Saturday, June 27, 2020

How to Visit Luray Caverns with Kids: Tips and Tricks

I've been to my fair share of caverns, all over the United States and beyond. So I was pretty sure I knew what I'd be getting into when I visited Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia, with my husband and two kids. As it turns out, this attraction is so much grander and awe-inspiring than I imagined, and everyone in my family had a fantastic time. It's easily the best cavern I've ever visited.

Luray bills itself as the largest cavern in the eastern United States  and it certainly feels that way, at 10 stories high and covering 64 acres. There's a chamber that's the size of a ballroom (and you can, in fact, rent it out for weddings and parties). The immenseness of the space makes it feel less like a cavern and more like another planet, with otherworldly formations and colors. Here are my tips and tricks for enjoying a visit with your family.

Brush up on your cavern vocab

Prior to visiting the cavern, I recommend giving your kids a basic lesson on the differences between stalactites and stalagmites, and how they form  there are tons of YouTube videos on this topic. Just a bit of information goes a long way to enhancing their enjoyment and interest in what they'll be seeing.

My kids began oohing and ahhing as soon as we began our visit. My 9-year-old had been bracing himself for boring guided tour and was delighted to find out that our tour was to be self-guided, with a pamphlet highlighting some of the major attractions in the cavern. He asked a lot of questions about the formations (how long does it take for a stalactite to grow?) and we were able to get answers from the guides stationed throughout the cavern (about 150 years for every cubic inch!).

Give your kid a camera

Once inside the cavern, my 11-year-old daughter immediately commandeered my husband's phone to take photos of everything. Each attraction was more interesting than the next. By the end of our self-guided tour, she'd taken over a hundred pictures. Many of the photos in this post were taken by her!

As I mentioned, I've been to my share of caverns, and some of those tours can be a little cheesy. Guides shine flashlights at formations that resemble Snoopy, and or ask if you can find the stalagmite that looks like an ice cream cone. But there was nothing cheesy about Luray. The attractions are on another level, mostly because they're just so grand, but also because some of them are so unusual.

Check out these must-see wonders

So many of Luray's major wonders are readily appealing to kids. By far the coolest one was Dream Lake, an optical illusion that features a shallow lake which creates a mirror image of the ceiling. It looks like there are stalagmites growing out of the ground, but in fact it's just a pool of water, no more than 20 inches deep, reflecting the stalactites above.

The largest and oldest formation in the cavern uncannily resembles the base of a giant redwood tree. Astonishingly, it's estimated to be 7 million years old!

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's largest instrument can be found in Luray Caverns, and it's called the Great Stalacpipe Organ. Basically, some of the cavern's stalactites are rigged with rubber-tipped mallets, and when a key of a special electronic organ is pressed, it causes the mallet to strike the corresponding stalactite and produce a note with the vibrations. It's a good idea to have your kids watch this video before visiting so they can get a handle on the concept! A demonstration of the organ is given with each tour.

Many attractions discourage tourists from throwing coins into their fountains and pools, but Luray urges you to do this at a pool of water dubbed the wishing well. The money is collected and donated to causes that are posted over the well. Of course, our kids lingered at this sight, emptying our wallets of all our change. 

And one of the final wonders in the cavern is a formation that resembles fried eggs. I tend to these comparisons cheesy at other caverns, but here the resemblance is eerie! We all stared and stared at these two stalagmites that were accidentally sheared and have been rubbed smooth by visitors over the years.

Visit the other on-site attractions

Luray is home to several other kid-friendly things to do, including an old-fashioned toy museum, a rope adventure park, a garden maze, and a gem sluice. We didn't have time to check out these additional attractions, but they seem like a great way to extend your visit!

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