Gracefully dripping pillar and subterranean pool in Crystal Onyx Cave.

Crystal Onyx Cave is a family-owned and run cave just outside Mammoth Cave National Park in Cave City, Kentucky. The destination features family-friendly tours of grandiose formations that we were sadly missing in our tour of the River Styx. Yes, once you’ve hit the national park, scratch that itch for stalactites and stalagmites at Crystal Onyx Cave.

Dense rock formations in Crystal Onyx Cave.
The rock formations along the trail are remarkably dense

Walking Among Flowing Rock

We gather in front of the gift shop. The tour travels down the property to an enclosed entrance staircase that descends into the cave. The tour is remarkable not just for the beautiful drapery but fascinating demonstrations of phosphorus in the formations and tree roots dangling from the roof. The roots wind around the rock formations.

This is a living cave and formations continue to grow before our eyes, though imperceptibly. The dripping water from the surface travels down and deposits minerals on the formations. Touching these living rock faces could harm their development. Even so, we certainly can get very close in the course of the tour.

The Crystal Onyx Cave is a relatively new one, at least as far as tours are concerned. Visitors can hardly spend much time in the area without hearing about the Cave Wars, a period in which tour operations would deface rivals caves in order to cut back on the competition for tourist’s ticket money. Many beautiful caves that, to this day, show the scars of cut columns and severed stalactites. By the time the Crystal Onyx Cave is discovered by the cool air it issued, the Cave Wars are over so the cave is relatively untouched.

Pillars in the making in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Pillars in the making
Tree roots dangling from delicate rippling rock formations in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Tree roots dangling from delicate rippling rock formations
Closeup of a delicate rock formation in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Ripples and ridges
Closeup view of bubbling stone in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Bubbling rock formations that resemble fried chicken more than the solid stone that they are.
Frilly details of a delicate ribbon ridge in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Frilly details of a delicate ribbon ridge

Reopening the Crystal Onyx Cave

Crystal Onyx is a testament to personal initiative. This cave had been open for decades. Yet, tours ceased when the last operating owner sold the property to a telecommunications company to erect cell towers. Being in the telecommunications industry rather than tourism, the caves remained closed for years. The current owner, with fond memories of the cave, approached the company about buying the land. Today, Crystal Onyx Cave operates as a passion project. That love is evident in the care and maintenance of the cave with a few whimsical touches. 

The property is a little ramshackle, with a patched-together gift shop and ticket counter, and an outdoor portapotty. The owner’s welded art projects are scattered around the property. Despite the rough edges, the cave itself is remarkable. The enthusiastic and friendly guides bring a lot of positive energy to the whole experience.

 - Crystal Onyx Cave gift shop.
Outside the gift shop
Welded sculpture resembling a suspended Death Star at Crystal Onyx Cave.
Welded sculptures and other odd art features dot the property.

Exploring the Cave

The owners continue to explore the cave in collaboration with local spelunking clubs. New routes may pop up as they are made safe for visitors. Today, there are two tours offered, the upper and lower levels. But who knows how many choices there may be in the future?

As the tour name implies, the Crystal Onyx cave is be divided into two levels. The Top Tour explores the upper level of the Crystal Onyx cave which boasts a strikingly dense collection of rock formations. While the Bottom Tour explores the lower level, full of larger chambers and formations. By default, visitors tend to be sold the top tour. Though, once we have complete the top tour, visitors can return for the bottom tour at a discounted rate.

A chamber full of rock formations in Crystal Onyx Cave.
A chamber full of rock formations
View down into the staircase of Crystal Onyx Cave's lower level.
View down into the staircase of the cave’s lower level.

Know before you Go

Like all the private tours we have enjoyed outside Mammoth Cave, this tour involves some rough terrain. The cave includes stairs, narrow walkways, and low-hanging rock. So, wear good shoes and be aware of footing. Because of the narrow passageways, even small backpacks are not allowed on the tours. We could bring our cameras but had to hold them ourselves. Even so, it was absolutely worth the inconvenience.

Man ducking below a low hanging section of rock in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Ducking below a low hanging section of rock
Subterranean trail winding through Crystal Onyx Cave.
The tour follows a gravel trail with occasional stairs and railed walkways
Gracefully dripping pillar and subterranean pool in Crystal Onyx Cave.
Gracefully dripping pillar and subterranean pool

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

post a comment