Carlsbad Caverns Wiki
Gunns caves flowstone

Flowstone suspended from the ceiling of Gunns Plains Cave, Tasmania, Australia

Show caves — also called tourist caves, public caves, and in the United States, commercial caves — are caves that are accessible to the general public for an entrance fee. Generally, show caves feature most of the following items and conditions:

  • Trails: Natural cave floors are generally uneven, often consisting of debris, huge blocks, mud or deep ravines. Show cave trails are constructed with concrete, wooden or iron bridges and staircases, ladders. Sometimes even cable cars, elevators or trains are installed.
  • Lighting: Caves are naturally dark, so it is necessary to install light, generally electric light. For many years this consisted of light bulbs; modern light systems include halogen and LED lamps. The use of open light sources like candles, torches, kerosene and carbide lamps, is discouraged. However, some caves provide visitors with headlamps or flashlights.
  • Guided tours: Most show caves feature guided tours, in which a cave guide tells visitors about the cave, local history, explains the geology, answers questions, and surveills the visitors to protect the cave. Self guided tours exist, but generally there are boards with explanatory texts, audio guiding systems or handouts.
  • Entrance fees: Show caves are often commercial operations. Even if they are not, such as those operated by a non profit organization, there is the need to maintain the installations and pay the electricity, so visitors must often pay entrance fees.
  • Closure: Although they are intended for the public, access to show caves is restricted. They are closed during certain days or hours, and protected by gates and other means. Certain parts of the cave, which are not developed for public use, are not publicly accessible. This is generally a result of the commercial interest of the manager, who wants to protect his company assets. It often also means restrictions for speleologists.
  • Regular open hours are important, otherwise the cave would not be open to the public. Many caves are open all year, but most caves are open during summer and closed during winter to protect hibernating bats. Some caves are open on special occasions only.

Many countries, especially Third World countries, tend to call all caves, which are open to the public, show caves. This does not meet the general use of the term. However, there are many caves which are not developed (no trails, no light, no tours) but are visited by very many people. This kind of cave is often called a semi-wild cave. However, the difficulty of a visit may be anything between an easy stroll and dangerous climbing. Most cave accidents happen in this kind of cave, as visitors often underestimate the difficulties and dangers.


The oldest show cave of the world is Postojna Cave in Slovenia, with the first written mention of a cave tour in 1213. Other early show caves are Jasovská Jaskyna in Slovakia with inscriptions from 1452 and the Sontheimer Höhle in Germany which was reportedly visited by Herzog Ulrich von Württemberg on 20 May 1516. In 1668 the first authorized cave guide of the world started guiding Baumannshöhle in the Harz in Germany.

And finally in 1880, with the development of electric light, the caves were illuminated. Early experiments with electric light in caves were carried out by Lieutenant Edward Cracknel in 1880 at Chifley Cave, Jenolan Caves, Australia. In 1881 Sloupsko-Šošùvské Jeskyně, Czech Republic, became the first cave in the world with electric arc light. This light did not use light bulbs, but electric arcs between coal electrodes, which were burning down and had to be replaced after some time. The first cave in the world with electric light bulbs as we know them today was the Kraushöhle in Austria in 1883. But the light was abandoned after only seven years and the cave is today visited with carbide lamp. In 1884 two more caves were equipped with electric light, Postojna Cave, Slovenia, and Olgahöhle, Germany.

Notable show caves[]

  • Vjetrenica Cave, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Ohio Caverns in Ohio, United States
  • Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, United States
  • Craighead Caverns in Tennessee, United States
  • Luray Caverns in Virginia, United States
  • Cuevas del Drach (Dragon Caves) on Majorca island, Spain
  • Dan yr Ogof in Powys, Wales
  • Eisriesenwelt, Austria
  • Frasassi Caves, Ancona, Italy
  • Grotta Gigante, Trieste, Italy (the largest show cave in the world)
  • Grottes de Han, Belgium
  • Howe Caverns in New York, United States
  • Ingleborough Cave, England
  • Jeita Grotto, Lebanon
  • Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.
  • Kartchner Caverns State Park near Bisbee, Arizona, U.S.A.
  • Laichinger Tiefenhöhle, Schwäbische Alb, Germany
  • Lamprechtsofen, Austria
  • Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, United States
  • Postojna Cave, Postojna, Slovenia (the largest cave system in Slovenia and the birthplace of speleobiology)
  • Škocjan Caves, Slovenia (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Stump Cross Caverns, England
  • Vilenica Cave, Slovenia (the oldest show cave in Europe)
  • Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
  • Caverns of Sonora, Sonora, Texas
  • Cave Without a Name, Boerne, Texas
  • Wonder Cave, San Marcos, Texas, United States
  • Wookey Hole Caves, Somerset, England
  • Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
  • Reed Flute Cave (Lúdí Yán), Guilin, Guangxi, China
  • Seven-Star Cave (Qīxīng Yán), Guilin, Guangxi, China

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