Our first day exploring Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra Nevadas was awesome. We slept in, visited both the Foothills Visitor Center and Lodgepole Visitor Center, checked out Tunnel Rock and the Native American pictographs and mortars at Hospital Rock, enjoyed majestic views of the Kaweah River, hiked the General Sherman Tree Trail, marveled at giant sequoia trees, snapped photos with the Four Guardsmen in Giant Forest, and went on an underground adventure in Crystal Cave.
While the giant sequoia trees get top billing at both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks, there is a whole different underground world to explore too!
Crystal Cave is an ornate marble cavern polished by a subterranean stream that features dramatic chambers, striking formations, rare minerals, and unique animals.
Located 40 minutes south of Wuksachi Lodge near Giant Forest, the cave is open to the public for tours during the summer months only.
Arriving At Crystal Cave
We purchased our Crystal Cave tour tickets online, in advance, because we visited the park on Fourth of July weekend and knew the tours would sell out. We read the warnings to leave plenty of time to reach the Crystal Cave trailhead and made sure to arrive early.
From the Generals Highway turn off, it’s a 20 minute drive to the Crystal Cave parking area. The road is paved but the last few miles are pretty rough and slow-going. The dirt parking area is big but it was pretty full when we arrived and there were a lot of people milling about. At the trailhead there are a few picnic tables and large bear boxes. Because of bear issues, you aren’t allowed to leave any food or scented items in your car and must use the shared bear boxes.
While waiting for our tour time, we enjoyed a picnic lunch, hit the restroom because there isn’t one at the cave, and people watched.
- We watched people return from cave tours sweaty and out of breath, as the half mile return hike is very steep and all uphill.
- We saw people try to buy tour tickets at the kiosk only to be told they have to get back in the car and drive to the Foothills or Lodgepole visitor centers to but tickets.
- We watched people with pets try to figure out who would stay back and skip the tour because pets are not allowed on the tours.
Finally, when it was time for our tour, the Sequoia Parks Conservancy had everyone clean our shoes and begin the trek to the cave.
Hiking To Crystal Cave
To reach the entrance of Crystal Cave, you have to hike a half mile downhill, dropping 320 feet in elevation. The steep trail is paved but has stairs, uneven ground, and steep drop-offs. At times it can be slippery too! The trail passes underneath large boulders, across wooden footbridges, by poison oak, down switchbacks, along Yucca Creek, and past a gorgeous waterfall.
When we reached the bottom, our tour guides weren’t quite ready to enter the cavern, so we had some extra time to explore the waterfall and get some great photos.
Exploring Crystal Cave
The only way to visit Crystal Cave is on a guided tour by Field Institute Naturalists. The Sequoia Parks Conservancy offers several different tours from mid/late-May through the end of September.
- The 50 Minute Family Tour: Get a brief history of the Cave and see unique formations as you walk along paved, lighted pathways, pausing to listen to the water and echoes in the cave in total darkness. On non-holiday weekends, this tour is also available as a 13+ tour.
- The 90 Minute Discovery Tour: Get an in-depth experience of Crystal Cave’s geology and its plants and animals as you explore the cave by flashlight. (Ages 12+)
- The 90 Minute Historic Candlelight Tour: Get your own lantern to carry as you explore the same route the Discovery Tour follows lit only by candle lanterns. (Ages 12+)
- The 4-6 Hour Wild Cave Tour: Explore off-trail and climb through passageways, over steep drop-offs, and past intricate formations on a belly-crawling tour where you’ll learn how delicate formations like soda straws, rimstone dams, and cave pearls are formed. (Ages 16+)
- The 2.5 Hour Family Cave Tour: After receiving your helmet, kneepads, and light, enter the Cave with two trained naturalists and leave the paved trail for a dirty trip to The Well that lies below the main level of Crystal Cave. (Ages 10+)
To enter Crystal Cave, we passed through a really cool spiderweb gate that was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Inside the cave, we left the hot, nearly 100 degree weather behind and enjoyed the cool air of the cavern that is 48 degrees year-round.
Our cave tour followed a lighted, paved, 0.5 mile loop trail that provided views of polished marble along Yucca Creek and stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, flowstone, soda straws, rimstone dams, and other impressive formations. Our tour guide shared facts about area geology and history, as well as the formation and discovery of the cavern.
When we completed the loop and found ourselves back at the cave entrance, it was time to hike back to the trailhead. The steep hike back climbs 320 feet in elevation in a 0.5 mile, and because of the elevation, even those in great shape may find themselves winded!
Overall, our Crystal Cave adventure was a 1.5 mile hike. The entire thing, including the drive to and from the trailhead from Generals Highway, the hike to and from the cave, the actual cave tour, and some wait time at the trailhead, took about 3-3.5 hours.
Know Before You Go
About Crystal Cave:
- Crystal Cave is located near Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.
- Guided Crystal Cave tours are offered in the summer months by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. Buy tickets online in advance because space is limited and they do sell out.
- Crystal Cave tour tickets are never sold at the cave entrance or parking area. You must purchase your tickets in advance at the Foothill Visitor Center, Lodgepole Visitor Center, or online.
- Allow 60 minutes from the Visitor Centers to get to the cave parking lot and plan to be in the parking lot 15 to 20 minutes prior to your tour time.
- Sequoia Parks Conservancy will provide flashlights and necessary equipment. Cave temperature is a constant 48 degrees, so a jacket or sweater is recommended.
- During your tour, you can not leave food in your vehicle. All food and scented items must be placed in the shared bear boxes in the parking area.
- Pets are not allowed in the Cave interior or exterior, on the trail, or in unattended vehicles.
- There are no restrooms on the trail or at the Cave entrance.
- No food, drinks, backpacks, bags, purses, hiking sticks, or baby carriers are allowed in the Cave. If you have them, they must be left unattended at the Cave entrance.
About Sequoia National Park:
- Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are basically treated as the same park — even the National Park Service combined both parks into one website.
- The combined area of these two parks is 865,952 acres. Most of it is wilderness back country.
- The parks are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Occasionally, winter storms will close roads leading into the parks until they can be plowed.
- Admission fees are good for seven days and both parks. They are $35.00/vehicle, $30.00/motorcycle, $20.00/individual entry on foot or bicycle, $15.00/person for a non-commercial group.
- There are five free admission days: the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the first day of National Park Week, the National Park Service Birthday, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.
- Weather varies a lot by season and elevation, which ranges from 1,370 feet to 14,494 feet. Bring layers and be prepared!
- Cell service is not available in most areas. You may get service in Grant Grove and at the Foothills Visitor Center. WiFi is available at the Foothills Visitor Center, the Grant Grove Visitor Center, and in the lobby of Wuksachi Lodge.
- Pets are not permitted on any trails at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. In campgrounds and picnic areas, pets must be kept on a leash of no more than six feet at all times.