As far as 200 miles away, drivers can see advertisements for Penn’s Cave in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. Advertised as America’s only all-water cavern, Penn’s Cave is also home to a wildlife park full of North American animals. Tours have been going through the caverns since 1885, when Penn’s Cave opened as a show cavern.
After driving past the sign so many times, I thought it was time to pay Penn’s Cave a visit. The drive would take two and a half hours, so I spent the entire ride hoping that America’s only all-water cavern would be worth the time and money. Upon arrival, we were a little confused at first because you must drive down a dirt road to get to Penn’s Cave. The entrance, however, is well marked, and you can park in the parking lot next to Penn’s Cave hotel. If you look in the ditch next to the parking lot, you’ll notice a tiny gated off area underneath of a tree. This is the only walking entrance into the cave and the entrance that the cave was discovered through, but it is not used today for tours.
To purchase tickets for the tours, we headed up the marked path and into the gift shop. Tickets can be purchased at the cash register in the middle of the gift shop. Ticket prices and hours are all listed on Penn’s Cave’s website so you can be sure of the cost before you arrive. Because it is the best deal at $29.95 per adult, we decided to take the cavern and wildlife tours.
We arrived at 11 am on a summer weekday, and there were only a few people waiting to take the 11 am tour. Because the cavern tours were running hourly and the wildlife tours were only running a few times a day (including one at noon), we decided it would be best to take the 50 minute cavern tour (to end at 11:50 am) before the 1.5 hour wildlife tour to avoid waiting.
The Cavern Tour
To get to the cavern tour, we exited through the door on the left of the gift shop when our tour time was called over the loud speaker. Following the large signs, we descended quite a large hill and a few stairs to get to the opening of the cavern. There are also signs along the short yet steep path telling you about the history of the caverns, but it may be best to wait to read those until the end of the tour so you don’t hold up the whole group. Once you get to the opening of the cave, you’ll see there are long, skinny boats waiting and a tour guide waiting to take you on your tour. If you’re kept waiting, you can also feed the trout that gather at the opening of the cave by paying 25 cents for a little bit of trout food. Children will probably find this amusing as the trout jump and get quite excited over the food.
As soon as our group arrived, we boarded the tiny boat one at a time to avoid tipping. It may seem scary as people are boarding, but once the boat is evened out, it won’t rock as much as it may seem.
We began our tour through the cave with the tour guide stopping at a few points along the way. She had a huge spotlight to point out the important things we should be looking at and stopped along the way at many light switches to illuminate the rooms we were going through. There were quite a few interesting formations along the way, and you’ll have to visit to see their beauty for yourself. However, when your tour guide warns to watch for rocks and keep fingers in the boat – they really mean it! There are quite a few tight holes you have to fit the boat through. After a ride around the lake at the other side of the cavern where you’ll see the first hydroelectric power generator, you’ll head back through the cave to end where you began. Overall, the cavern tour is quite interesting as you’ll be able to see eye-catching natural creations.
The Wildlife Tour
At noon, we headed out the back of the gift shop to board a safari-type bus. There are no windows on the bus, so your tour guide will advise you to keep all hands and arms inside of the bus. I had high expectations for the wildlife tour because the radio advertisements push their mountain lions, bears, and bobcats. I thought we would be able to see all of these animals running around outside of the bus in their natural habitat. That turns out not to be the case.
As we drove through, we were able to see bison, deer, elk, and Texas Longhorn cattle as we sat on the bus. It was amazing to see these animals up close, and the deer, elk, and Texas Longhorn cattle were very interested to see what was going on so they came incredibly close to the bus to give everyone an up-close view.
To see the grey wolves and timber wolves, we had to get off of the bus and walk over to their cage where the tour guide tried to lure them with snacks. We were only able to see one of the 1-year-old timber wolves and the only remaining grey wolf, but they were also an interesting sight to see.
After the timber wolves, I was disappointed to find out that we would have to disembark the bus again to see the bears, lions, and bobcats inside cages as though we were in the zoo. Having gone to the zoo a few days before, I wasn’t expecting to see the exact same thing I had seen there. Granted, we still saw the animals, but don’t expect to see them in any special up close way. We were also able to see a tiny African museum exhibit that is hawked as something amazing, but in reality, it is a tiny exhibit with a few fake animals in it. While it is cool to look at (especially the Warthog!), it is nothing to get excited over.
Penn’s Cave History