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Why Do People Go Spelunking? The Wonders of Cave Exploring for Newbies

Venturing into the world of spelunking can be an exhilarating experience. From the physical benefits of exercise to the mental respite it provides, spelunking offers a blend of excitement, challenge, and awe-inspiring exploration.

Whether you’re a curious newcomer or want to understand the motivations behind this underground pursuit, join us as we explore more about spelunking. Let’s dive in!

Exploring Idaho's Sand Dunes & Ice Caves | MOTM Vlog #61

What Is Spelunking?

Spelunking, or caving, is an exhilarating activity that involves exploring underground formations like caves and tunnels. For adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and those seeking an extraordinary journey, spelunking offers an unforgettable exploration of the stunning geological formations and hidden wonders beneath the Earth’s surface. 

Spelunking requires physical agility, mental focus, and a sense of adventure. Whether navigating intricate caves or venturing into vast underground networks, spelunking allows participants to step outside their comfort zones and head below ground. It is a challenging yet rewarding pursuit that unveils remarkable beauty and geological history. 

Caving Vs Spelunking

Caving and spelunking are two terms people often use interchangeably, but they represent distinct approaches to cave exploration. The term caving refers to the broader activity of exploring caves and underground passages, encompassing recreational and scientific purposes. It involves a range of techniques and specialized equipment, including rappelling, climbing, and surveying. Cavers often focus on mapping cave systems, studying geology, and conducting scientific research. 

On the other hand, spelunking refers to recreational cave exploration and is more casual and non-technical. Unlike caving, spelunking emphasizes the adventure and enjoyment of exploring caves rather than the scientific aspects. Spelunkers typically engage in cave exploration for personal satisfaction, thrill-seeking, and the unique experience of being immersed in an underground world.

Tom from Mortons on the Move going spelunking
Venture below the Earth’s surface and give spelunking a try.

Is Spelunking Safe?

Spelunking carries inherent risks that you must address to ensure safety. Navigating caves involves potential hazards like uneven terrain, tight spaces, water, and loose rocks. To mitigate these risks, wearing proper protective gear, having essential spelunking knowledge, and being accompanied by experienced guides or groups are crucial safety measures. 

While spelunking can be safe, it is vital to remember that each cave presents unique challenges. Assessing personal limitations, physical fitness, and comfort levels before going underground. By respecting safety guidelines, being prepared, and taking necessary precautions, spelunkers can minimize risks and fully enjoy the captivating experience of exploring the wonders of caves.

Pro Tip: While spelunking, keep an eye for bats that may have White Nose Syndrome.

How to Stay Safe While Spelunking

To stay safe while exploring below the Earth’s surface, remember the following things while spelunking: explore with a team, research before you go, share before you go, wear the right clothes, pack safety gear, stay hydrated, and don’t risk it.

Explore in a Team

Always go spelunking with a group or at least one partner. This ensures that you have the support and assistance necessary in case of emergencies or unexpected situations.

Research Before You Go

Thoroughly research the cave you plan to explore before you go. Familiarize yourself with its features, potential hazards, and difficulty level. This will help you prepare and make informed decisions during your spelunking adventure and will help ensure you don’t enter a cave above your skill level.

Share Before You Go

Inform a friend or family member you trust about your spelunking plans before you go. Share details about the cave you will be exploring, your expected return time, and any emergency contacts they might need. Someone knowing your whereabouts can help you receive swift rescue services should an emergency occur.

Wear the Right Clothes

Dress appropriately for spelunking. This includes wearing durable, comfortable clothing that allows for ease of movement. Additionally, opt for sturdy footwear with good traction to navigate slippery and uneven surfaces.

Pack Safety Gear

Carry essential safety gear, including helmets, headlamps with extra batteries, a first aid kit, and a whistle for signaling in case of emergencies. Additionally, consider bringing ropes and harnesses if your spelunking adventure involves vertical sections or rappelling.

Stay Hydrated

Proper hydration is crucial during spelunking. Pack enough water and drink regularly to prevent dehydration, especially in environments where humidity levels can be high.

Don’t Risk It

Always prioritize personal safety. If you encounter unfamiliar or dangerous situations, exercise caution and consider turning back if necessary. Do not take risks that could jeopardize your well-being.

Cait from Mortons on the Move going spelunking
Spelunking is both mentally and physically challenging.

Why Do People Go Spelunking?

Spelunking attracts people for many reasons. It offers a unique adventure outside their comfort zones and into the unknown, fueling a sense of excitement and exploration. Connecting with nature plays a significant role, as spelunkers seek to discover geological formations, underground rivers, and unique ecosystems within caves. The physical and mental challenges during spelunking, like navigating tight spaces and climbing uneven terrain, provide a sense of personal growth and accomplishment. 

Spelunking also offers an escape from routine, with a tranquil and otherworldly environment where individuals can disconnect from the modern world and find solitude. Curiosity and wonder drive spelunkers to uncover the mysteries within caves, from hidden passages to preserved remnants of history. Furthermore, it often fosters bonding and shared experiences, as people explore caves together, creating lasting memories and strengthening connections among companions.

