Pros: Beautiful, Unique, Family Friendly
My family vacations in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia each summer, and we are love with this picturesque region. There's just something special about the mountains and valleys of this area, and the ability to escape the hustle and bustle of the D.C. area. The whole valley is filled with small towns that may or may not have a single traffic light, and life is a lot slower here than anywhere else I've ever been. This is a good thing, as the farmers markets are the biggest attraction around, along with the bears and deer that seem to be everywhere.
The town of Luray is smack down in the middle of the Shenandoah region, about an hour and a half southwest of D.C. This quaint town has a lot of family owned restaurants and shops, a pink movie theater, and a lot of recreational methamphetamine use. Please do not be scared by this, as there's not a lot of activity to be found, with the exception of touristy places such as the Luray Zoo and Luray Caverns. I just cannot be bored of these caverns, which were discovered in 1878, and have provided a steady base of tax revenue ever since it opened to the general public. While true spelunkers would be disappointed by not crawling through crevices, and sliding through mud, for weekend warriors this is a neat place to visit. Situated off of US HWY 211, just west of the town that bears its name, this is a wonderful place to take a family.
There is plenty of parking, and I'm convinced that they have a bigger parking lot than a lot of suburban malls. This is among the busiest of tourist places in the Commonwealth of VA, and you can fit an RV in their lot without any problems, but I'd recommend against wheeled double wides. You walk into the store, which has all kinds of Luray Caverns merchandise, such as talking stalagmites, old fashioned candies, and of course rocks. Admission for tickets is at the front, and while I think their prices are a bit high, it is worth it. Adult tickets cost $19, and children are $9, but you do get to experience something unique during the hour long tour. There are some discounts available if you have a military I.D. or AAA card.
The tours are very efficient, as they leave every 10-20 minutes. The tour guides have all been friendly as well as knowledgeable about the caverns, so the trainers should be proud of their fine work. You go down into the caverns by a truly terrible staircase, so people with mobility problems might no be able to easily access this. After going down the staircase you will feel comfortable with the chilly cavern air, which is a lot cooler than the extreme summer temperatures that plague Virginia every August. Its really refreshing down in the caverns, and some might be a bit cold, but I've found it to be pleasant with just a regular long sleeve t-shirt.
The walking tour is a breeze, as there's no real spelunking to be done, but rather following a well built trail with railings. The stalagmites and stalactites, of which I don't remember of which each is, are truly beautiful and eye opening. They are huge, and there are so many to see, that it is almost overwhelming. Some of the formations are really neat, as there is one called fried eggs, which looks almost exactly what I usually consider a breakfast food. There is a organ that plays in a room, that allows you to hear notes, as they bounce off the formations. While some do not like it, I love it when the tour guide turns off the light for a moment. It is here where you realize how truly dark a cave is, and how insignificant you are compared to nature's treasures.
This is a must visit place, and well worth the high admission price. I have never found anyone to be disappointed by this tour, and children learn a lot about nature whether looking at the formations or seeing the reflecting pools of water. You can take photographs in the caverns, and I was pleased that the images were mostly clear. After leaving the caverns, you can spend time shopping in their stores, or you can go to free Car and Carriage Museum that's also on the property. Although it is not large, they have some exceptionally clean examples of cars from many years ago, including a Model T and old Cadillacs.
The internet address for Luray Caverns is http://www.luraycaverns.com. They can be reached at 540-743-6551, and their hours are usually between 9 am-6 pm. During the summer hours their hours are a bit longer, so be sure to check their internet address, as that has the changes in times updated. You cannot go wrong bringing a family here, as I've been here numerous times, and have greatly enjoyed it each time. It never gets boring, and I discover something new on each visit. If you visit during the summer, it can be busy, but they are efficient enough to make sure you see this beautiful creation of nature.