Spring is here, and you know what that means. It’s time to start migrating out of our homes and make our blissful return to the great outdoors. While New Jersey has many natural wonders to take advantage of (including, but not limited to, beaches, tulip farms, and a literal volcano) there’s no better way to enjoy the magic of the changing season than to visit one of the area’s natural caves. Each with their own history, legends, and adventurous opportunities, these underground dwellings will excite interest in amateurs and spelunkers alike. With that said, here are seven mystical natural caves in (and near) New Jersey to awaken your inner explorer this spring.
1. Crooked Swamp Cave – Lafayette Township, NJ
Composed of eight sections and passages totaling 1,250 feet, this Lafayette cave is the longest in the state. Along with the impressive title, Crooked Swamp Cave resides in a much larger wildlife preserve and marsh complex. Keep an eye out for endangered bog turtles, blue herons, and colorful longtail salamanders during your trip. Also one of the more ambitious options on our list, Crooked Swamp Cave can only be entered via a guided tour with the New Jersey Cave Conservancy in accordance with safety standards.
2. Lost River Caverns – Hellertown, PA
Located in the Lehigh Valley, the Lost River Caverns have an endlessly interesting history. Prior to becoming a commercial cave, this limestone formation has been used as a ballroom, a site for fraternity ceremonies, a chapel, and a hideaway for Prohibition-era bootlegs. Now, this marvel is open as a commercial cave for tours every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From their expansively paved, well-lit walkways, any novice can admire the cave’s stunning crystal formations with ease. Due to COVID precautions, tours must be scheduled by reservation.
3. Fairy Hole Cave – Warren County, NJ
Jenny Jump State Forest joins the long list of Jersey landmarks shrouded in paranormal stories and chilling legends. Fairy Hole Cave, situated at the edge of the forest’s eerie Ghost Lake, is no exception. When artifacts were found there in the 1930s, it was determined that the cave was once a sacred site for the Lenni Lenape. Today, rumor has it that you can still hear the haunting, disembodied whispers of Lenni Lenape spirits. Though not for the faint of heart, braving Fairy Hole will reward you with scenic views of the glacially-formed region.
4. Laurel Caverns – Farmington, PA
At over 16,000 feet of passages, this sandstone cave is the largest in Pennsylvania, divided into two specific sections. The lower–composed of complex watercourses and unaltered, unlit terrain–offers guided expeditions for thrill-seeking cavers in a typical tourist season. The upper, which is paved, colorfully lit and consists of grid-like passages, is currently open for guided and solo tours this spring. Attractions include Gravity Hill, Laurel Caverns’ natural optical illusion caused by the steep contours of cave passages. Following your tour, the cave’s lookout off the back deck provides equally beautiful views of the Chestnut Ridge landscape.
5. Marble Ice Cave – Phillipsburg, NJ
This humble cave, situated along the Warren-Highlands trail, is the perfect activity for the hesitant natural explorer. Journeying to this site begins with a hike suitable for all skill levels, on which you can appreciate riverside views, lush terrain, and ample bird-watching opportunities. Once you reach the cave, however, its uncommonly formed geology will steal the show. On chillier days, you can even behold the surreal, crystal-like ice formations that give the cave its name. Nonetheless, the trek to Marble Ice Cave itself makes for an afternoon of peaceful outdoor fun.
6. Howe Caverns – Howes Cave, NY
After Niagara Falls, the immensely popular Howe Caverns are the second most visited natural attraction in New York State. Scientists believe the cave system began forming a whopping six million years ago, when the Eastern part of the state was still a part of the Atlantic Ocean. A tour of this prehistoric cavern begins with an elevator journey 156 feet down into the earth. From here, a 90-minute walking tour and boat tour of Lake Venus provide enchanting views of the cave’s rare limestone formations. Reopening May 14th, Howe Caverns is open Wednesday through Sunday by reservation only.
7. Beaver Valley Cave – New Castle County, DE
This little enclosure outside Wilmington is a mere 56 feet long. But what Beaver Valley Cave lacks in size, it makes up for in cultural and historical significance. Despite residing only 100 feet from the Pennsylvania border, this site is celebrated as Delaware’s one and only cave. It also famously sheltered traveling Native Americans, and legend states it was once home to British deserters during the Revolution. However, the cave’s real claim to fame is its role in “Dead Poets Society,” acting as the inspiration for the beloved film’s group meeting place.
Bonus: Sybil’s Cave Park – Hoboken, NJ
Though manmade, this destination is ideal for the budding Hoboken historian. Sybil’s Cave was excavated in the 1830s by the Stevens family to reach a natural spring within. After attaching a gothic-style entrance, the spot became a bustling tourist site. Sybil Park was home to one of the country’s first murder mysteries when a young woman’s body was discovered there in the 1840s. This tragedy soon after provided the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and increased tourism further. Following its closure in the 1880s, the cave entrance reopened for tours in 2010.
Know of any other natural caves near New Jersey? Let us know in the comments below.