Howe Caverns: Go Caving in New York Without Excessive Gear

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

A collection of underground caves, Howe Caverns is located 61 kilometers (38 miles) west of Albany, New York.

The limestone caverns, named after Lester Howe, stretch 160–200 feet (50–60 meters) below the surface.

Here, you will find bizarre rock formations (stalactites and stalagmites), lakes, and underground rivers, such as the Styx River.

The installation of an electrical lighting and communication system took place in 1929. Elevators provide access to the caves now, where temperatures are a chilly 52°F (11°C) on average.

The principal route for touring is a twisting hallway that is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long, 10-60 feet (3-18 meters) wide, and 30-60 feet (9-18 meters) high.

The “mirror-perfect” Lake of Venus, 660 feet (201 meters) long, offers gondola-style boat rides.

Secret Caverns, the second collection of caverns (with underground waterfalls and preserved aquatic life), are close to the entrance.

Best of all, any caving equipment you’d need is provided or not needed on this trip. Let’s take a look at the history behind these caverns.

A look at a large flowwall inside Howe Caverns.

History of Howe Cavern

Geologists think it took several million years for Howe Caverns to form.

The cave walls are mostly limestone (Coeymans and Manlius), deposited hundreds of millions of years ago.

This is when the Atlantic Ocean extended well inland. The Lake of Venus, an underground lake in the cave, is among its many speleothems.

Lester Howe was a farmer, who found and named the cave on May 22, 1842. His cows would frequently congregate among bushes at the base of a hill during summer, which sparked his curiosity.

He soon discovered a strong, chilly air from a hole in the ground behind the plants. Howe dug out and explored the cave with his friend and neighbor Henry Wetsel.

In 1843, Howe permitted eight-hour public tours of the cave, and as business increased, erected a hotel over the entrance.

Howe sold off portions of his property until a limestone quarry bought the rest when he ran into financial trouble. They purchased the hillside around the cave’s natural entrance eventually as well.

The cave eventually became inaccessible to the general public, but in 1927 a group came togethre and sought to reopen it. The organization worked on developing an additional entrance to the cave for the following two years.

The repair, including elevators, brick walkways, lights, and handrails, finished on Memorial Day in May 1929, and the cave reopened for visitors.

Most of the cave is covered during the introductory tour, which lasts roughly 80 minutes. The furthest point of the Lake of Venus, which signifies the conclusion of the developed land, is reached by visitors after starting at the elevators.

About 2,100 feet (640 m) of unfinished and damaged caves, which led to the quarry and the natural entrance, are located beyond this point.

Visitors take a boat ride, then turn around and walk back the same route, making two stops.

A guide takes an empty boat along the winding river inside Howe Cavern.
A look at the type of boat that is used during the tour along the river.

A Great Attraction for Tourists

Howe Caverns is a well-liked tourist destination that gives guests a taste of spelunking or caving without requiring the sophisticated gear and expertise typically associated with such activities.

The largest show cave in the Northeast United States, Howe Caverns receives an average of 150,000 visitors annually! It’s the second most prevalent natural attraction in New York.

Early excursions took place between 1843 and 1900 after its discovery in 1842.

It has been 90 years since guided tours of its living limestone cave became available.

The site’s location is in Schoharie County atop a stunning mountaintop with breathtaking views of the Helderberg Plateau.

It is conveniently situated off Interstate 88, 45 minutes north of Albany, 2.5 hours north of New York City, and 45 minutes north of Oneonta and Cooperstown.

The property also includes the main lodge, Howe High Adventure Park, the Howe Caverns Motel, and the Gemstone Mining Building, making it a well-liked family attraction and a frequent stop for school and scout field excursions.

The Howe High Adventure Park is open from July to Labor Day, and the cave excursions are accessible all year long with seasonal days and hours.

The Signature Rock Discovery Tour takes guests behind the enigmatic dam doors and the limestone dam. But there are unique expeditions as well, like Lantern Tours, Adventure Tours, and Family Flashlight Tours.

Howe Glassworks is a new glassblowing studio that is new to Howe Caverns. The exciting activity of glassblowing has been introduced to Howe Caverns and the New York Capital Region. Visitors will have a unique and intimate glassmaking experience thanks to complete hands-on courses.

Dozens of massive stalactites hang over the river inside Howe Cavern, shown here.

Recent Improvements at Howe Caverns

Private owners bought the cave in 2008. A ropes course and zip line served as the only attractions included in the adventure park when it first opened in 2011.

Since then, they’ve added a rock wall, air jumper, and a structure for gemstone mining, along with an H2OGO ball.

Officials from Howe Caverns reopened the cave’s natural entrance to visitors in May 2015. Since 1900, no one has been able to visit this area.

Guy Schiavone, the director of Howe Cavern’s specialized tour, explained that it was once closed because many cement corporations had previously held the land before taking it over in the late 1800s.

The two-hour “Signature Rock Discovery Tour” allows visitors to explore a portion of the cave that, for the general public, has never been open.

Visitors receive portable lamps and outfits suitable for the muddy and chilly trek. There is no artificial illumination in this cavern area.

The expanded tour features the ruins of Howe’s original tourist boat, the signatures of subterranean explorers from more than a century ago, and a Music Hall with outstanding acoustics.

The trip typically concludes at the Lake of Mystery, where tourists must crawl through a muddy passageway filled with water that is only inches above the ceiling to continue.

The “cave-aged” cheese is kept in a locked chamber by the elevators and is available for purchase at the Howe Caverns store. Deep inside the cave, on top of a heart-shaped calcite rock, weddings are held.

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