I confess, I am something of a cave-snob. You may not know that cave-snobbery is a thing, but it is totally a thing. And it is a malady that afflicts many who have been lucky enough to visit, or in my case live near, some of the most renowned cavern systems in the world (a category I would definitely not put Natural Bridge Caverns in).
I spent the first 18 years of my life just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the expansive Carlsbad Caverns, located in southeastern New Mexico. This vast and beautiful national park is utterly breathtaking in its scale and is a place I spent many a happy school field trip exploring and discovering. These experiences instilled in me a healthy respect for and love of the underground world. So, when I moved to San Antonio some 20 years ago, I was eager to visit Natural Bridge Caverns to see how it compared.
And to be frank, it didn’t. Like, at all. It was smaller, hotter, and way less dramatic than the caves of my childhood. I left my visit feeling slightly disappointed and a lot homesick for the land of enchantment.
But over the years, my snobbery has somewhat abated as I have come to appreciate Natural Bridge Caverns not because it compares in any way to Carlsbad Caverns, but simply because it is an access point to a world that shaped part of my childhood love of discovery and I don’t want others to miss out on that sense of wonder that only a cave can evoke.
So, I have done a bit of an about-face regarding Natural Bridge Caverns. No, it’s not even in the same ballpark as Carlsbad Caverns or the even bigger Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. But Natural Bridge Caverns is worth a visit nonetheless, if only because any kind of cave exploration brings out our awe and wonder and we all need a little bit of that. Undoubtedly, the caverns will certainly cause you to pause and enjoy the underground world around you.
What is Natural Bridge Caverns?
Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest commercially operated cave system in the state of Texas, so it is not a state or federal park. It was discovered in 1960 by two students from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio who began exploring and mapping the caves and working alongside the landowners on developing the caves for commercial use.
Development on the caves began in 1963 with the lighting and trail system and was completed in 1964 when the caves officially opened to the public. Natural Bridge Caverns registered as a United States National Natural Landmark in 1972 and today, the cave system is still owned and operated by the family members of the original developers.
Where does the attraction get its name from?
Natural Bridge Caverns is named for the 60-ft natural limestone bridge that spans the entrance to the caverns.
Why is Natural Bridge Caverns famous?
Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest cave system near San Antonio, Texas and the largest commercial caverns in the state of Texas.
What is there to do below ground?
Below ground, there are a few tour options including the original Discovery Tour. This 75-minute walking tour takes guests 180 feet below ground on a paved walking path to see cave rooms and formations. Guides will join each group and offer a lot of information on the history of the cave and the science behind cave formation.
The Discovery Tour is a great “intro to caves” kind of tour and is appropriate for guests of all ages as it isn’t particularly physically challenging. Tickets start at $25.75/adult and $16.75/child and vary day to day.
The brand-spanking new Hidden Wonders Tour which debuted just a few months ago in May 2023 takes guests through chambers that have only recently been more developed to include upgraded lighting and a spectacular ballroom which can be rented for events.
Guests will exit the Hidden Wonders Tour on the Belt Assisted Transport – the only conveyor system ride out of a cavern in the world.
This tour also lasts for 75 minutes and is led by a knowledgeable guide. Tickets start at $27.75/adult and $18.00/child and vary day to day.
A combo ticket for both the Discovery Tour and the Hidden Wonders Tour is available and starts at $45.75/adult and $29.75/child.
Natural Bridge Cavern’s Adventure Tours are designed for the more adventurous spelunkers looking to experience the undeveloped parts of Natural Bridge Caverns. During these hours-long tours, guests will climb, hike, and explore parts of the cave not seen on the traditional tours while learning basic rope techniques used for ascending and descending into and out of caves.
Tickets start at $129.99 per person and go up to $169.99. Beware, explorer, you WILL get muddy on these rides.
Which Natural Bridge Caverns tour is better?
The cave tours are fairly similar. The Discovery Tour is described as the “show cave” with large rooms and a variety of cave features. The largest drawback to this cave is that you have to walk out as there is no elevator or conveyor belt.
The Hidden Wonders tour is described as more “science-centered” and concludes with a light and sound show. Guests exiting the Hidden Wonders tour can opt to walk out along a steep, inclined walkway, or ride along the conveyor belt. Note that the conveyor belt does not offer a handrail so guests with mobility challenges may not feel comfortable balancing on it.
