Colorado is known for its soaring mountains, but the state also has a remarkable underworld of wonder and beauty – caves, mines, and steam caves.
These subterranean lairs, right under your feet, are great places to visit, whether you’re out for an afternoon of fun, hosting foreign guests, or playing tourist for a day.
Here are some family-friendly options:
Cave of the Winds – Manitou Springs, Colorado
One of Colorado’s oldest tourist attractions first offered public tours of Cave of the Winds in 1881. Cost: $1.
Many things have changed since then. The cave is now called Cave of the Winds Mountain Park and although the cave is still the main attraction, thrilling rides and experiences have been added to the park.
The cave, a Colorado gem, began forming 500 million years ago. The water flowing over the limestone resulted in the formation of stalactites from the ceilings and stalagmites which grow from the floor of the cave. These formations are well protected. It takes 800 to 1,000 years for these formations to grow an inch.
The cave offers many geological wonders, formations that look like popcorn, sea coral, straws and needle-like structures. There is also flowstone, which the cave calls “Colorado Bacon” and rare helictites, formations that resemble worms. Tours are led by a guide.
Outside the cave, there are other delights to see: a Wind Walker Challenge course, a Cliffhanger climbing wall and a zipline named “terror-dactyl”.
One must reserve.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park – Glenwood Springs, Colorado
The historic Fairy Caves became a tourist destination in the 1890s after Charles W. Darrow, a Glenwood Springs lawyer, and his family settled atop Iron Mountain.
When the Fairy Caves were opened to the public, visitors could get there by walking a trail, riding a horse or donkey, or taking a horse-drawn carriage. These days a gondola takes you to the top of the mountain.
The cave was one of the first caves in the United States to have electric lighting installed.
The Fairy Cave Tour is a 40 minute guided walking tour, a quarter mile underground walk. Along the way, you’ll see spectacular formations that look like popcorn and pouring stone and a subaquatic (formed under water) calcite ceiling. Visitors can also travel 150 feet from the surface into King’s Row Cave, also a 40-minute guided walking tour.
The adventure park also includes a theme park atop the 7,100-foot mountain, featuring thrill rides: a giant canyon swing, an alpine rollercoaster, a zipline and more.
Summer rides and attractions are open May 6 through October 30 and tickets are required.
Glenwood Hot Springs Steam Caves – Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Native Americans first used underground steam caves, which provide naturally therapeutic steamfor healing and rituals.
These Yampah Spa and Vapor caves, originally used by members of the Ute tribe, are one of the few vapor caves in North America that offer vapor naturally.
The steam comes from the Yampah Spring, the same water source that fills the Historic Glenwood Hot Springs pool. Temperatures inside the cave range from 110 to 112 degrees.
The cave has dim lighting and the rooms are lined with marble benches where visitors can sit, relax and inhale the fumes. Water contains 34 minerals, including sulfate, nitrate, zinc and potassium.
One must reserve.
Mollie Kathleen Mine – Cripple Creek, Colorado
Named after the woman who discovered the minethe Mollie Kathleen Mine was one of the first claims to be minted by a woman, which was almost unheard of in the late 1800s.
A tour of the Mollie Kathleen begins in an elevator, an open ore bucket, which descends 1,000 feet underground. You’ll wear a helmet when touring the mine, discovered in 1891, and see mining artifacts and equipment and learn how mining techniques have been adapted over time.
The mine produced gold for decades at Cripple Creek, called the “world’s largest gold camp”. During the glory days of mining, from 1890 to 1910, more than 22 million ounces of gold – worth around $40 billion in today’s dollars (depending on the market) – were mined from the Cripple Creek and Victor mines.
Visitors to the mine learn what it was like to be a miner during the height of the Colorado Gold Rush.
One must reserve.
Ice Caves at Rifle Mountain Park – Rifle, Colorado
In winter, the ice caves at rifle mountain park are a sight to behold. Once you get to Rifle Mountain Park, look for the Kopers Trail and hike to four caves.
The caves are named Ice Palace, Soul on Ice, Stone Tree and The Final Curtain. The best time to see spectacular ice and icicle walls is from December to February. You will need warm clothes, hiking shoes and crampons to cross more easily on snow and ice.
The park, also one of Colorado’s top rock climbing spots, is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Day passes can be purchased at the park entrance.
Colorado Caving Options for Advanced Caver
Fulford Cave – Eagle, Colorado
Fulford Cave, about 15 miles southeast of Eagle, Colorado, is open April 16 through October 14. It’s free, although everyone who enters the cave must Register and decontaminate their clothing and equipment on entry and exit.
Geologist Ferdinand Hayden discovered the cave in 1874. It is one of hundreds of caves in Colorado and is named the eighth largest, according to the Exterior project.
The cave entrance is located a short distance away, just 0.7 miles from Fulford Cave Campground. The cave is completely dark. Be careful, the rocks inside the cave are wet and slippery. Never speleologist alone.
Groaning Cave – Garfield County, Colorado
The Groaning Cave is the longest cave in Colorado with nearly 15 miles of tunnels and is located in the White River National Forest in Garfield County.
According OutThereColoradothe Groaning Cave is one of the 60 longest caves in the country.
“Discovered in 1968, Groaning Cave has been attracting cavers to its caverns for decades. It is known for its intricate nature, sitting atop an incredible subalpine limestone canyon. Navigating the cave takes visitors through a number of domes, caverns and sections that need to be walked,” according to OutThereColorado.
The road to the cave is not maintained and usually opens after Memorial Day. The cave is closed from August 15 to April 15 for bat activity.
Spring Cave – Meeker, Colorado
The Spring Cave is in the White River National Forestabout 26 miles east of Meeker, Colorado, and is open April 16 through August 14. It is free to explore, although anyone who enters the cave must Register. Visitors are asked to decontaminate clothing and equipment before entering and after exiting to protect bats from white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated bat populations.
The cave is cut by a large underground river, the largest river inside a cave in Colorado. The cave also has several rooms, a lake, and caverns that are only visible by scuba diving. There are times when the river rises at the mouth of the cave, which means cavers will often get wet.
Both cave entrances are at the end of the Spring Cave Trail, a 0.6 mile trail that crosses the South Fork of the White River via a footbridge near the South Fork Campground. The trail, which has an elevation gain of 412 feet, passes through a stand of blue spruce, then aspen and scrub oak on its way up to Spring Cave. The trail makes several switchbacks before leveling off near the mouth of the cave, according to the US Forest Service. The trail is used for hiking and horseback riding and livestock may graze in the area.
The cave is closed from August 15 to April 15 due to white nose syndrome.