Moaning Caverns

Useful Information

Location: In Calaveras County between Vallecito and Columbia State Park on the Parrotts Ferry Road. Near Hwy 49.
Open: JAN to APR Mon-Fri 10-17, Sat, Sun, Hol 9-17.
MAY to OCT daily 9-18.
NOV to DEC Mon-Fri 10-17, Sat, Sun, Hol 9-17.
Times are first and last tour, tours every 45min. [2006]
Fee: Traditional Tour: Adults USD 12.50, Children (6-12) USD 6.25, Children (0-5) free.
The Rappel: Adults (12+) USD 49.
Adventure Trip: Adults (12+) USD 59.
Adventure Trip with Rappel: Adults (12+) USD 99.
Classification: ExplainKarst cave
Light: electric
Dimension: VR=125m.
Guided tours: Walking Tour: D=45min., St=234, VR=50m.
The Rappel:
Adventure Trip
Address: Moaning Caverns, PO Box 78, Vallecito, CA 95251 or 5350 Moaning Cave Rd., Vallecito, CA 95251, Tel. +1-209-736-2708
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1851 explored by gold miners.
1919 rediscovered.
1922 the 33m steel spiral staircase was build.


The Moaning Caverns got its name because of the moaning sound that comes from wind passing over its entrance. The cavern was long known to prehistoric people who held it in awe because of the moaning sound emanating from the entrance. However, it seems they called it Samwel Cave.

Three maidens from the Miwok tribe were seeking husbands, so they went to an old and wise woman. She advised them to go into Samwel Cave and drink from the first pool. They did so, but after a week without finding a husband, they returned to the old woman. She told them to go and drink from the second pool in the cave. They returned to the cave and whilst looking for the second pool one of the maidens fell down a shaft. The Miwok tribe were afraid of caves, so nobody went to look for the girl.

Old Indian legend.

Early in the 20th century a group of scientists explored the cave. They found a girl's skelton at the bottom of a drop, and as they knew the legend they told it to the Miwok tribe. So after 200 years the bones were finally returned to the tribe.

A 33m high steel spiral stairway leads the visitors down into the Main Chamber which is large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty. Here the so called Walk Tour takes place, a normal show caves tour suitable for most visitors.

Several of the deeper chambers are accessible via so called advanced tours. Those tours include the old entrance through which prehistoric people fell to their deaths. Early explorers, searching for gold, daringly lowered themselves into the vast cavern by long ropes.

In this part of the cave scientific excavations have revealed the remains of more than 100 humans bodies. About 13,000 years ago, the prehistoric men fell or were thrown into the blackness of this huge cavern. The bones, preserved to present time by the deposits of mineral-bearing waters, are the oldest human remains yet found in America. Explorations have traced the cavern downward for 125m, and explorations is still in progress.

The Rappel

The 60m rope descent enters the cavern through the original entrance and descends down the sheer cavern walls. It ends about 5m below the visitor's platform, 53m below the surface, with a ladder to climb to the platform. Rappellers can join the Traditional Tour in progress.

No previous rope experience is necessary. Instructions are given by experienced guides who show you how to work the gear and how it is impossible to fall.

Approximate time including the Traditional Tour is one hour. Rappellers must be 12 or older. Minors must be accompanied by an adult. Clothes may get dirty. Secured shoes are necessary.

Adventure Trip

Starting with the rappel (or stairs, if preferred), the group is guided into the lower undeveloped rooms and passages below the main chamber. The trip is mostly crawlways with some passages tight enough to require a belly crawl. Knotted ropes are available in the more difficult vertical passages.

The trip is strenuous! Approximate time 2-3 hours. Appropriate for ages 12 and older. Minors must be accompanied by an adult. One layer of loosely fitting, light-weight, grubby clothes, shoes with traction, knee and elbow pads, and a change of clothing are all that are needed. There are no showers, so a wash cloth and towel are recommended for a basic clean-up. We supply coveralls, gloves, and the helmet with light.

For all tours: Glasses should be secured, and long hair should be put back. Reservations and prepayment are required on all above tours except the Rappel.