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Mighty, musical cavernsMighty, musical caverns

Luray, VirginiaLuray, Virginia

Flying along the Shenandoah Valley near Luray, Virginia, is breathtaking, with flowering trees in the spring and brilliant fall foliage in autumn. But an even grander gem lies just below the surface.

The Double Column stands 47 feet tall and is made of stalactites and stalagmites that connect. Photo courtesy of Luray Caverns.

Tucked beside a mountain ridge, the Luray Caverns Airport provides easy access to Luray Caverns, dubbed the “largest and most popular caverns in Eastern America.”

The first time I flew to Luray Caverns Airport, I received a response to my initial radio call 10 miles from the airport asking if I was flying in to visit the caverns. I answered in the affirmative and continued. After landing, a van pulled up to take my parents and me to the caverns. Now that’s the royal treatment! The courtesy shuttle service is offered seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. When you land, just let the airport staff know you'd like to go over to the caverns, which are about five miles away.

Designated a Registered Natural Landmark by the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior, Luray Caverns boasts a reflective lake, a column of connecting stalactite and stalagmite that reaches 47 feet tall, and a “Great Stalacpipe Organ” in its various chambers, some reaching 10 stories tall. Touring the caverns could inspire your inner geologist or spelunker, or open your romantic side (you can book the venue for proposals, weddings, and other events).

“It is safe to say that there is probably no other cavern in the world more completely and profusely decorated with stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation than that of Luray,” the Smithsonian Institution  said of the caverns.

The reflective lake and organ were by far the standouts on my one-hour tour. Dream Lake is only 18 to 20 inches at its deepest point, but it reflects all the stalactites stretching down from the ceiling, creating an impressive illusion of a canyon of stalagmites reaching up. I could have spent an hour alone looking at all the details in this natural mirror image.

Listen to the Stalacpipe Organ during your tour. Photo courtesy of Luray Caverns.

The Stalacpipe Organ is equally mesmerizing. Luray Caverns claims it is the “world’s largest musical instrument,” composed of three acres of stalactites. The organ gently taps the stalactites to produce a beautiful sound. It plays automatically during each tour, so you’ll be guaranteed to hear it. During special events, it’s played live—oh to be on-hand for an in-person concert or get to tap a few notes on it!

It really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit. Luray Caverns is open 365 days a year, and the underground wonder stays about 54 degrees Fahrenheit. I was comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt when I visited in the fall, but it would be wise to also take a light jacket.

The caverns in and of themselves are worth the trip. But, other attractions in the area will keep you and your family entertained if you want to make a day or weekend of the trip rather than a short stop for the one-hour tour. When you purchase your tour tickets, you’ll also gain access to a Car and Carriage Caravan Museum that includes more than 140 transportation-related items that date from the 1700s; the Luray Valley Museum, which will give you a taste of the local flair and history; and Toy Town Junction, featuring a large toy train collection.

The family can also have fun experiencing a mining station at the Stonyman Mining Company Gem Sluice, navigating a half-mile garden maze composed of more than 1,500 Evergreen hedges, exploring Rope Adventure Park with high and low ropes courses, listening to the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial (also called the Luray Singing Tower) with its 47 bells that range in weight from 12.5 pounds to 7,64 pounds, and tasting wines from local vineyards (weekends only through the fall).

You'll be mesmerized by Dream Lake, which reflects countless stalactites. Photo courtesy of Luray Caverns.
Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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