Colossal Cave

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Useful Information

Location: Pima County, 35 km east of Tucson near the town of Vail. I10 exit 279 Vail Exit, turn north, follow the signs for 11 km. (Vail Quadrangle, 320345N 1103755W)
Open: 16-MAR to 15-SEP daily 8-17.
16-SEP to 15-MAR daily 9-17.
Ladder Tour: after appointment.
Wild Cave Tour: after appointment.
Candlelight Tour: after appointment.
Fee: Cave: Adults USD 11, Children (5-12) USD 6, Children (0-4) free.
Ladder Tour: Daytime USD 20, Nighttime with dinner USD 45.
Wild Cave Tour Intermediate: Per Person USD 55.
Wild Cave Tour Advanced: Per Person USD 75.
Candlelight Tour: Per Person USD 25, with dinner USD 45.
Park Admission: Car USD 5, Motorcycle USD 2, Tour Bus USD 1 per person, Bicycle USD 1.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=21 °C, L=3,200 m, VR=12 m, V=100,000/a[2006].
Guided tours: L=800 m, D=45 min, St=363.
Address: Colossal Cave Mountain Park, 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641, Tel: +1-520-647-7275. E-mail: contact
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.


1879 cave discovered by Solomon Lick.
1879 Phil Carver, a bank robber, supposedly stored $60,000 in gold in the cave.
1905 25 m long tunnel constructed, bat guano mined.
1917 opened for the public.
1922 guided tours by Frank Schmidt, a German immigrant, with ropes and lanterns.
1934 Frank Schmidt donated the cave to Pima County.
1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the cave with footpaths and electric light.
1997 historic ladder tour opened.


Colossal Cave is located in the desert of Arizona. While there must have been water while it was formed, today this cave is extraordinarily dry. It is called a dry cave by the guides, which is not really a speleological term. The formations are completely dry and called dead, as they do not grow. As there is no water, there is no limestone deposition and the formations do not grow. It seems some guides allow visitors to touch the formations, with the argument that touching would stop growth, but as there is no growth there is no harm in touching. We can not accept this argument, as we think the dirt and fat from the human hand will soak the limestone and make them black, shining and ugly at last.

The Hohokam, Sobaipuri, and the Apache people once used the cave. Artifacts have been found throughout the cave, but most of the artifacts were found near the entrances. The museum in the La Posta Quemada Ranch has exhibits about the history of the ranch and the caves in the park.

The cave was discovered in 1879 by Solomon Lick. He was the owner of the nearby Mountain Springs Hotel and Stage Station. He found the entrance when he was out searching for stray cows. The cave was first used to mine bat guano, which was highly prized as fertilizer and for gunpowder. A 25 m long tunnel was constructed in 1905 and more than seven train cars were filled. Then the deposit was exhausted. Today the tunnel is not used anymore.

The first guided tours were made by Frank Schmidt, a German immigrant, since 1922. At this time the cave was not developed, the tours were made with ropes and lanterns. The development was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934. They constructed trails and handrails, and installed electric light in the cave. A number of surface buildings, which are used until today, were constructed using local limestone.

Beneath the normal tourist cave tours there are three different adventure tours offered. The Candlelight Tour is a sort of historic tour on which only candles are used to illuminate the cave, like early cave explorers might have done. This tour has no technical difficulties. The Ladder Tour follows some of the routes the Civilian Conservation Corps used when they were building the walkways in the 1930s. This tour does not require special skills, but visitors are equipped with hard hats and headlamps, as this part off the main trails is not lighted. And finally there is a Wild Cave Tour, which is limited to at most seven people. Participants get helmets and headlamps. Stury boots, old clothes, or if available a caving overall, are much recommended. Because of the dryness of the cave, visitors do not get very dirty, just dusty, nevertheless clothes to change afterwards are a good idea, and some bottles of water too. This tour includes crawling, clambering and squeezing through narrow passages, but no vertical parts.

The ranch house built by John S. Sullivan in 1967, when he purchased the ranch, is today a museum. There are exhibits on regional geology, Colossal Cave's formation, and the history of its development. An archaeolgic exhibition shows remnains of the ancient Hohokam and other cave dwellers. Beneath Colossal Cave there is Arkenstone Cave located in the park, a wild cave with beautiful but delicate speleothems, e.g. Gypsum Anthodite. Pictures of this cave and another wild cave in the park are on display in the museum. The museum is completed by an exhibit on the Park's wildlife.

A nearby adobe building houses en exhibit on the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The infrastructure of the Park includes the Desert Spoon Fresh-Air Cafe, the Human Sundial, the butterfly walk and desert tortoise exhibit, campgrounds and picnic areas.