After spending the morning visiting Daffodil Hill, we hopped in the car and headed over to nearby Black Chasm Cavern for a picnic lunch and another family-friendly caving adventure. Visiting caves and caverns is a great thing to do during the summer because it is much cooler underground — Black Chasm Cavern stays 57 degrees year round.
The sun was overhead and it was so hot, so we were thrilled to find the gemstone mining flumes and a couple picnic tables in the shade! I got our picnic ready while Brian went in the Visitor Center to buy our cave walking tour tickets. The tour wasn’t leaving for another 40 minutes, so we had plenty of time to relax and fill up.
Just before our tour, we packed up the picnic stuff and explored the huge Visitor Center, checking out informational displays and all sorts of souvenir items for sale. Then we waited on the back deck for our tour guide to arrive, who immediately led us down a steep set of stairs to the cavern entrance.
The tour began with our tour guide sharing all sorts of history about the discovery of the cavern. We then funneled into the cave, following stairways, walkways, and even bridges to three separate viewing platforms:
- The first viewing platform we stopped at is small! We learned about early damage done to the caves when it was first discovered — miners actually sold visitors parts of the cave to take home! For a pinch of gold, you could cut off a stalactite and keep it as a souvenir.
- The second viewing platform we stopped at is long and narrow. From a couple locations, you can peer over the edge, looking down deep into the cave and see the sparking blue waters of the lakes 100 feet below. They used to rafting trips across the lakes, but don’t offer those tours anymore.
- The third and final platform the tours stops at is inside the famous Landmark Room, which is a huge open room covered stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and very rare helictite formations.
It seems like every time we visit a new cavern or cave, we think that this one is the best one yet. The reality is every cave has something totally unique about it that makes visiting worth the cost of admission, and Black Chasm is no different. We were blown away by all of the helictite formations, the draperies and flowstone, the soda straws and cave bacon, and just how much of it there was. We’re not talking a few formations, we’re talking millions of formations.
It was absolutely incredible.
Black Chasm Cavern
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California’s historic Gold Country, Black Chasm Cavern measures 3,136 feet in length and 225 feet in overall depth, including the underground lake. Above lake level, the cave is 146 feet deep.
Black Chasm Cavern, located just over an hour east of Sacramento, was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1976 because it is considered a nationally significant natural area. It is just one of the caves and caverns that are part of the Calaveras Complex, a metamorphic belt of limestone and marble stretching through the western Sierra Nevada, including Boyden Cave in Kings Canyon, Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park, and the three other Mother Lode caves, Moaning Cavern, Mercer Cavern, and California Caverns.
The Landmark Walking Tour
The 50 minute Walking Tour follows a series of environmentally friendly platforms, approximately 165 stairs, several walkways, and a bridge that provides views straight down to the pristine, blue lake at the bottom of the cavern.
Culminating in the famous Landmark Room, the cavern walking tour is designed to provide the best views of the cave without compromising the naturally pristine environment.
Visitors who book a tour can see a variety of rock formations in Black Chasm Cavern, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, flowstone, draperies, ribbons, angel’s wings, cave bacon, soda straws, and thousands of incredible helictites.
Less than five percent of the world’s caves, have a single helictite, yet the Black Chasm Cavern’s Landmark Room is covered in millions of the beautiful formations. Helictites are formed through hydrostatic pressure. Water is pushed through porous cave walls leaving crystallized minerals on the other side. As the mineral deposits build up they tend to stack horizontally resulting in beautiful twisted, curly, snaking, horizontal formations.
Other Things To Do At Black Chasm Cavern
Black Chasm Cavern has a 3,000 square foot Visitors Center with informational displays on the discovery and mapping of numerous fragile, highly decorated, small chambers in Black Chasm Cavern by a team headed by Dr Hazel Barton who starred in the iMax movie Journey into Amazing Caves. There is also information on Black Chasm Cavern’s connection to the Matrix Trilogy, as well as display props from the movies, like huge manufactured stalagmites from the Zion set.
Gem Panning And Geode Cracking
Because Moaning Cavern, California Caverns, and Black Chasm Cavern are owned my the same company, they all offer families gemstone mining at onsite mining flumes — and Black Chasm’s are in the shade and are the nicest of the three. Parents purchase bags of mining rough and use the flumes to find the gemstones, which means everyone is guaranteed to find treasure!
Also, inside the Visitor Center, you can purchase a geode and crack it open on site — the other cave stops don’t have this awesome opportunity.
Zen Garden Nature Trail
The self-guided Zen Garden Nature Trail is an easy 30 minute walk through large marble sculptures created by hydraulic mining from the Gold Rush and beautiful scenery lined with Cedar and Madrone trees. We didn’t have time to do this hike, but we’re definitely coming back!
Black Chasm Cavern History
At one time, Black Chasm Cavern was slated to be quarried, as an open pit mine, for the gravel that the bedrock would provide. The quarry company who owned the land was aware of the cave, but not of its rare display of helictites. After its National Natural Landmark status was granted in January 1976, the quarry company still had legal rights to quarry the property, but there was a moral obligation placed on the landowners to preserve the cave in order to retain its National Natural Landmark status. As a result, the quarry company chose to honor the status, separating the cavern property from the remainder of the quarry, which is still in production today.
Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation purchased Black Chasm Cavern in 1996 and began offering 5 hour expedition trips, including rappelling, rafting, climbing, and crawling through the wild areas of the cave, however the damage to the delicate areas of the cave was deemed too steep a price to continue offering tours through the wild cave.
In 1999, SNRC began development on the property, which included creating a road, septic and utility installation, and building storage facilities. Stair building into the cavern began in July 2000, with the first walking cave tours offered in September 2000. The trail-building spanned just over 10 months, as the crew frequently harnessed up and used ropes for the construction process.
Know Before You Go
- California Caverns in Mountain Ranch and Moaning Cavern in Vallecito.
- Walking Tour adult tickets (ages 13 and up) are $18.50 and child tickets (ages 3-12) are $10.00.
- From September through May, hours are 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Monday through Friday, and 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday. From June through August, hours are 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday, and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.
- Tours last approximately 45-50 minutes and depart every hour beginning at 10:00 am. The last tour during the week leaves at 4:00 pm and the last tour of the day on the weekends leaves at 5:00 pm.
- Underground temperature in the cavern is 57°F year round, so bring a sweatshirt or wear layers.
- You may not carry babies in backpacks on the walking tour. Front carriers are okay but you must be diligent to protect the head in low areas.
- For an additional fee, kids can pan for gold and gems in the mining flumes under the trees in the shade. Buy the large bag of gem mining rough (dirt) and plan for at least 30 minutes of gem panning.
- Pack a picnic lunch! There are several picnic tables under the trees in the shade and it’s the perfect place to have a picnic. Plus there is no food for sale at the park except bottled drinks and a few snacks.
- Black Chasm Cavern has a new 3,000 square foot Visitor Center with a full gift shop offering a variety of mining related items. Tours leave from the Vistor Center back deck.