Underground caverns and boxwood mazes in the Shenendoah
It was formed 400,000 million years ago.
It was discovered 136 years ago.
Scientists from the Smithsonian felt compelled to write that “there is probably no other cave in the world more completely and profusely decorated with stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation than Luray Caverns."
(Photo source: Luray Caverns)
Growing up in early 70's in the DC area, I remember the uber-kitschy TV commercials for Luray Caverns with its groovy rainbow colored lights, the world famous stalactite organ (the world's largest musical instrument) and the rock formations that looked like fried eggs.
Fast forward to our Wandering Weekend visit this week (with our awesome cousin Steed in tow) to the Shenendoah Valley to rediscover a new side of the amazing Luray Caverns. Gone are the cheesy rainbow lights, now replaced by natural lighting. After all, nature, over millions of years, made the caverns gorgeous unto themselves; they don't need any extra help. The National Park Service and the Department of Interior has even designated Luray Caverns a Registered Natural Landmark. From a small entrance in the gift shop, you take a long staircased into the cavern. It is like entering a whole new mystical underground planet.
"Guided tours along well-lighted, paved walkways lead visitors through cathedral-sized rooms with ceilings 10-stories high, towering stone formations, and natural wonders at every turn. In the caverns you'll experience mother nature at its best." (Luray Caverns)
I know what you are thinking... "That place is a tourist trap!" And it is... albeit a gorgeous, "one of a kind" tourist trap. And well worth the 2 hour easy drive from Richmond if you have never been. Your kids will think it is super cool (literally and figuratively)! (On a side note, they have a fun audio tour for kids that takes them on a sort of scavanger hunt though the caverns. Highly recommend these headphones for the tour!) Once done in the caverns, there is plenty more to do. They have a Historic Car Museum (which impressed my car obsessed husband and nehew) , and a newer Luray Valley Museum which shows what life was like for our early settlers in Luray. The kids had fun mining for gems there and seeing all of the exhibits on settler life. Be sure to save time to visit historic downtown Luray for an ice cream cone at The Sugar Shack and to stop in at their many antique stores.
One last thing we did there was almost as much fun as the caverns: The GARDEN MAZE! Spanning over one acre, this is the largest hedge maze in the Mid-Atlantic containing eight foot tall hedges with over 40 divergent points, hidden tunnels and a lookout tower. We split into two teams to see who could finish first. Part of the maze challenge is to locate 4 "goal" points to stamp a card they give you. Once you find all four goals, it reveals a secret message that is the theme of the maze. It is easy to get turned around in the maze, and they also fool you with some trick signage. Have no fear though, if you get lost, you can open up hinged signs to reveal clues as to how to get out. (Happy to say that Steed, Caden and "moi" won! See pics below.) A-maze-ing fun! (http://www.thegardenmaze.com)
TIPS for Luray Caverns, plus other attractions:
-- Bring your Martins or Giant Food loyalty card as it gets you 50% off every second ticket! (Read about this on YELP and it really helped! I am always looking for bargains.)
-- Bring fleeces for the kids as the cavern temps are consistently damp and a consistent 54 degrees.
-- If possible, avoid summer weekends -- as they get huge summer crowds. We have been twice now, once in the Fall and it was empty (aka PERECT!) and once on Sunday of the 4th of July weekend. (It was crowded but not stifling. However, we were told the day before was crazy crowded.)
-- To get the full experience -- buy the audio tour headphones. They have an adult version and a kid version. They have guides stationed around the caverns but the audio tours give so much more interesting info.)
-- If you want to make a longer day or weekend out of it:
The Minsland Inn in Luray gets great reviews on Trip Advisor. Recently reopened, the warmth and charm of the Mimslyn have been welcoming guests since 1931. (http://www.mimslyninn.com/).
There is some amazing hiking all around Luray. Check out the Stony Man Mountain Hike. This is a great little hike- not too long, about 2 miles round trip and okay for beginners. The view at the top is supposedly spectacular! (http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/StonyMan/)
Check out the Luray Zoo. It is home to over 250 animals, and is the only true rescue zoo in Virginia! (Love that!) The zoo is privately owned and receives animals that are retired zoo animals, unwanted pets, confiscations, and sadly occasionally abused animals. Luray Zoo offers one of the largest venomous snake collections on the east coast, outside exhibits, as well as a petting zoo. During the summer the zoo offers daily educational shows that are included in admission price. (http://lurayzoo.com/)
For my DC friends. Luray is a great weekend adventure for you all too!