A Cross Country Tour of Mind-Blowing Tourist Caves

One of the most stunning — albeit weird — examples of design in nature, tourist caves are a fascinating hybrid of kitschy roadside Americana and wondrous natural splendor. These unconventional attractions combine things like stalagtite ballrooms and underground wedding chapels with faux-Tudor architecture, patriotic son-et-lumière shows and awesome retro View-Masters for stereoscopic sightseeing that beat anything James Cameron could ever do.

We first discovered this subgenre of odd tourist destinations in the The Center for Land Use Interpretation’s comprehensive online database. A self-proclaimed “research and education organization interested in understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the earth’s surface,” or, in layman’s terms, an offbeat cultural CIA tracking the many wacky things we humans put on this earth, CLUI is our newest learned obsession.

Starting with Howe Caverns, New York’s second-most-visited natural attraction, complete with a guided boat tour on an underground lake, and ending with a cave in New Mexico that’s famous for its bat amphitheater, we invite you to take a minute out of your day and join us on a virtual trip across our great nation to check out some of the most original natural design inspiration we’ve ever seen. Then (because we’re dying to know more), tell us about any real-world cave experiences you’ve had in the comments below!

Howe Caverns — Howes Cave, New York

Image credit: The Center for Land Use Interpretation; Howe Caverns