When it’s 103 degrees outside and you’re not swimming or floating down a river, there’s not much else better than descending into a cave, free to explore in a blessedly cooler 65 degrees.
Moaning Caverns in Vallecito, California, is just such a place. It’s about 65 degrees year-round, with plenty to keep even the most discerning gypsy busy. The main draw is the cavern with its chocolate colored drapery formations and elegant spiral staircase.
The staircase comes with quite a bit of history. It’s made from a “recycled” WWI battleship, painstakingly forged into this 100-foot tall path deep into the cavern. At the bottom, you can see a 25-foot tall stalagmite, ripples, draperies, and human remains. Yes, there are human remains on the cavern floor (along with the bones of birds and small mammals), but they are hundreds of years old. According to our guide, Congress passed a law in the 1960s preventing removal of any human remains from caverns or subterranean structures until notification is made to next of kin. Pretty sure that will never happen in this case, so here they rest.
Moaning Caverns also has a small zip line setup, panning for gemstones and a rock climbing wall. If your kiddos are at least 12 years old, you can also participate in a rappelling/cave exploring session. We went here when I was 15 and my own gypsy mama and I rappelled down 165 feet into darkness. I remember it being an absolute blast back then. Seeing someone rappel while we were climbing the staircase? A little more nerve-wracking…. But it still looks fun!
Cost: The 45-minute guided walking tour ranges from $10-18 depending on age. Ziplining is $45 per person with discounts for multiple runs on the same day. The mega adventure trip with rappelling is $95.
Directions: 5350 Moaning Caverns Rd., Vallecito, California. It’s about an hour and a half southeast from Sacramento.