Pro Tip: Whether you’re spelunking, hiking, camping or more, ditch these 10 Overrated Camping Gear Items That You Really Don’t Need.

Mortons on the Move spelunking with a group
Spelunking is a great activity for explorers of all ages.

What Are the Benefits of Spelunking?

Spelunking offers a range of benefits beyond the thrill of adventure. Let’s look closer at the physical and mental health benefits of spelunking, including exercise, stress relief, developing problem-solving skills, and more.

Exercise

Spelunking provides a full-body workout. Navigating through caves involves climbing, crawling, and maneuvering in confined spaces. This engages various muscle groups and improves overall fitness. The combination of physical exertion and exploration makes spelunking a unique and enjoyable form of exercise.

Stress Relief 

The tranquil and awe-inspiring environment of caves can be a retreat from daily stressors. Being surrounded by the beauty of nature and disconnecting from the outside world promotes relaxation, rejuvenation, and mental well-being. Spelunking offers a break from routine and allows people to find solace in nature. 

Problem Solving

This activity challenges people to problem-solve and think creatively. Navigating through complex cave systems requires assessing the terrain, finding alternative routes, and overcoming obstacles. This problem-solving aspect of this activity enhances cognitive skills, and decision-making abilities, and fosters a sense of adaptability and resourcefulness.

Unique Exploration

Spelunking offers a one-of-a-kind exploration experience. Caves are natural wonders, each with unique geological formations and secret passages. While the U.S. national park system attracts millions of visitors yearly, not as many explorers head below ground and try spelunking.

Tom from Mortons on the Move spelunking
There are many stunning spelunking spots all across the USA.

What Are Some of the Best Spelunking Spots in the US?

There are many unique spots across the U.S. to go spelunking. Check out these six top spots that will leave you speechless.

1. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns is a spelunker’s paradise, boasting a vast underground system of caves with awe-inspiring formations. Visitors can explore the Big Room, one of the largest cave chambers in the world, and witness stalactites and stalagmites. Guided tours cater to various experience levels, allowing novice and experienced spelunkers to view the subterranean wonders.

Pro Tip: Visit these caverns in August – October to watch the bat flights!

⛰️🔦 Let's Go to Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains NP! | 51 Parks with the Newstates

2. Natural Bridge Caverns, Texas

Sitting near San Antonio, Natural Bridge Caverns offers a captivating spelunking experience. With various tours available, including adventurous options for more daring explorers, visitors can admire limestone formations, underground waterfalls, and intricate cave structures. The hidden chambers and passages of Natural Bridge Caverns provide an unforgettable underground adventure.

Natural Bridge Caverns | Overview

3. El Capitan Cave, Alaska

El Capitan Cave in southeast Alaska is a unique and challenging spelunking destination. The El Capitan Cave is the longest mapped cave in Alaska and you can only explore it in the summer. This remote cave system rewards intrepid adventurers with breathtaking geological formations and an opportunity to witness the remnants of ice age fossils. Exploring El Capitan Cave offers a truly extraordinary experience in a stunning wilderness setting.

Exploring Giant Caves in Southeast Alaska | INDIE ALASKA

Pro Tip: Go Spelunking in one of these 9 Amazing Caves in Utah for Epic Underground Exploring.

4. Sonora, Texas Caverns

Sonora Caverns in Texas is renowned for its array of cave formations. With guided tours that cater to different interests and skill levels, visitors can explore intricate chambers with calcite crystal formations and ancient cave formations. Sonora Caverns offers a blend of adventure and geological wonders. Camp close by for easy access to this spelunking spot.

Discover the Marvels of Caverns of Sonora!

5. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky 

Mammoth Cave is the longest-known cave system in the world, boasting over 400 miles of explored passageways. With a range of tours available, including introductory tours and more adventurous expeditions, spelunkers can delve into the vast underground labyrinth and witness gypsum formations, underground rivers, and historical artifacts. Mammoth Cave provides a spelunking experience rich in natural and cultural significance.

Mammoth Cave National Park | GoTraveler PASSPORT

6. Oregon Caves National Monument, Oregon

Nestled within the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon Caves National Monument offers a unique opportunity. Guided tours allow visitors to explore the intricate marble caves, featuring impressive stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone formations. The caves hold a rich natural and cultural history, making it an engaging and educational spelunking destination.

Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve

Honorable Mentions (Our Personal Favorites)

Some of our personal favorite spelunking areas for cave exploration include Lassen Volcanic National Monument, Lava Beds National Monument, and Newberry National Volcanic Monument that we explored during our summer travels in 2017 up the West Coast. We also love exploring slot canyons and caves in Utah and Arizona. It’s like entering another world!

Head Underground and Give Spelunking a Try

If you’re seeking a unique and fulfilling adventure, spelunking awaits you underground. Navigating intricate cave systems, solving problems, and marveling at nature’s creation is an experience like no other. The physical exertion and full-body workout with the tranquility of being below ground may be the perfect escape from your daily routine. So grab your safety gear and head underground to give spelunking a try.
Where would you go spelunking first? Tell us in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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