Visitors have been touring Boyden Cavern for more than 100 years. It was discovered by J. Putnam Boyden in 1906 who lived inside the cave for ten years before dying of hypothermia. Some sources report that he offered cavern tours for a nickel, others say he died before tours could begin.
We stopped by Boyden Cavern on our summer road trip to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Giant Sequoia National Monument. Many websites claim the cavern is located in Kings Canyon National Park but it’s not. While inside Kings Canyon, the cavern is outside the national park boundary and is instead part of Giant Sequoia National Monument in Sequoia National Forest.
Boyden Cavern is a Mesozoic marble cavern with a small underground waterfall that is open for guided tours from May through November.
After descending the mountainside of the winding Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, stopping at the Kings Canyon Overlook and Junction View Overlook along the way, we pulled into the parking lot for Boyden Cavern and purchased cavern tour tickets.
Our tour didn’t start for almost an hour, so we had time to enjoy a tailgate picnic lunch with a front row view of the wild, raging Kings River and grab photos of the surrounding area.
About 15 minutes before our tour, we gathered with the rest of our tour group at the picnic area to wait for our 50 minute walking tour of the marble cavern to begin. We were pretty excited to hike through an icy cold underground stream and see an underground waterfall!
Tours of Boyden Cavern begin with a short but VERY steep walk uphill to the cave entrance that can be a bit strenuous for those who are out of shape. On the walk, you’ll pass a waterfall and be treated with amazing views of the steepest part of Kings Canyon. At the entrance, we had to wait for the tour guide to arrive and listen to a safety briefing and short talk about the cavern before entering.
Touring Boyden Cavern
Deep beneath the 2,000-foot-high marble walls of the famous Kings Gate and Windy Cliffs, Boyden Cavern extends 750 feet inside the mountain. It features stalactites, stalagmites, cave bacon, soda straws, flowstone, draperies, shields, helictites, pendants, and formations that resemble pancakes, a wedding cake, an upside down city, and even bear.
Once inside, you’ll find yourself ducking under low-hanging rocks, squeezing through tight passageways, balancing on wobbly rocks, navigating stairs and slopes, and traversing the icy waters of an underground stream (thank goodness my shoes were waterproof).
We’ve toured a lot of caverns and couldn’t wait to check this one out but only a short distance into the cave our tour came to a screeching halt and we spent more than 10 minutes of our short tour standing still waiting for the previous tour to exit the cave. Why? Unlike other caverns, Boyden Cavern is an out-and-back tour, which means visitors go in and out the same way, squeezing past each other in tight passageways. The only good thing was that our wait was happening inside the cool cave and not out in the sweltering summer sun!
Eventually our tour group got moving again, but the tour group was HUGE and not only was there was no way we could hear anything the tour guide said, the tour was was very rushed and we barely had time to take in the Pancake Room, Bat Grotto, and Drapery Room, and the amazing formations we were passing.
Suddenly we were at the end of the cavern, once again waiting for our turn to see the subterranean waterfall, which was pretty cool.
Now once we reached the end of the cavern, it was a free-for-all. The tour was over. We were on our own to make our way back to the entrance and we could take as long as we wanted — this explains why we had to wait so long for the entire tour group before us to exit the cavern.
Overall, the formations were impressive and the cavern, while not very big, is beautiful. It’s also a pretty cool experience to walk through the icy cold water to a mini waterfall underground! I just wish our tour experience was better.
Of the 50 minutes our tour lasted, I think we waited in line for 30 of them and the cavern was so crowded and loud that it just wasn’t the cavern experience I wanted. Luckily, I’m really good at making sure we’re at the end of the tour group and away from people as much as possible.
I’m hoping the tours aren’t like this all of the time. We visited on Fourth of July weekend and not only were the tours were running every half hour instead of every hour, the tour groups were WAY BIGGER than their website says they are.
Know Before You Go
About Boyden Cavern:
- Boyden Cavern is located in Giant Sequoia National Monument in the Sequoia National Forest, 19 miles east of Grant Grove on Highway 180, Kings Canyon, California 93633. There is no physical address to enter into a GPS.
- Highway 180, the road to access the cavern, closes every winter, which means the cavern is usually only open from May through mid-November.
- You can only visit the cavern on a guided tour. Tickets are $16.00/adult 13+, $8.00/youth ages 5-12, and $5.00/child age 4 and under.
- You must enter Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park to access Boyden Cavern. Entrances are located at Grant Grove on Highway 180 and Lodgepole on Highway 198 and you must pay the national park entrance fees.
- It is 55°F year-round inside the cavern. Consider bringing a light jacket if you get cold and wear sturdy shoes. They say no flip flops are allowed, but loads of people on our tour were all wearing flip flops.
- The Boyden Cavern Gift Shop sells bottled beverages, chips, candy, granola bars, and other snacks, as well as souvenirs like shirts, hats, mugs, shot glasses, and magnets.
- The restrooms are vault toilets. If you have to go, choose carefully. While some aren’t too bad, in others, you’ll have to choke back puke.
- This is a remote area where there is no phone or cell service.
- Pets are not allowed in the cave but are welcome in the parking lot and picnic area.
About Giant Sequoia National Monument:
- 328,315 acre Giant Sequoia National Monument was designated by President Clinton in April 2000. It is administered by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Sequoia National Forest and includes 38 giant sequoia groves.
- Giant Sequoia National Monument is split into two separate sections. The northern section surrounds General Grant Grove and other parts of Kings Canyon National Park. The southern section, which includes Long Meadow Grove, is directly south of Sequoia National Park, surrounding the eastern half of the Tule River Indian Reservation.
- Notable spots in the Northern portion of the national monument are Indian Basin Grove and Princess Campground, Converse Basin Grove, and the Boole Tree.
- Notable spots in the Southern portion of the national monument, are Belknap Grove, Tule River Canyon, Trail of 100 Giants, and Freeman Creek Grove.