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Luray Virginia: Caverns and Cool Places

Luray Caverns, the largest cavern in the Eastern U.S., deserves its ranking as a top tourist attraction. The cathedral-like chambers adorned with their millions of stalactites, stalagmites and other formations have been amazing visitors for decades. But there’s more than the underground to see at the caverns complex.

Like many, we first visited Luray as a child on a family trip. The green lawns surrounding the attraction’s entrance that we remember have long been replaced with parking spots, giving the compound the uninviting look of a strip mall. Never mind. The configuration proves convenient.

The line for the underground adventure forms right behind the ticket counter and in front of the bathrooms (none available below ground). On the one-hour tour, a guide leads you on a mile-long path that winds you through several chambers, taking you to a depth of 164-feet below the surface.

Along the way, you explore an otherworldly landscape of stone, passing stalactites as thick as boulders, columns as tall as buildings created by the joining of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as flowstone formations that fall in folds like draperies and frozen waterfalls. At Dream Lake, one of our favorite spots, the crystal clear water creates a perfect mirror image of the ceiling’s forest of stalactites.

The subterranean fairyland, a constant 54-degrees F, feels cool, especially on a hot Virginia summer afternoon. Luray Caverns trumpets its “Great Stalacpipe Organ,” as the tour’s highlight. Although you see an organ, it’s no longer played live. Instead you hear a taped rendition of notes created by electronic mallets striking various stalactites. Some find this amazing; we think it’s a ho-hum oddity. Nevertheless, the “concert” takes place in a vast underground room with tiers of formations.

Above ground allow time to test your skill on the ropes adventure course, make your way through a garden maze, admire early vehicles at the Car and Carriage Caravan and learn about the pioneer history of the Shenandoah Valley at the Luray Valley Museum. The caverns complex has a fast food eatery, but we prefer to lunch in the Gathering Grounds, a sandwich and bake shop in the nearby town of Luray.

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