Best Cave (2016)


Pick a place in the United States, and chances are you're not far from a beautiful and accessible cave or cavern. For the past month, USA TODAY 10Best readers have been voting for their favorite American caves from a pool of 20 nominees scattered from coast to coast. Voting has ended, and the winners are in!

  • Kartchner Caverns

    Kartchner Caverns
    Benson, Ariz.

    Discovered in 1974, Kartchner Caverns is a 'live' cave where the glistening formations continue to grow and evolve. Highlights within the caverns include a 21-foot soda straw stalactite (one of the world's longest), a 58-foot column called the Kubla Khan and the most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk on the planet.
    Photo courtesy of AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Christine Keith

  • Niagara Cave

    Niagara Cave
    Harmony, Minn.

    Water from an underground stream sculpted the passages of Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minn. A cave tour takes guests a mile beneath the Earth's surface, where highlights include a subterranean waterfall, 450 million year old fossils and even an underground wedding chapel!
    Photo courtesy of Bruce Guenter / Flickr

  • Fantastic Caverns

    Fantastic Caverns
    Springfield, Mo.

    Fantastic Caverns near Springfield, Mo. are the nation's only ride-through cave. Visitors board Jeep-drawn trams for a subterranean tour through the cave, where the names of the original 12 female explorers, carved into the cave walls in 1867, can still be seen.
    Photo courtesy of Fantastic Caverns

  • Blanchard Springs Caverns

    Blanchard Springs Caverns
    Mountain View, Ark.

    Visitors to Blanchard Springs Caverns near Mountain View, Ark. will see that the cave is very much 'alive.' Dripping water continues to this day to add mineral deposits to the stalactites, stalagmites, columns and flowstones that make this cave so spectacular. Blanchard Springs Caverns offers both paved and undeveloped trails, allowing guests to choose their level of adventure.
    Photo courtesy of Ozark-St. Francis National Forests

  • The Lost Sea

    The Lost Sea
    Sweetwater, Tenn.

    Located in Sweetwater, Tenn., The Lost Sea is the largest underground lake in the United States, part of the larger Craighead Caverns cave system. A guided tour of the cave includes a three-quarter-mile walk through the caverns, followed by a glass-bottom boat trip across the 4-acre underground lake.
    Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer / Flickr

  • Ruby Falls

    Ruby Falls
    Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Located 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tenn., Ruby Falls is the largest and deepest waterfall open to the public in the United States. This 145-foot cascade overshadows the impressive assortment of formations found elsewhere in the Lookout Mountain Cave.
    Photo courtesy of Ruby Falls

  • DeSoto Caverns

    DeSoto Caverns
    Childersburg, Ala.

    Located in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, DeSoto Caverns has a main chamber 12 stories high and larger than a football field. Rock formations within the caverns are actively growing and include one of the world's largest accumulations of onyx-marble stalagmites and stalactites. If the cave itself isn't enough of a draw, the DeSoto Caverns Family Fun Park also includes a maze, mini golf, bumper cars, a climbing wall and several other attractions and activities.
    Photo courtesy of DeSoto Caverns Family Fun Park

  • Carlsbad Caverns

    Carlsbad Caverns
    Carlsbad, N.M.

    Upon arrival at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, visitors board an elevator which carries them 75 stories beneath the ground into the park's network of 119 limestone caves. Carlsbad Cavern itself, the most famous of the caves, features a space called the Big Room that covers the area of 14 football fields with a 255-foot ceiling.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Mammoth Cave

    Mammoth Cave
    Mammoth Cave, Ky.

    With more than 400 miles of explored passages, Mammoth Cave National Park protects the world's longest known cave system. Themed cave tours take visitors into various portions of the cave, some paved and easily navigated and others undeveloped and more challenging.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Glenwood Caverns

    Glenwood Caverns
    Glenwood Springs, Colo.

    The subterranean landscape of Glenwood Caverns was millions of years in the making. Today, visitors to this living cavern can marvel at thousands of formations, including the most decorated cave room in the state. Fascinating formations include flowstone, cave bacon, soda straws and the usual stalactites and stalagmites.


    Photo courtesy of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

The top 10 winners in the category Best Cave are as follows:

  1. Kartchner Caverns - Benson, Ariz.
  2. Niagara Cave - Harmony, Minn.
  3. Fantastic Caverns - Springfield, Mo.
  4. Blanchard Springs Caverns - Mountain View, Ark.
  5. The Lost Sea - Sweetwater, Tenn.
  6. Ruby Falls - Chattanooga, Tenn.
  7. DeSoto Caverns - Childersburg, Ala.
  8. Carlsbad Caverns - Carlsbad, N.M.
  9. Mammoth Cave - Mammoth Cave, Ky.
  10. Glenwood Caverns - Glenwood Springs, Colo.

Besides our winners, the following caves were also nominated: Ape Cave in Cougar, Wash.; Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, Ala.; Caverns of Sonora in Sonora, Texas; Jewel Cave in Custer, S.D.; Longhorn Cavern in Burnet, Texas; Luray Caverns in Luray, Va.; Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Mo.; Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio; Penn's Cave in Centre Hall, Penn. and Wind Cave in Hot Springs, S.D.

Keep this list handy when planning your summer travels around the nation, and congratulations to all our winning caves!

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