Penn's Cave

Useful Information

tour boat in the main chamber.
Location: 222 Penn's Cave Road, Centre Hall, PA 16828.
I-80 exit 24 Bellefonte, Route 26 south to Pleasant Gap. Turn left on Route 144 South. In the town of Centre Hall, turn left onto Route 192 East to the cave. Signpoisted.
(40.881928, -77.611819)
Open: FEB Sat, Sun 11-17, last tour at 16.
MAR daily 10-17, last tour at 16.
APR to OCT daily 9-17, last tour at 17.
NOV daily 10-17, last tour at 16.
DEC Sat, Sun 11-17, last tour at 16.
Closed Thanksgiving and 25-DEC.
Fee: Adults USD 22.99, Children (2-12) USD 12.99, Children (0-1) free, Senior Citizen USD 21.99, Military USD 19.50.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave SpeleologyRiver cave 500Ma
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=11 °C. Water: T=3 °C.
Guided tours: By boat. D=60 min, L=1,600 m.
V=80,000/a [2000]
Photography: allowed without flash
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Henry W. Shoemaker (1916): Penn's Grandest Cavern: The History, Legends and Description of Penn's Cave in Centre County, Pennsylvania, Altoona Tribune Press, Altoona, Pa., 1916. online
Address: Penn's Cave, Inc., 222 Penn's Cave Road, Centre Hall, PA 16828, Tel: +1-814-364-1664, Fax: +1-814-364-8778. 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.


discovered by the Seneca Indians.
1795 visited by James Martin.
1885 opened to the public, Penn's Cave House built as a hotel.


tour boat in the main chamber.
entrance with jetty.

Penn's Cave was named after John Penn, the nephew William Penn, who founded the colony of Pennsylvania. The tour is rather unique, as it is made completely by boat. It is said to be America's only all-water cavern. The main cave passage is filled by a rather silent cave river. The tour is made by flat-bottom motorboats, which accommodate 22 persons. 48 steps lead down to the jetty, which is right inside the cave portal. The river is only about 1 to 1.5 m deep, but it has a flow of 41,000m³ daily or 481 l/s.

The cave was known to the local tribe of the native American, the Seneca Indians. Arrowheads, pottery and beads have been found in the cave entrance. They called the river from the cave Karoondinha. On early maps the river was called Big Mahany, later John Penn's Creek.

There are many legends about Penn's Cave, most of them told by Henry W. Shoemaker (*1880-✝1958), state historian and tale-teller, in his book. The most famous story, though fictional, is the legend of the Indian maiden Nita-nee.

Malachi Boyer, a young Frenchmen from Lancaster County, explored the wilderness. Once in April, he camped at Mammoth Spring, close to the Indian camp of Chief O-Ko-Cho, on the shores of Spring Creek near Bellefonte. He saw Nita-nee, the beautiful daughter of O-Ko-Cho, washing a deerskin in the stream. They immediately fell in love with each other. The Indians would not permit their marriage, so they decided to run away. But they were captured by the seven brothers of Nita-nee and returned to Chief O-Ko-Cho.

O-Ko-Cho told his sons to thrust him into a nearby cavern, filled with water (Penn's Cave). They guarded the entrance, so he tried to find another entrance. After swimming around in the water for a week he died because of exhaustion. As he did not want the Indians to see him die, he crawled into one of the furthermost recesses of the cavern. They later found him and weighted the body with stones before they dropped it in the deepest water in the cavern.

Until today, on still summer nights, a sound like "Nita-nee - Nita-nee" rings through the cavern.

Old legend.

In 1855 the farm with the cave was rented to Jacob Harshbarger by the owner Samuel Vantries. Harshbarger had his own story about the first European to enter the cave: James Martin from Ireland was an honor graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, and pastor of the Presbyterian congregation in Penns Valley. He entered the cave, and caught a cold in the cave from which he never fully recovered, until he died in 1795.

The cave was developed by Jesse and Samuel Long. Their father had been against "pleasure-seekers entering the cave", but they realized the financial possibilities of a show cave. They built Penn's Cave House and a large boat, and began charging admission to the cave.

After some wrong financial decisions, they had to sell the cave and hotel to H.C. and R.P. Campbell. They further developed the cave and made it one of the unique resorts in central Pennsylvania. Because of the increasing number of automobiles in the beginning of the 20th century and the increasing tourism, the number of cave visitors increased continually.

The tour is made on boats with motors, when the guide wants to talk to the group he turns off the motor. Then the boat silently floats on the about one metre deep silent river. There are stops at several huge chambers, which sometimes have a dry floor with stalagmites on one side. Between chamber two and three are The Chimes, a group of several stalactites which can be reached from the boat. Between 1885 and 1967 they were hit with a wooden mallet by the guides, who played a short melody on the stalactites. The characteristic sounds are in general characterized as "hollow" sounds, so the guides told the visitors the formation was hollow. Such a practice tends to destroy the speleothems, when a guide strikes a little too hard, or when cracks form and become bigger and bigger, at one point the pipes start to break off. This was the reason why this bad habit was finally stopped.