Howe Caverns: An Underground Adventure In Upstate NY

Imagine descending 156 feet beneath the Earth’s surface to discover a magical, untouched world of limestone corridors, massive stalactites, and underground rivers. It’s the second most visited natural attraction in the state, surpassed only by Niagara Falls. Hidden within the hills of Upstate New York, Howe Caverns offers an unforgettable journey through the depths of the Earth.

Visiting Howe Caverns is a perfect escape from the mundane, offering an awe-inspiring journey deep beneath the Earth’s surface. The caverns’ temperature remains at a cool and constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, making it a great summer retreat and a warm escape during those chilly winter months.

Howe Caverns is, in fact, the largest show cavern in the Northeast and welcomes 150,000 to 200,000 visitors per year. The natural attraction is second only to Niagara Falls in popularity.

Where Is Howe Caverns?

The Howe Caverns site is located in Howes Cave, a hamlet of Schoharie County in New York State. It is approximately 40 miles west of Albany, the state’s capital, and a perfect day trip destination for residents and visitors of the Northeast.

History Of Howe Caverns

A visit to Howe Caverns is a thrilling adventure. Those daring enough to be there when they switch off the lights will experience a world like no other – chilly, creepy, and more than a little disorienting.

“Deep down in the earth, people have found dark hollow places. They are called caves.” Gail Gibbons, Caves and Caverns

Legend has it that in the early 1840s farmer Lester Howe’s cow, Millicent found the natural entrance to the limestone cave. A year later, Lester opened Howe Caverns to the public. But it was not until 1929 that a new entrance was created, now accessible by elevator, along with the paved paths, brick walkways, lighting, and handrails still found today. Since then, Howe Caverns has seen a number of owners and renovations.

Howe Caverns animatronic

What To Expect At Howe Caverns

One of the newer additions, an animatronic figure of Lester Howe, greets visitors headed to the elevator that carries them down 156 feet below the Earth’s surface.

A guided tour will lead you through an astounding array of spectacular geological formations, including massive stalactites hanging from the ceiling, stalagmites reaching upwards from the floor, and flowstones sweeping along the walls. The unique formations, named the Giant Formation, Titan’s Temple, and The Ear of the Wind, among others, stand testament to the slow yet powerful forces that have shaped our planet over millions of years.

Stalagmite or stalactite? This a tricky question when some formations have shifted over time.

Wisely, visitors are allowed to touch one stalagmite, hopefully getting it out of their system. If not, they are reminded of the Caver’s Motto: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time.

Howe Caverns boat ride

And the group is kept moving, covering a mile of walkway on the hour-long tour, stopping only for a tranquil boat ride on the Lake of Venus, an underground river that reflects the magnificent geological formations in its still, clear water. And, of course, stopping to make a wish at the Wishing Well, a deep and mysterious pool that is believed to be over 6,000 years old.

Over eighty years, the tours have been smoothed and polished so now visitors are kept well entertained with amusing anecdotes, trivia, and the occasional joke.

One of the more dramatic stops on the cavern tour is at the Bridal Alter, the site of more than 600 weddings a year. The first wedding took place in 1854 when Lester Howe planned the publicity stunt that would see the first, and then later another, daughter married. Today, the superstitious stand on the calcite heart to discover if the fates promise love in the coming year, or a baby for those already wed.

Beyond The Traditional Tour

If you’re in for an even more adventurous experience, Howe Caverns offers additional tours such as the Lantern Tour, where you explore the main cavern by the flickering light of a lantern, much like the early explorers. For adrenaline junkies, there’s the Adventure Tour, which includes a series of spelunking expeditions through the caves’ undeveloped sections. Be prepared to crawl, climb, and squeeze your way through.

Only available seasonally, one of the newest tours, the Signature Rock Discovery Tour, takes you to some of the oldest parts of the cavern where you’ll find out what’s behind the mysterious “dam doors” at the furthest point of the Traditional Cave Tour. 

Additionally, these cave tours can be paired with an overnight package at the Howe Caverns Motel.

Howe Caverns Adventure Park

Howe Caverns Adventure Park

One of the newest attractions in Howes Cave NY is the Ultra Max Lockdown Escape Room experience, but it seems that Howes Caverns adds new attractions regularly. Inside, there’s a Cafe, Gift Shop, Sweet Shop, and Rock & Fossil Shop. Outdoors, there’s a Gemstone Mining Station and (seasonally open) Adventure Ropes Course:

  • Four-Tower Zip Line is 950 feet long and stands high above the earth. This scenic aerial ride is divided into four sections and takes riders for a beautiful view suspended up to 40 feet in the air.
  • The Sky Trail® Ropes Course lets visitors go through a series of surprising and increasingly challenging activities. Suitable for all ages.

Truthfully, the ropes course and zip line were a little tame for my thrill-seeking teen and tween. We’ve conquered some of the tallest, steepest, longest zip lines and extreme ropes courses available. And this was not it. What it is; however, is a great place to introduce adventure courses to younger children or to adults who are afraid of heights.

And even though Howe High Adventure was not especially thrilling for us, the views it afforded cannot be beat.

Plan A Visit To Howe Caverns

Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out Strawberries And Biscuits At Schoharie Valley Farms and Go Out And Hike Vroman’s Nose.

Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out our guide to rockhounding in Upstate NY.