Cave, located in Rifle Falls State Park, is a small cave system that features a beautiful underground waterfall. Visitors can take a guided tour of the caves and see unique formations such as flowstone, stalactites, and stalagmites. The cave system is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bats and cave crickets.
6. Spring Cave
Spring Cave, located near Glenwood Springs, is a small cave system that features many unique formations, including cave popcorn and cave bacon. Visitors can take a guided tour of the caves or explore on their own. The cave system is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bats and salamanders.
7. Lehman Cave
Lehman Cave, located in Great Basin National Park, is one of the most beautiful caves in the United States. The cave system features many unique formations, including helictites, flowstone, and draperies. Visitors can take a guided tour of the caves and see unique formations such as the Parachute Shield and the Gothic Palace.
8. Orient Mine
Orient Mine, located near Fairplay, is a unique cave system that was once used for mining. The cave system features many unique formations, including cave crystals and underground lakes. Visitors can take a guided tour of the caves and learn about the history of the mine and the mining process. The cave system is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bats and cave crickets.
Each of these cave systems offers a unique caving experience for visitors to Colorado. Whether you are a seasoned caver or a first-time explorer, there is something for everyone in these beautiful and fascinating caves.
In Glenwood Caverns, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including cave tours, gemstone panning, and thrill rides. Cave of the Winds offers both guided tours and adventure caving, as well as outdoor activities like zip lining and a ropes course.
No matter which cave system you choose to explore, it’s important to remember to always follow proper safety protocols when caving. This includes wearing appropriate clothing and gear, bringing enough food and water, and making sure to inform someone of your plans before heading into the caves.
Many of the cave systems in Colorado also offer guided tours, which can be a great way to learn about the caves and ensure that you stay safe while exploring.
Gear You’ll Need for Caving In Colorado
Caving requires some specialized gear to ensure your safety and comfort. Here are some of the essential items you’ll need:
A good quality helmet is a must-have for caving. It will protect your head from bumps, falls, and rock falls. Look for a helmet that fits well, has a chinstrap, and has enough ventilation to keep you cool during your underground adventure.
A reliable headlamp is essential for caving since caves are dark and often have no natural light sources. Look for a headlamp with an adjustable beam, high lumens, and a long battery life. You may also want to bring a spare set of batteries.
Caves can be cold and wet, so dressing appropriately is crucial. Wear moisture-wicking base layers that will keep you dry and warm. Avoid cotton, as it takes a long time to dry and can make you feel cold and uncomfortable. Opt for synthetic or wool materials instead.
It’s also a good idea to wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect your skin from scratches and abrasions.
A good pair of gloves will protect your hands from cuts, scrapes, and other injuries. Look for gloves that are made from sturdy materials, such as leather or synthetic materials, and that fit snugly without restricting your movement.
Caving boots should be sturdy, waterproof, and have good traction. Look for boots with a high ankle to protect your ankles and provide support. It’s also important to make sure that your boots fit well and that you break them in before your caving trip.
A backpack is necessary to carry all of your caving gear. Look for a backpack that is durable, waterproof, and has enough space to hold all of your gear. You may also want to choose a backpack with a waist belt to help distribute the weight of your gear evenly.
7. Food and Water
It’s important to stay hydrated and fueled during your caving adventure. Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to keep your energy levels up. It’s also a good idea to pack a small first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, and other essentials.
8. Other Gear
Other gear that you may want to bring on your caving trip includes a map, compass, and a GPS device to help navigate your way through the cave. You may also want to bring a whistle to signal for help in case of an emergency, a camera to capture your adventure, and a small towel to wipe off any dirt or sweat.
Safety Measures for Caving
Caving can be a dangerous activity, so it’s important to take safety seriously. Here are some safety measures you should take when caving:
1. Research and Planning
Before you go caving, it’s essential to do your research and plan ahead. Research the cave you want to explore, its level of difficulty, and any potential hazards or challenges.
Check weather conditions and make sure you have appropriate clothing and gear. It’s also important to let someone know where you’re going, when you plan to return, and who to contact in case of an emergency.
2. Caving with a Partner
It’s always recommended to explore caves with a partner or a group. Not only is it more fun to share the adventure, but it also provides an extra layer of safety. If something goes wrong, your partner can assist you or seek help.
3. Stay on Marked Trails
Caves can be complex and confusing, and it’s easy to get lost or disoriented. Always stay on marked trails and avoid venturing into unexplored areas or off-trail paths. Respect any signs, barriers, or warnings, and do not remove any artifacts or disturb the cave’s natural environment.
