Discovered by miners in 1851, Moaning Caverns—the largest public cavern in California, and massive enough to hold the entire Statue of Liberty—was named for the spooky sounds that emanate from its entrance. Early visitors would climb into a large bucket and then be slowly lowered to the chamber’s floor. Nowadays, the cave-curious can take a staircase down to the higher of the two platforms in the main chamber, 65 feet underground, and then continue on to experience the Spiral Tour, descending a ten-story spiral staircase to a second platform at the base of the chamber. It’s here that you’ll see impressive stalagmites up to 14 feet long, delicate crystal “cauliflower” on the walls, and the “Mushroom Patch,” a red-tinted flowstone formation that “cascades” down much of the main chamber.
For thrill-seeking explorers not prone to bouts of claustrophobia (prepare to belly crawl), a 3-hour-plus Expedition Crawling and Spelunking Tour delves into the cave’s deepest burrows, roughly 280 feet below the floor of the main chamber. There are no lights or walkways along these passages; instead, make your way with a lighted hardhats as you crawl, wriggle, or lower yourself with a rope through the narrow passageways that have names like Meat Grinder, Pancake Squeeze, and Birth Canal. (Participants must be at least 12 years of age; tours are led by a trained guide.)
Visitors can also pan for gemstones at the park’s aboveground sluice—kids can get a feel for what it was like to be a Gold Rush prospector and go home with some souvenirs (everyone’s guaranteed to find something). If you’d rather pick and choose what kind of treasure you take home, the gift shop has a wide array of minerals, fossils, and rocks from around the world.
Know before you go: Though it was an option as recently as 2019, rappelling into the caverns via its original entrance is no longer offered.