These caves served as a shelter for Comanche Indians and later, as a quiet getaway for those looking for spirits during Prohibition. Today, they are a national landmark. Discover Longhorn Cavern State Park and learn what lurks inside this Texas cave!
History of Longhorn Cavern
The caves of Longhorn Cavern predate the state of Texas by millions of years. These caves formed when water seeped through, forming underground cavities through limestone. With time, those openings got bigger, which transformed the area into a set of connected caves. The water that had seeped through formed an underground river and the process of erosion and stalactite creation ensued. Longhorn Cavern has long served as a haven for both animals and prehistoric people.
Today, one of the chambers is the “Indian Council Room” after the Comanche Indians, who used the cave for shelter several hundred years ago. In the 1860s, the Confederate Army forced the Comanche Indians out of their shelter. The cave became a site for gunpowder manufacturing. In the 1920s and 1930s, the cave took on another purpose. It was an entertainment lounge that housed a nightclub, restaurant, and dance hall (and served as a speakeasy during Prohibition). It wasn’t until 1931 that the state of Texas purchased the cavern and surrounding land to develop a state park which is now a national landmark.
Geology and Geography of Longhorn Cavern
Columns, crystals, and calcite channels make up Longhorn Cavern. It was formed in Ellenburger limestone, which is gray, brown, and rippled with thin beds. It’s located in Burnet County and before opening to the public, the Civilian Conservation Corps completed the tough job of clearing out debris and silt and installing the walkways and stairs you can use today to explore the cavern yourself. Unfortunately, over the years, parts of the cavern were broken off by greedy tourists looking to take a souvenir. Nevertheless, Longhorn Cavern continues exuding beauty, mesmerizing all those who walk through. At one point, there’s a dolomite formation that resembles a dog!
What Lurks Inside Longhorn Cavern
Inside the caves of Longhorn Cavern, there was once a sizable population of Mexican free-tailed bats. However, that population is no longer. Today, the bats that inhabit the cave are tricolored bats. In the state park surrounding Longhorn Cavern, you might come across several snakes, turkeys, quail, deer, and songbirds.
Visiting Longhorn Cavern
Discover Longhorn Cavern State Park! It’s situated less than 90 minutes from the popular, bustling city of Austin, Texas. You have a couple of options upon arrival. The most popular tour at Longhorn Cavern is the walking tour, which takes you on a developed path alongside a prehistoric riverbed. There are multiple rooms on the path you can explore, taking in the natural wonders. Bookings can be made up to 30 days ahead of time for the walking tour. The same is true for the wild cave tour, which is a different experience. This is more of an immersive tour that invites visitors to see what Longhorn Cavern looked like before modern developments. This primitive tour does have some physical requirements because you enter the undeveloped regions of the cavern.
A third option is gemstone mining, which is perfect for kiddos. You can bundle a tour along with gemstone mining to save as well. On-site, there is a gift shop where you can pick up souvenirs, gemstones, t-shirts, and the like. There’s also a snack bar you can visit in case you get hungry. The food options are grab-and-go, which makes for ultimate convenience. Outside of the cavern, there is plenty to see too. Enjoy the state park’s hiking trails, set up a picnic nestled into an old-growth forest, and view wildlife. There’s no fee to enter the state park itself, but there are fees for the guided tours once you arrive at Longhorn Cavern. There are a few tips if you’re planning to visit the caves. They include:
- Wear proper attire. The cave is a comfortable 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and you need closed-toe, non-slip shoes.
- Inside the cave, there are no restrooms or beverage sales. Be sure to go before you go and have some water on hand in case you get thirsty during the tour.
- There are portions of the tour with low ceilings which require crouching.
- The guides demonstrate what “lights out” look and feel like during the tour.
- The tours at Longhorn Cavern are not wheelchair accessible.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Warren Price Photography/Shutterstock.com
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