963 Crystal Cave Rd., Kutztown, PA 19530
Go to Flickr if you want to see all the pictures from our trip.
Last week I returned to the place where I bought my first and last pet rock, Crystal Cave in Kutztown, PA. Discovered in 1871 by two men blasting for limestone the cave became a popular curiosity with the towns people. Locals would lower themselves down into the cavern with coal oil lights and torches trying to figure out how deep it was and where it went. From there it was turned into a tourist attraction. In 1876 the cave was considered right up there with Niagara Falls as a top natural wonder…. at least by the French visitors that were in town for the Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia. Even though I haven’t been to Niagara Falls that analogy seems like a bit of a stretch but our recent trip to Crystal Cave was pretty cool.
A three-minute walk up a wooded path leads you to the cave opening.
Everyone is led into a small building to watch a video that talks about the science behind how the cave was formed and shows historical photos of its history as the first “show cave” in Pennsylvania in the 1800’s. The history of the cave is just as fascinating as the cave itself.
After the video it is off to the cave and down into the earth you go. It is crazy to walk down into the earth. Imagine if a giant river hallowed out a tunnel for you to walk through and then disappeared. You are surrounded by stalagmites, stalactites hanging over your head, rock formations that look like frozen waterfalls, clusters of dormant coral nestled in the ceiling, a clear fault line stretching over your head and a view that is beyond amazing.
Your tour guide leads you through the different rooms and levels of the cave explaining its social history and natural evolution. It is really hard to image people having parties and dances in the cave with bands complete with a cocktail and snack bar but they did. Our tour was cushy compared to those of the 1800’s where they climbed across jagged rocks by the light of torches and people were attached to each other with ropes and responsible for pulling each other back up if they slipped. Not exactly sure why people paid $0.25 to experience that but they did.
Now a days there are paved paths, 211 steps, railings, and the cave is illuminated. We had a crew of kids ages 4-7 and they had no trouble navigating the cave. You do have to watch your head in places and there are slippery spots but all in all I’d say managing myself, camera and kids in a dimly lit cave went off without a hitch.
For being in the middle of nowhere 2 hours outside of Philly (whatever mapquest and google say, trust me, it takes 2 hours) the site is surprisingly popular. Visitors can’t enter the cave without being on a tour. You can test your luck and just pop in but you should call ahead and book your time slot. When you do this they mark you down with a slash on a piece of paper. It is pretty informal but that is how they keep track. Tours seem to leave every 30 minutes and the tour is about 60 minutes.
If you are going with a group your really need to be on your type-A game. 15 people or more and you get a group discount. They are really strict on tours starting on time. If your group is not all there and ready to go at your start time you get bumped…but they neglect to tell you that. Make sure if you are coming from Philly you get their 30 minutes before your start time and you give yourself 2 hours to get there.
We had a great time. If I did it on a weekend I would tack something else on to the trip to make the drive up there a little bit more worthwhile…or got when it is a little warmer out and try their mini-golf and ice cream parlor.