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101 Things To Do: Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, Wisconsin

Water droplets hang from stalactites in Crystal Cave on Sept. 7, 2018. Steve gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 5
A white ribbon of flowstone illustrates the living, changing nature of the interior of Crystal Cave. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 5
Crystal Cave, three miles west of Spring Valley on Highway 29, is the longest cave in Wisconsin. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 5
In addition to taking a tour of the cave, visitors can pan for minerals in Prospector's Creek just outside the entrance to the cave. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 5
Stairways and ramps with handrails make it easy to navigate the passages inside Crystal Cave. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

Editor's note: This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight. The stories are compiled at www.rivertown101.com. 

A visit to Crystal Cave, the longest cave in Wisconsin, is an underground adventure, as well as an education.

At least that's what Eric McMaster, executive director, wants for the more than 50,000 visitors who stop by the cave every season.

"We hope people are entertained," he said, "but we also want them to learn about the cave, its history, and the geology of the area."

Regular tours of the cave last about an hour. Visitors descend seven stories into the cave on stairways and ramps with handrails to see several rooms, many filled with stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and of course, the crystals that gave the cave its name.

Tour guides are well-trained to explain the features of the cave, how it formed, and how it was discovered and explored. The guides make sure everyone is aware of safety concerns such as low-hanging ceilings, making the tour suitable for visitors of all ages.

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Flash photography is allowed inside the cave except for photos of bats. Cellphones are allowed for photography, but cell reception is not available inside the cave because of the depth underground.

Visitors who want more adventure can sign up for a Wild Tour of South Portal Cave. This is a more strenuous tour using helmets and headlamps provided by the tour. It involves a hike on unimproved trail, both to and in the cave. It is for physically fit people age 14 and over.

Crystal Cave can also arrange custom tours, birthday parties, and private tours.

Outside the cave, visitors can walk an interpretive nature trail, and as of the fall of 2018, play an 18-hole miniature golf course which provides information about dinosaurs with each hole. Visitors can also pan for gold and other gems in a sluice near the cave building.

"Panning in Prospector's Creek is very popular," McMaster explained. "Anyone who pans for minerals gets a bag with good stuff in it."

"In addition to the cave, the nature trail, and the panning creek, we have the largest rock shop in the upper midwest," McMaster said.

If you go...

Name: Crystal Cave

Address: W965 State Road 29, Spring Valley, Wis.

Phone: 715-778-4414

Website: www.acoolcave.org

Hours: Seven days per week during the season. April-May and September-October 10 a.m. and last tour leaves at 4 p.m. Memorial weekend through Labor Day 9:30 a.m. and last tour departs 5 p.m. Closed November through March. No reservations needed.

Admission: Regular $18.96. Youth 3-12 $10.96. 2 and under free. See website for prices for special tours and groups.

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

(651) 301-7872