There's a treasure buried in Virginia, deep in the lush and devastatingly beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Luray Caverns, a vast system of underground chambers formed by water erosion, is a must-visit destination for lovers of natural beauty. Every year, about half a million visitors head below ground to admire towering stalactites and stalagmites, dazzling mirror pools, and the Stalacpipe Organ — the world's largest musical instrument, from paved, well-lit walkways. As the largest cave complex in the Eastern United States, Luray Caverns is, indeed, a sight to behold.
The entrance into the caverns is in Luray, a fairly remote rural town just outside of Shenandoah National Park. There isn't a train or bus route to take you there, but Luray does have a fair share of affordable accommodations. If you're flying in, make Washington D.C. your destination and take the Virginia Breeze bus to Harrisonburg, VA. The university town is only 32 miles from the caverns, and you can take an Uber or taxicab to get there, though your best bet is to rent a car and drive yourself from D.C. to Luray. The trip is less than 100 miles, and you'll also have the option to explore more of Shenandoah Valley.
Pets are welcome at Luray Caverns on two conditions. First, they must always be on a leash, including while in the parking lot. Second, the caverns are a federally protected habitat, so pets are restricted from using the walkways.
You can only bring your little buddy along if you carry them through the protected underground areas. If your furry friend is too big, the facility has kennels where you can leave them while you tour the caverns for 1-2 hours.
Luray Caverns is open every day of the year — rain or shine, and you don't need a reservation to gain access. Even during the peak season, their tickets never sell out, and you can always buy them for the same price at the ticket counter as you can online. Likewise, free parking is plentiful, and the new step-free entrance means better accessibility for those with limited mobility.
Call the ticket office 2-3 weeks in advance for a group discount and to ensure the best possible experience.
The price of admission buys you more than just a tour through the caverns. It also includes entry to the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, an homage to the history of transportation. The collection features some of the oldest cars in the country, including an 1897 Mercedes-Benz still in operating condition. The Shenandoah Heritage Village, another attraction included with your ticket, is a seven-acre recreation of a 19th-century farming community. The historic buildings were relocated and restored to their original glory, with some operating as businesses like the Luray Valley Museum and Heartpine Cafe.
Even on the hottest days, the underground Luray Caverns remain at a cool 54 degrees Fahrenheit. That may sound chilly, but the high humidity and the 1.5-mile hike keep the temperature feeling closer to 65 degrees. If you're visiting in the summer, wear jeans and bring a sweater or light jacket. During the winter, be prepared to shed a layer or two.
During peak season, the demand to get inside the caverns gets pretty high. Be prepared to wait outside the entrance until your tour begins and to stay close to your group. Tours are designed to be highly efficient, giving everyone enough time to photograph and marvel at the stunning formations. You'll learn about the history of each section before getting whisked away to make room for the next group of tourists. Wear comfortable, non-slip shoes to stay on your feet and keep up with the party.
If your kids still have energy to burn, head for Toy Town Junction, a massive toy and train exhibit. The collection features an impressive display of vintage toys and is included with the price of admission. If you're more of the high-flying adventure type, get tickets to the Rope Adventure Park. This unique activity zone allows visitors to complete courses while suspended in the air by safety harnesses. The experience is a great confidence builder and bonding exercise for the family. If you prefer to stay on the ground, get lost in the twists and turns of The Garden Maze.
Once you've marveled at the magnificent underground chambers and giant mineral formations, step into the quaint warmth of the Luray Caverns Store. Like any genuine American roadside attraction, visitors exit the Luray Caverns through the gift shop. The authentic gift shop sells history books, handmade gifts, Virginia wines, and a decadent selection of locally produced jams, jellies, and butter.
The Luray Caverns are busiest when families can take time off to visit together. Spring break and early summer through early fall — when kids are out of school and on vacation with their parents, are peak seasons for cavern tourism. The low season, which runs from October to early spring, has smaller crowds, so you can enjoy a quieter visit with uncrowded walkways.
Tours begin each day at 9:00 AM year-round, and the line to get inside Luray Caverns grows longer as the day progresses. You may be able to have the chambers to yourself during the off-season, providing the perfect opportunity for some gorgeous photography. During peak season, however, you're more likely to experience crowding and see other visitors standing in your shot. Arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds, but rest assured that no matter what, your ticket is good for reentry all day.
Once you've discovered the buried treasure at Luray Caverns, set your sights on the historic Shenandoah Valley. This beautiful stretch of wilderness — once considered the American frontier — lies between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. History enthusiasts will appreciate exploring the preserved towns and museums and learning more about the region's role in the American Civil War. Then, hit the road and travel two of America's most beautiful and iconic routes: Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.