Deep inside the heart of Sequoia National Park lay a deep cave system that intertwines itself through the towering Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Crystal Cave is the only accessible cave to the public in Sequoia National Park. The short trail winds through the beautiful underground features that Crystal Cave has to offer. There’s also a small waterfall just before the entrance to the cave.

Hiking Crystal Cave Trail

Crystal Cave is a short and popular tour within Sequoia National Park. The tour features the park’s only commercial cave which is part of a larger cave system. Tours range anywhere from forty-five minutes to six hours as a guide takes people through the intricate cave system and explains the cave details and history. If you’re at all interested in booking a tour to see the inside of Crystal Cave, check out the park’s website. Tours range anywhere from forty-five minutes to six hours. I recommend going with the forty-five minute tour. It will tell you all you need to know.

Crystal Cave Fun Facts and History

Crystal Cave is what is known as a karst – a type of landscape layered with soluble rocks like limestone. The limestone can give way to sinkholes, sinking streams, underground drainage systems, and in this case, a cave.  Between Sequoia and Kings Canyon, the two parks contain over two hundred and seventy-five cafes. In fact, in these two parks lay half of California’s caves and the longest cave in the state. Within the caves are delicate ecosystems full of unique animals, Pleistocene era fossils, and rare minerals.

The porous landscape that makes up Crystal Cave allows snowmelt and other water sources to flow within the cave. The cave’s water source helps to keep temperatures cool – especially during the summer.  Crystal Cave features some exciting topography including speleothems (long curtains of eroded stone), stalagmites, pools of water, and angular curving growth forms.

On an interesting note, the first documented knowledge of Crystal Cave was on April 28th, 1918 by Alex Medley and Cassius Webster. Medley and Webster were two trail workers who were doing a little exploring on one of their days off. The two reported their finding to their supervisor, Walter Fry. Fry originally came to the area as a logger. However in the span of about a week Fry had immense guilt after realizing the significance of chopping down giant sequoias. Fry went on to become superintendent of Sequoia National Park and worked to create the National Park Service.

Some things to keep in mind when touring Crystal Cave:

Flash photography is not allowed. Prohibited items include purses, bags, backpacks, baby carriers, hiking sticks, tripods, monopods, food or flavored beverages (water is okay), or pets (service animals are okay).

Most importantly, any articles of clothing, shoes, or any gear that have ever been in any cave in any part of the world since 2005 are not allowed. This is due to white-nose syndrome. White-nose syndrome is a debilitating disease that has been killing bats who make their home in caves. The disease is spread by fungus and can be carried into caves on gear, clothing, and shoes. White-nose Syndrome is originally from Europe but has spread to North America since around mid-2000’s.

The fungus grows on the skin of bats while they hibernate during the winter. The skin becomes so damaged that their temperature increases and causes the bats to wake up. Their awakened state causes the bats to use energy that needs to be saved to last through the winter. In many instances bats die from starvation. In other instances when bats are awoken they think it’s time to go look for food. The bats leave the cave during winter and can die from hypothermia. White-nose syndrome is a sad but constant reminder that we as people need to take caution to not disturb natural ecosystems.

On A Personal Note:

Of all things to do in Sequoia National Park, a cave tour is not something I expected to do. I personally did the forty-five minute cave tour and thought that it was the perfect amount of time. The park rangers were incredibly informative about the cave history, cave species, and other fun facts. I highly recommend Crystal Cave as something different to do in Sequoia National Park.

Do you have any updates to the hiking trail or want to share your hike/pictures? Please leave a comment below.

  • Overall Difficulty: 35% 35%
  • Overall Views: 85% 85%
Crystal Cave Trail Quick Facts:
  • Elevation: 4,922 feet.Crystal Cave Trail, Sequoia National Park
  • Elevation Gain: 285 feet.
  • Estimated Distance: 0.8 miles.
  • My Actual Distance: 0.9 miles.
  • Estimated Time: 45 minutes.
  • My Time: 1 hour 29 minutes. 

**Please note: My gps statistics might be a little off of the total elevation gain because of being out of range in a cave. My actual moving time was closer to thirty minutes with the standing around from the tour guide.**

Crystal Cave Trail Directions:
Open in maps. Crystal Cave is near the heart of Sequoia National park. There is a small road off of Generals Highway that leads to Crystal Cave. There is a large sign that indicates the turnoff to the cave but Generals Highway is a windy road so be alert as to not pass it. Once off the turnoff, it takes about 20 minutes to reach the end of the road where Crystal Cave is located. There is a decent sized parking lot where the tour operates from. The road is narrow and windy so please use caution driving to Crystal Cave. Cost is price of admission to the park and caver tour fee. An America The Beautiful pass will also work for admission to the park.

If your vehicle is longer than twenty-two feet, it is not allowed on the Generals Highway between Hospital Rock Picnic Area and Giant Forest Museum. It’s recommended that the northern entrance to Kings Canyon National Park on highway 180 be used instead of the southern entrance.

Crystal Cave Trail Pictures:
Who Crystal Cave Trail Is For:
Novice Hikers: This is a great trail for novice hikers. The entire path down to the cave is paved and elevation gain is minimal. The cave tour is led by one of the staff members who will be able to assist or give guidance along the way.The ease of access to this trail gives novice hikers a great opportunity to enjoy some unique views. The elevation gain back up to the parking lot may be difficult for some people with little hiking experience.

Advanced Hikers: This isn’t much of a hike or a challenge. However, the experience on viewing the park’s only commercial cave is incredible.

Expert Hikers: Same.

It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.

Best Time Of Year To Hike Crystal Cave:
The Crystal Cave tour is only available certain times of the year from May 25th to September 30th. Once within the date range, tours are set to operate seven days a week. Please note, for any harsh weather conditions the tour will close down. Please check with the national park system before hand if there are any concerns that the tour will not run.For example, when I did the tour in August smoke from forest fires had heavily inundated the area. During that time period the tour had shut down on a few instances.  I’m assuming the cave closes during the winter because of temperatures that are too cold and also the possibility of hibernating animals. If anyone has any insight to this, please leave a comment below.
Crystal Cave Trail Conditions:
Crystal Cave is an incredibly well maintained trail. The trail begins at the top of the parking lot where the tour operates from and is paved the entire way down. The incline/decline is about 285 feet in the span of no more than about half of a mile. This makes for a mostly non-challenging hike. The majority of the trail faces the southwest. Because of that, the only time that the trail is directly in the sun will be in the afternoons or on open portions of the trail where the sun is directly overhead. Other than that, the trail is pretty well shaded from trees overhead.

The trail does give a couple views of nearby hills/canyons but this trail isn’t really known for it’s open panoramic views. There are also a few hazards along the trail: poison oak does line certain portions of the trail and rattlesnakes are common in this area as well. Staff for the Crystal Cave tour does a very well job of describing what poison oak looks like and what to do if a rattlesnake is encountered. For the most part, poison oak is maintained and kept away from the trail.

Once to the bottom of the trail there is a small waterfall near the cave entrance that makes for a crowded yet pleasant photo opportunity. At the cave entrance the guide will gather the group and lead everyone through the cave. Once inside the cave the path gives way from paved to marble, limestone, and granite surfaces. The conditions inside the cave are cool, dark, and damp. When I visited the park, temperatures were in the high 80’s and cave temperatures were probably in the high 50’s. For me the cool temperatures were a nice relief to the heat outside.

Despite the dark conditions, the majority of Crystal Cave is lit with dim lighting installed by the National Park Service. The tour guide is well informed and throughout the tour shares standout features inside the cave, how certain cave features are made, and historical facts about the cave.