Visit Kartchner Caverns
The Mystery and Magic of Ancient Cave Formations
Undiscovered until 1974 and kept a secret until the late 1980’s Kartchner Caverns went through years of challenges before becoming a state park and opening to the public in 1999. The beautiful caverns are carved out of limestone and filled with spectacular formations, called speleothems. These formations began forming drop by drop 200,000 years ago.
The Rotunda and Throne Room tour is half a mile in length and takes approximately an hour and a half to complete, most of which is underground. On this tour you will discover the role that water played in creating the caverns. You will also see the 45,000-year-old bat guano, delicate formations, and “Kubla Khan,” the largest speleothem formation in Arizona, made of a hollow mineral tube.
The Big Room Tour is open from October – April because it is a nursery roost for over 1,000 cave bats the rest of the year. This tour has only been open since 2003 and is half a mile long, taking approximately an hour and 45 minutes to complete. You will learn about amazing discoveries of prehistoric life found in the caverns and studied by scientists around the world. You will also marvel at the many strange and colorful formations, learn about the cave fauna (both living and ancient), and learn about new scientific research as ongoing studies continue. Please note: children under the age of 7 are not permitted on this tour.
All tours are guided by a trained tour guide. Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling: (520) 586-CAVE. All cave trails are barrier-free. Due to wet surfaces and changes in grades, strollers and walkers are not allowed on the tours.
Within Kartchner Caverns you will discover:
- One of the world's longest soda straw stalactites - 21 feet 2 inches (Throne Room)
- The tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall (Throne Room)
- The world's most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)
- The first reported occurrence of "turnip" shields (Big Room)
- The first cave occurrence of "birdsnest" needle quartz formations
- Many other unusual formations such as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams.
Please remember many of the formations you will see have been continuously growing for tens of thousands of years. The formations grow very slowly and are extremely fragile. When visiting remember that formations damaged, even by accident, will stop growing. To avoid damage to the cave and injury to yourself, please refrain from touching any of the formations.
To plan your vacation to Kartchner Caverns, call a AAA Travel professional toll-free 877-870-9408 or stop by your local AAA office.
Here is some information and tips from AAA travel experts:
- No items (bags, purses, cameras, strollers, bottled water, etc.) are allowed in the caves, so be prepared to leave them in your car or rent a locker.
- Arrive at least one hour prior to your scheduled start time.
- The caverns have an average temperature of 72-degrees Fahrenheit (22-degrees Celsius) and 99% humidity year-round. It will feel warm and steamy and might not be safe for those with respiratory problems.
- Coats and jackets are not necessary inside the cave, but might be appropriate for outside weather depending on the time of year.
- Children under the age of 7 are not permitted on Big Room tours.
- Camping is permitted in designated sites and RV sites are available but they go fast, so reserve them early.
- Visit the Discovery Visitors Center to watch a video on the discovery of Kartchner Caverns and wander through educational exhibits.
- If you plan to do both tours in one day, make sure to schedule at least 2 hours between tours.
- Kartchner Caverns are easily accessible from Metro Phoenix and its surrounding areas. If you plan to stay overnight, we recommend in Tucson or Benson.
Hikers should ensure that they wear comfortable clothing, durable shoes and have plenty of water when hiking, especially in summer months. Hats, sunscreen and regular consumption of water will help prevent exhaustion and heat related injuries. Hikers should stay on developed trails to prevent erosion, damage to vegetation and personal injury. Please report any problems along the trail or trail damage to the staff at the Front Desk.
The Guindani Trail
Located on the east flank of the Whetstone Mountains in the Coronado National Forest this trail is 4.2 miles in length (first mile is an easy walk, next 2/3 of trail is moderate difficulty, and the last leg is strenuous). This is a shared-use, non-motorized trail that is well-marked with directional signs. Trail elevations range from 4750’ at the park trailhead to over 5620’ at the highest point along the Guindani Trail. The summits along the crest of the Whetstone Mountains are over 7000’ in elevation. Vegetation is mesquite-invaded Chihuahaun semi-desert grassland at the lower elevations and open oak-juniper woodland on the higher slopes.
Access to the Guindani Trail is located on the west side of Kartchner Caverns State Park campgrounds; a kiosk marks entrance to trail. For more information, contact: Sierra Vista Ranger District, 5990 W. Hwy 92, Hereford, AZ 85615 or call (520) 378-0311.
Foothills Loop Trail
Approximately 2.5 miles long and rated moderate to difficult. There are four access points; one at the northwest end of the Discovery Center parking lot near the Group Use Ramada, one at the north end of the lower campground, one at the north end of the upper campground, and one at the trailhead gate leading into the National Forest.
This is a hiking trail, with no bicycles or motorized vehicles permitted. The trail climbs the limestone hill north of the cave and descends into the wash that follows the fault between the Whetstone Block and the San Pedro Block. A short spur trail at the upper portion of the Foothills Loop Trail leads visitors to the scenic Mountain Viewpoint.
Informational signs along the Foothills Loop Trail will discuss such trail highlights as the foothills, scenic view, riparian area, bedrock mortar and the Native Americans that inhabited the area. Some of the vegetation seen on the Foothills Loop Trail hike include: Ocotillo, Creosote Bush, Mesquite, Desert Broom, Acacia, Wait-a-Minute Bush, Scrub Oak, Barrel Cactus, Prickly Pear, Buckhorn Cholla, and Hackberry.
Hummingbird Garden Walk
Located on the southwest side of the Discovery Center, this walk is lined with a variety of local vegetation. Some of the varieties include: Catclaw Acacia, Velvet Honeysuckle, Beargrass, Yellow Bells, Black Spine Prickle Pear, Autumn Sage, Agave, Desert Bird of Paradise, Desert Spoon, Fairy Duster, Chaparosa, and Hesperaloe.