4. Watch Your Step
Caves can be slippery and treacherous, so it’s essential to watch your step and be aware of your surroundings. Be careful when walking on wet or uneven surfaces, and use your hands to support yourself when needed. Take your time and move slowly and deliberately, especially when navigating steep or narrow passages.
5. Communication and Navigation
Communication and navigation are crucial in caves. Bring a map, compass, or GPS device and know how to use them. Agree on a communication plan with your partner or group, and determine what signals you’ll use in case of an emergency. Carry a whistle and use it to signal for help if needed.
6. First Aid Kit
A small first aid kit is essential when caving. Pack bandages, antiseptic, pain relievers, and other essentials. Be prepared to treat minor injuries or seek help for more severe ones.
7. Emergency Plan
In case of an emergency, it’s essential to have a plan in place. Know where the nearest exit or safe location is, and how to get there. Have a plan to call for help, and be prepared to wait until rescuers arrive. Remember that self-rescue is always the best option if possible.
Etiquette in Caving
Caving etiquette is important to ensure that caves are preserved for future generations. Here are some etiquette rules you should follow when caving:
- Stay on designated trails and avoid disturbing cave formations. Touching cave formations can cause irreparable damage.
- Don’t leave anything behind. Pack out all of your trash and leave the cave exactly as you found it.
- Respect wildlife. Many caves are home to bats and other wildlife, so it’s important to avoid disturbing them.
- Follow all posted rules and regulations. Many caves have specific rules and regulations to protect the cave and its inhabitants.
- Be respectful of other cavers. Avoid making loud noises or disturbing others while exploring the cave.
Caving with Kids
Caving can be a fun and educational activity for kids, but it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure their safety. Here are some tips for caving with kids:
- Choose an appropriate cave. Some caves may be too difficult or dangerous for young children.
- Make sure everyone has appropriate gear, including helmets and headlamps.
- Keep an eye on your kids at all times. Don’t let them wander off alone or touch cave formations.
- Bring extra snacks, water, and clothing in case of emergencies.
- Make sure your kids understand and follow all safety rules.
Common Caving Techniques and Terms
Caving involves a variety of techniques and terms that may be unfamiliar to beginners. Here are some common techniques and terms you should know:
- Rappelling: a technique for descending vertical drops using a rope and rappelling device.
- Ascending: a technique for ascending vertical drops using ascenders and a rope.
- Cave crawling: moving through tight spaces on your hands and knees.
- Pit: a vertical drop in a cave.
- Passage: a narrow or low section of a cave.
- Stalactite: a formation that hangs from the ceiling of a cave.
- Stalagmite: a formation that rises from the floor of a cave.
Environmental Impact of Caving
Caving can have an impact on the environment, especially if proper precautions are not taken. Here are some ways that caving can impact the environment:
- Damage to cave formations: Touching or bumping cave formations can cause irreparable damage.
- Disturbance of wildlife: Caves are often home to bats and other wildlife, and caving can disturb their habitats.
- Pollution: Leaving trash or other items behind in the cave can pollute the cave and the surrounding environment.
It’s important to take steps to minimize the environmental impact of caving. Always follow posted rules and regulations, pack out all of your trash, and avoid touching cave formations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Is caving dangerous?
- Caving can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. It’s important to have appropriate gear and to follow all safety rules.
- Do I need to be in good physical shape to go caving?
- Caving can be physically demanding, so it’s important to be in good physical shape. However, there are caves that are suitable for beginners and those with less physical ability.
- Can I go caving alone?
- It’s not recommended to go caving alone. Always go with at least one other person, and make sure someone knows where you are and when you plan to return.
- What should I do if I get lost in a cave?
- If you get lost in a cave, stay calm and try to retrace your steps. If you’re unable to find your way out, stay put and wait for rescue.
- What should I wear when caving?
- You should wear appropriate clothing that can get dirty and wet, such as long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes or boots with good traction. You should also wear a helmet and bring a headlamp or other reliable light source.
- Can I bring my camera into the cave?
- It depends on the specific cave and its rules. Some caves may allow photography, while others may not.
Caving can be an exciting and adventurous activity, but it’s important to take proper precautions to ensure your safety and the preservation of the cave. Always follow posted rules and regulations, wear appropriate gear, and respect the environment and wildlife.
With the right preparation and knowledge, caving can be a thrilling and memorable experience for all.