Overall, I don’t feel like one tour is appreciably better than the other just given how similar they are. If you don’t care about walking out – choose either one. If you prefer to ride out, go with the Hidden Wonders tour.
What is there to do at Natural Bridge Caverns above ground?
There are quite a few attractions at Natural Bridge Caverns above ground to keep you and your family busy for the day.
The Twisted Trails Zip Rails and Ropes Course is a 60-ft high aerial ropes course with 50 elements to climb and maneuver through. Included in the course is a 685-ft zip line track that will have guests soaring above the trees on this impressive installation. Tickets start at $26.99 online and guests must either be 48” or 42” with a paid chaperone.
The little ones can also grab a piece of the ropes course action, albeit a much smaller one. The Tykes Zip and Rail Ropes Course is a tinier, tamer version of the Twisted Trails where those under 4 feet can have a go on the ropes, bridges, and zip lines while adults assist. Tickets start at $8.99/child online.
Twisted Trails Climbing walls give guests a chance to flex their climbing skills on a number of different walls and structures. Tickets start at $5/person with a package.
The AMAZEn’ Ranch Roundup is a maze that honors 5 generations of ranch ownership history in the Natural Bridge Caverns family. Tickets start at $5.99/person online.
At the Natural Bridge Mining Company, kids can experience what it was like to pan for gold during the gold rush of 1849. Gem and fossil bags can be purchased on-site and then the mining “rough” can be poured through a screen tray while kids rinse and uncover any number of treasures from amethyst to rose quartz.
The Bracken Bat Flight is an event to behold on select summer nights when tickets to see the bats take an evening flight can be purchased as a package with your other Natural Bridge Caverns attractions. The bat flight is capacity capped and tickets are limited so be sure to check the website a few weeks ahead of your visit for the most up-to-date information and ticket availability.
No attraction is complete without the obligatory dining and shopping features. Natural Bridge Caverns has a few snack and gift shops giving guests a chance to munch and browse during their visit.
Are the caverns cold?
Nope, not at all. Natural Bridge Caverns, despite the surface temperature in San Antonio, is a constant 70° inside with a relative humidity of 99%, making it feel more like 80°. This can be quite a shock to those who come expecting to beat the San Antonio heat only to find themselves sweating as they tour the caverns.
How long does a visit to Natural Bridge Caverns take?
Each cave tour (with the exception of the adventure tours) lasts approximately 75 minutes. Surface activities range from 30-60 a piece. If you add shopping and eating to the list, you could easily spend 3 hours or more on the property, even up to a full day if you do everything they have to offer and take your time.
Are the tours wheelchair accessible?
Due to the cave’s natural formations and the restrictive bends in the cave passages, the cave tours are not wheelchair accessible, and strollers are prohibited. However, most of the grounds and buildings on the surface are wheelchair accessible and strollers are welcome.
What time does Natural Bridge Caverns open?
Natural Bridge Caverns is open every day of the year except Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Hours do vary by date so check the website for the most up to date info, but on average, the park grounds are open from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
Do the caverns host any special events throughout the year?
Yes! In addition to the Bracken bat flight detailed above, Natural Bridge Caverns hosts 4 other special events throughout the year for guests to attend.
Concerts in the Cavern is a concert series that takes place in the Hidden Wonders underground ballroom. Due to the size of the space, concerts are restricted to 200 people and tickets typically sell out quite fast. Check the website for upcoming concerts and information.
In partnership with Concrete Yoga, Natural Bridge Caverns offers cave yoga, a one-of-a-kind yoga experience underground. For information on the next scheduled class, visit the Concrete Yoga events page.
Cavern Fall Fest occurs every weekend in October and adds a dash of autumn to each cave visit. Fall activities - such as a mini hay maze, live music, fall photo ops, and trick-or-treating - are included in the cost of admission to the cave.
Christmas at the Caverns is Natural Bridge Cavern’s annual holiday event where guests can purchase special tickets to enjoy caroling inside of the caverns. Back above ground the celebration continues with a 30-ft lit tree, lighted trails, and a s’mores roast.
Where is Natural Bridge Caverns located?
Natural Bridge Caverns is located on the far northeast side of San Antonio at 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd., San Antonio, TX 78266. Parking at the caverns is free and space is available for oversized vehicles.
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