No phones, no water bottles and airlock doors. Does that sound like a good start to a cave adventure with kids? It actually is, although the lack of phone (and camera) may drive people a bit nuts during their Kartchner Caverns Tour.
Adventurous families should consider cave tours in Arizona with kids, like the Kartchner Caverns tours. Kartchner Caverns State Park is an easy Tucson day trip. Check out my tips below for taking kids to Kartchner Caverns, including what you are allowed to bring on the tour.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Two young men discovered and explored the cave system in 1974. They knew many caves were damaged by the public when given unregulated access, and they wanted to make sure it would be preserved. After 4 years of secretly exploring the caverns, they let the landowners know about their amazing discovery. Luckily, the family who owned the land (the Kartchners) also believed in preserving the caves for future generations. The cave system remained a secret for another 10 years until it became an Arizona State Park in 1988. The Kartchner Caverns Tours opened to the public in 1999 after careful excavation and the installation of airlock doors and misting systems to help with cave preservation.
Kartchner Caverns Tours
There are two regular cavern tours at Kartchner Caverns State Park. The Rotunda/Throne Tour is available year-round and lasts about 90 minutes. Kids of all ages are welcome on the Rotunda/Throne Tour. The Big Room Tour is only available from mid-October to mid-April due to bats returning to the cave to give birth during the summer. The Big Room Tour is slightly longer at 105 minutes and children must be 7 years or older. If you plan on booking both tours, they recommend having 2 hours between tour start times.
Kartchner Caverns Tours also include a special Helmet and Headlamp tour on Saturdays. Guests get to experience the caverns with only the light of their headlamps, just like the discoverers did back in 1974. Children must be 10 years or older to take the tour.
Taking Kids to Kartchner Caverns
You are not allowed to bring anything with you on the tour, including bags, purses, cell phones, cameras, strollers or water bottles. This includes backpack baby carriers; however, soft slings you wear on the front are allowed for infants. There are small lockers available to rent outside the Discovery Center.
The most important thing to note about the Kartchner Caverns Tours is that you can’t touch anything on the tour except the handrails. They have airlock doors and a misting system in place to prevent the cave from drying out and foreign materials contaminating it. They don’t even want your feet brushing up alongside the walls. If a touch does happen accidentally, they will flag it with colored tape, so that it can be decontaminated later. Our guide explained this several times as it’s the most important rule on tours.
My boys are typical crazy kids but they managed to contain themselves for the hour-long tour. I admit I was a little nervous watching them like a hawk during the tour. Prior to the start of the tour, the guide gives you a little overview and the opportunity to touch a cave formation they have available just for people to touch.
Kartchner Caverns Discovery Center
Be sure to allow for a little time to check out the Kartchner Caverns State Park Discovery Center. Read about the history of the caves, check out hands-on exhibits your kids will appreciate and see some replica formations from inside Kartchner Caverns.
Hiking trails are also available at Kartchner Caverns State Park, so pack a lunch and make it a full day adventure. You can also grab food at the Bat Cave Cafe just outside the Discovery Center.
Tucson Day Trip
Kartchner Cavern Tours make an excellent Tucson day trip. It’s a quick 50-minute drive from the Tucson area. Benson is a 10-minute detour as you head back to Tucson. We opted to have lunch at the Horseshoe Café, which has a very historic and hometown feel to it. I’d recommend eating there over the typical fast food options available. Fair warning, there are also rumors it’s haunted!
Or extend your Tucson day trip into a long weekend and explore more of Southeast Arizona by checking out Tombstone and Bisbee.
Cave Tours in Arizona with Kids
Southern Arizona is your best bet for cave tours in Arizona with kids. Both Kartchner Caverns State Park and Colossal Cave are easily accessible when visiting Tucson. Colossal Cave is a smaller, and a shorter cave experience compared with Kartchner Caverns. It’s also a dry cave, meaning the formations are no longer growing. Colossal Cave is located just outside of Tucson and you can often find admission deals on Groupon.
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If you are up for an Arizona road trip, head to Northern Arizona, where you will find guided tours available at Grand Canyon Caverns. I haven’t experienced those caves yet, but have heard kids are allowed on some of the tours. If your family is more adventurous, there are a few caves you can explore on your own, including Coronado Cave, Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mountain, and Lava River Cave. If you aren’t headed to Arizona soon, don’t discount possible cave tours near you.