Spelunking vs. Caving: Explore the Dark Places Either Way

We’ve always had a soft spot for the nomenclature of this unique adventure activity. For those who don’t know, the highfalutin “spelunking” is the name for how amateurs—even those with a fair amount of experience—explore caves and other subterranean spaces. Cavers, in contrast, are the name of the professional scientists who are rigorously trained not just to explore and navigate caves but also to study their ecosystem and geological parameters. Still, we kind of like saying I’m a spelunker. It’s fun and has an almost onomatopoeia-like quality to it.

When it comes to adventure, if you’re like most people, you’re looking the best spelunking spots in the U.S. But there’s not always a clear line between caving and spelunking for specifics spots and areas of the country. Some of these subterranean places are even divided up into areas that are accessible to the general public, often as part of a guided tour, and others that are reserved only for professional cavers and other authorized parties.


Jewel Cave National Monument               Custer, SD

Wonderland Cave           Nemo, SD

Black Hills Caverns          Rapid City, SD

Hurricane River Cave     Pindall, AR

Mystic Caverns Harrison, AR

Cosmic Cavern  Berryville, AR

Caverns of Sonora           Sonora, TX

Big Four Ice Caves           Washington

Grand Caverns  Grottoes, VA

Organ Cave        Ronceverte, WV

Dixie Caverns    Salem, VA

Luray Caverns   Luray, VA

Peppersauce Cave           Arizona

Grand Canyon Caverns  Peach Springs, AZ

Lava River Cave Flagstaff, AZ

Buckner Cave    Bloomington, IN