The Kartchner Caverns State Park®
- aka Kartchner Caverns - story is
one of amazing discoveries...both past and
present. Stand where the discoverers first
entered the cave. Marvel at the strange and
colorful formations. Learn about cave inhabitants,
both ancient and living. As scientific studies
continue, discoveries are yet to be made. The
Big Room tour is a longer and more physically
challenging tour. Children age 6 and under
are not allowed on the tour.
1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and
Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone
hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains.
In the bottom of a sinkhole they found
a narrow crack leading into the hillside.
Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling
the existence of a cave. After several
hours of crawling, they entered a pristine
It wasn't until
February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts told
the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner,
about their amazing discovery.
four years of secret exploration, the
discoverers realized that the cave's
extraordinary variety of colors and formations
must be preserved.
existence became public knowledge in
1988 when its purchase was approved as
an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary
precautions have been taken during its
development to conserve the cave's near-pristine
It all began with a drop of water...A
shallow inland sea covered this area
330 million years ago, depositing layers
of sediment that eventually hardened
into limestone. Millions of years later
this Escabrosa limestone along with other
rock layers uplifted to form the Whetstone
Mountains. The Escabrosa limestone ,
due to a type of tremor or fault, down-dropped
thousands of feet relative to the mountains
made slightly acidic by absorbing carbon
dioxide from the air and soil, penetrated
cracks in the down-dropped limestone
block and slowly dissolved passages in
it. Later, lowering groundwater levels
left behind vast, air-filled rooms.
wide variety of decorations, called "speleothems",
began forming drop by drop over the next
from the surface dissolves minerals on
its trip through the limestone. Once
it reaches the cave, the trapped carbon
dioxide escapes from the water. No longer
able to hold the dissolved calcite, the
drop deposits its tiny mineral load.
Over time, these minerals have created
the beautiful speleothems and variety
of colors found in the cave. Kartchner
Caverns is a "living" cave;
the formations are still growing!
Caverns is home to:
* one of the
world's longest soda straw stalactites
- 21 feet 2 inches
* the tallest and most massive column
in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall
* the world's most extensive formation
of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)
* the first reported occurrence of "turnip"
shields (Big Room)
* the first cave occurrence of "birdsnest"
needle quartz formations
* many other unusual formations such
as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone
Many of the formations you will
see have been continuously growing for
tens of thousands of years. The formations
grow very slowly and are extremely fragile.
When visiting remember that formations
damaged even by accident will stop growing.
To avoid damage to the cave and injury
to yourself please refrain from touching
any of the formations.
and Walking Trails
The Foothills Loop Trail
The Hummingbird Garden Walk
or breaking formations is punishable
* No photography or video cameras allowed
on cave tour.
* No walkers allowed on cave tour.
* Small children should be carried in
arms or in front pack. No baby backpacks
or strollers allowed on cave tour.
* Cave tour trail is barrier-free.
* The park, including the Discovery Center,
is accessible for persons with disabilities.
* No food, drink (including bottled water),
gum, or tobacco products allowed on cave
* No pets, except assist dogs.
* No littering.
Rotunda/Throne Room Tour: Length: 1/2
mile Time: 1 1/2 hr. (leaving approximately
every 20 minutes), tours available year-round.
Big Room Tour: Length: 1/2 mile Time:
1 1/2 hr. (leaving approximately every
30 minutes), tours available October
15 - April 15.
All tours are guided by a trained tour
guide. Reservations are strongly recommended
and can be made by calling: (520)586-CAVE.
The cave averages 68°F and 98% humidity
year round. All cave trails are barrier-free.
Due to wet surfaces and changes in grades,
strollers and walkers are not allowed
on the tours.
Prior to your tour, please be sure to
review Accessibility Information and
Special Tour Reminders !
Approximate Driving Distances
- 310 miles (498 km)
* Phoenix - 160 miles (257 km)
* Benson - 9 miles (14 km)
* Sierra Vista - 19 miles (30km)
* Tombstone - 28 miles (45 km)
* Tucson Airport - 49 miles (78 km)