Banner Photo by John Robbins
A great deal of Grand Caverns’ allure is not new at all. It was discovered in 1804 and, called Weyers Cave at the time, it opened for tours in 1806–making it the oldest continually operating show cave in the country. Its stalactites, which hang from the ceiling, typically take about 125 years to grow one inch.
But new tours and events at Grand Caverns are up and running, and we at the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association (SVTA), caught up with the Town of Grottoes Tourism and Parks Directory Ashley Collier for an update:
SVTA: Is there anything new going on at the caverns you want tourists to know about?Collier: “Yes! In celebration of the Town of Grottoes having owned Grand Caverns for 10 years, we will be hosting a ‘Grand Illumination Ball’ with candlelit tours on October 19th from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. This will be a themed dance held inside the cavern and will recreate balls in the cavern from the mid-1800s. We will have a live band (3rd Maryland Volunteers) performing period correct music, as well as callers (Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers) who will teach and lead the different mid-1800s style dances.
“Tickets are limited and cost $25 per person. 1800s style clothing is encouraged but not required, and guests should keep in mind that we have gravel pathways, so comfortable footwear with good tread is recommended. Light refreshments will be served at 5:00 and the first candlelit tour will go in at 5:15. The ball will be from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling us at 540-249-5705.
“Then on October 29th, 30th, and 31st, Grand Caverns will be hosting ’Haunted Cave’ from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Experience a safe Halloween alternative with a scary cave tour, complete with decorations and costumed actors. Tickets are $10 for adults (ages 13+) and $7 for guests 12 and under. We don’t recommend it for guests 10 and under. Tickets are available at the door and the doors close at 7:45 with the last tour entering at 8:00 p.m.
“We are also very excited about our NEW Historic Trails Adventure Tour, the newest guided caving opportunity we offer. You’ll go with us deep underground and delve further into the history of the cavern while following the same, original pathways used as far back as 1804. This tour is three hours long and is offered every other Friday evening. You must be 16 or older and wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, and closed toed shoes with good tread. Helmets, headlamps, knee pads and gloves are provided.”
SVTA: How is Fountain Cave connected to the caverns? Can you describe the different experiences a bit?
Collier: “Fountain Cave is a separate cave located within Grand Caverns Park and is also owned by the Town of Grottoes. It is our 2-2.5 hour spelunking/caving adventure style tour. Guests are provided with knee pads, helmets, headlamps, and gloves, and venture into Fountain Cave with two tour guides. This cave was closed for almost 100 years and was only recently reopened. There is no electricity and all that remains from its older days is a once-used, rugged, 1800s pathway made from earthquake debris. During the tour, guests will have the opportunity to venture off of the main pathway for more strenuous climbing and crawling. Guests must be 12 or older and wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, and closed toed shoes with good traction.
“Along with Fountain Cave and the new Historic Trails Adventure, we offer our regular, guided walking tour of Grand Caverns. This tour is takes about 70 minutes and is suitable for all ages. Guests will see over 250 rare shield formations and learn the history and geology of Grand Caverns. There’s much beauty to be found underground! Grand Caverns was rated #2 in the United States by Parade Magazine. This tour is offered multiple times per day, seven days per week. ”
SVTA: Other than the leaf color, do you feel October is a good month to visit, and why?
Collier: “October is absolutely a great month to visit Grand Caverns. In addition to the beautiful fall foliage and our fun, family-friendly, educational tours of both caverns, there are many things to do in the park which could easily take the whole day. The cooler weather provides an enjoyable and relaxing atmosphere for miniature golf with the family, a romantic picnic with your significant other, fishing on the South River, enjoying our walking trail with its new fitness stations, and our hiking trail, which features two scenic overlooks.”
SVTA: Any special events coming up in the fall or early winter?
Collier: “In addition to the Grand Illumination Ball and Haunted Cave, we will co-host an event with the Grottoes Ruritan Club on December 7th from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. called “Caroling in the Caverns.” This year will be the 9th consecutive year for this event and proceeds go toward the Grottoes Ruritan Scholarship Funds. Guests get to experience a unique, candlelit holiday event with music performances underground throughout Grand Caverns. Performers this year include Valley Brass, Cantore, and the Shenandoah Valley Pipe Band. Tours will enter every 15 minutes with the doors closing at 7:45 and the last tour going in at 8:00. Tickets are available at the door for $5 per person (cash or check only) and children may get in for free with a donation for the Grottoes Boys and Girls Club.”
Grand Caverns is located in Grottoes, about 19 miles south of Harrisonburg. From I-81 South, take Exit 235. Follow VA 256 East to Grand Cavern Road. To book any Grand Caverns tour or for more information, click Book Now on their Home Page or call 540-249-5705.