One of mom's most favorite summertime activities growing up was the various spelunking trips she took with her family. As she reminds us every time we board a plane for vacation, when she was little, family vacations meant road trips (which she happened to love). And that meant breaking up a trip with stops at a whole variety of roadside (or somewhat off road) attractions, including caves. So mom has had spelunking on our list (and both of our official Summer Bucket lists) for a while. But she was a little worried that one of us (me) would totally freak out underground and in the darkness. So she was hesitant to trek out to Virginia to a large spelunking trip.
Cue Crystal Grottoes in Boonsboro, Maryland. Mom found it kind of randomly and, given that it was privately owned, wasn't entirely sure if it would be hokey and random (like our trip to Good Knight's Enchanted Kingdom a few years ago). Then she saw it was near Antietam National Battlefield and figured if we could loop that in, it would be worthwhile. And it turned out to be awesome!
It is a little expensive, but it was just our size and speed. You go about 45 feet underground, but no elevator is involved and the tour lasts just about 1/2 hour. Our tour guide was a local high schooler who had literally tunneled red clay out of the cave with his bare hands, and he was eager, knowledgable and friendly. We learned a bit about geology, a bit about the cave's history, and a bit about what it's like to grow up as a quadruplet in a small town. And he put up with Kane's running list of questions, which is worth a lot of money in any of our books. Plus, if mom's memory serves correctly, the size and scope of this cave (and perhaps the fact that it's privately owned) made for a much closer-up view of the various geological features than she's seen before.
We were both champs and even thought it was fun when our guide turned all the lights out -- it helped that there were no bats present.
If you have younger kids and are interested in spelunking, but have concerns similar to mom's, this would make an awesome foray into cave exploring. We hit up local Boonsboro for lunch and treats before heading on to Antietem and found a good number of decent spots to eat (we ate at Dan's Restaurant & Tap House, which had a good selection of local brew and a nice kids menu). If you're in the market for a super easy day trip (the cave is just about 1 hour, 15 minutes away), we highly recommend it!
p.s. it's really hard to take good photographs in a cave