Jamie and I "Escaped. Underground." yesterday as the motto goes at Seneca Caverns in Pendleton County, West Virginia. Growing up in this area, we'd both been on school field trips to the wildly popular Smokehole Caverns but we'd never been to Seneca Caverns so we knew little about what we were getting into. The trip from the cabins to Seneca Caverns takes a little under 40 minutes and took us across some of the prettiest 2 lane roads in WV. With the view at
the top of Allegheny Mountain, the colossal crag of Seneca Rocks and the rolling farms on Route 33, this is one of my favorite drives.
I discovered that while Seneca Caverns is a tour cave, it is absolutely not the only cave in the area. Germany Valley has over 100 known caves, dozens of which have been formally documented and mapped, making it one of the most concentrated location of caves in the United States. In 1973 the National Park Service made the valley a National Natural Landmark. Here are a few popular spelunker spots:
Stratosphere Balloon Cave is named for its 25 foot tall ribbon flowstone formation resembling a high altitude balloon. Hellhole has over 28 miles of passage making it the 11th longest cave in the US. It is also home to 45% of the world's population of Virginia big-eared bats. Schoolhouse Cave is known as a "vertical caver's paradise". Schoolhouse Cave was also mined for its saltpeter by the Union forces during the Civil War making it one of the oldest saltpeter mines in the state.
On arrival, we immediately noted how beautiful and well maintained their property was. They have a picnic & playground area, a gift shop and a great restaurant (the surprise of the trip). Tours leave at the top of every hour so we purchased our tickets, sat on the restaurant's deck and watched kids pan for gemstones at the property's gemstone mining flume.
Promptly at 3:00 our tour began as we donned our colorful hard hats and entered via an unassuming staircase into the mouth of the cavern. Our group of 30 or so was led by tour guide, Ron White. While he wasn't the famous comedian, he was a great guide; funny and informative. The hour long tour was around a quarter of a mile long and plunged 165 feet from entrance to exit. The path is very safe with handrails & treaded cement steps on every decent. I personally loved the cool temperatures of the cavern but you may want to bring a light jacket with you as it is 54 degrees year round here and dips into the 40s at the end of the tour near the underground spring.
The tour includes a history of the area, geology lessons and explanations of the various formations found throughout the cavern. This destination is great for anyone from couples to families.
TRAVEL TIP: If you are traveling to Seneca Caverns and do not plan to travel farther east on Rt 33 make sure you turn left out of Germany Valley.
Road and head east on 33 for 6 miles. This short drive up the mountain rewards you with a absolutely majestic view of the valley. It's well worth the extra few minutes of travel. This road is also the gateway to the towns of Franklin, Green Bank & Cass.
Contact Seneca Caverns:
Directions from cabins:
26.5 miles (less than 40 minutes) Take Rt 32 south into Harman. Turn onto 33 east, travelling over Allegheny Mountain, continue on 33 turning right at Seneca Rocks. Turn left onto Germany Valley Road and follow signs to Seneca Caverns. This route is well marked from start to finish crossing beautiful, winding, well-kept West Virginia 2 lane roads.
April 1st to Memorial Day (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
Memorial Day to Labor Day (closed Tuesdays)
Labor Day to October 31st (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
Hours - 10 to 5 (last tour leaves at 4)
Asbury's Restaurant Hours: 11am - 6pm (Saturdays, 11am - 7pm)
From Seneca Caverns' webpage:
The history of Seneca caverns is long, you could say it started over 460 million years ago. That's when the limestone bed where the Caverns formed was laid under an inland sea. Limestone is formed from the remains of shells from clams, coral and other shellfish, which settle on the bottom of the sea over time.
The first verifiable history of human contact with the cave was in the early 1400's when the Seneca Indians used the cave. The Caverns are located on a great Indian trading route through the Appalachian Mountains. Many tribes used this trading route but it was the Seneca Indians who lived here and used the cave for shelter, storage and special ceremonies. Three hundred years later the first German settlers came to the area. As history goes, a man named Laven Teter rediscovered the cave in 1742 on a quest for water to supply his livestock. At this time the area was not even considered part of the original 13 colonies. The Teter family maintained ownership until 1928. The new owners opened it to the public in 1930 as a show cave.