Longhorn Cavern State Park was an absolute surprise. I’d done some research and realized it was just down the road from Inks Lake State Park (review coming soon). Longhorn Cavern is a day use only park, so no camping here. Entry to the park is free, entry to the cavern is by paid guided tour (you get a discount with your Texas State Park Pass). The cavern tour is WORTH EVERY PENNY.
The cave was discovered in the mid 1800s. There’s evidence natives used it as a trap for deer, buffalo, and even mammoth. Confederates mined guano to make gunpowder during the Civil War. In the 1920s the main room was used as a dance hall. Then in the early 1930s the incredible men who made up the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the park we use today. They hauled debris, stone and guano out of the cave. They built Park Road 4, a visitors center, cabins and more on the grounds.
There is the cavern and hiking trails at Longhorn Cavern State Park. Make sure you do the trails too and check out all the cool CCC buildings in the park.
Longhorn Cavern Tour
You can do two kinds of cavern tours, a walking tour and an exploration tour. The walking tour is 1.1 miles and about 90 minutes long. TOTALLY doable for two 8 year olds and our family.
You can purchase tickets online or at the park. The first building you see was the original administration building built by the CCC (more on that below). You’ll go to the second building which includes an AWESOME gift shop, snack bar and video area. GO watch the video. Part of it is a Texas State Park promo video filmed in the 1950s (we think) that shows each and every state park in all their 1950s glory. Or…because I did a little research, watch it below.
We arrived early and went out on the first tour of the day. Our cavern tour guide, Jim brought us through the cave and shared the science and history of this young cave. Jim was awesome. Many of the tour guides are volunteers, so if you visit make sure you tip your guide.
This was one of the most scientifically and historically interesting cave tours I’ve ever been on. The park has done a great job at making it a multimedia experience with blown up old black and white photos of the cave in the exact locations they were originally taken, music and even black lights to show the growing areas of the cave.
In the life line of caves, Longhorn Cavern is a young cave. You won’t find any columns here, where stalactites and stalagmites meet. The cave just isn’t old in cave years. However you will find some incredible formations of different kinds of stone. There are rooms filled with calcite crystals that sparkle and shine. The terrain changes within the cave too, depending on how water interacted hundreds of years ago when this was an underground river. In one section of the cave you’ll find dolomite, a denser limestone, so minerals can’t leak out like your normal limestone so the formations are very smooth (see pic above on the right, or below on the left).
In addition to the amazing formations, we also saw teeny tri color bats, also known as chicken nugget bats. These are not the bats of Hollywood, they’re solo creatures and are incredibly docile. If you weren’t looking for them, you’d never know they were there. We were looking and we saw at least 12, which was the most our guide had seen at one time in a while.
There’s just over 1 mile of hiking trails in the park and I just have to say, make sure you take the time to hike the trails. The trails are a mix of wooded area and open spaces filled with rocks which reminded us of the rock trolls from Frozen. Hiking poles came in handy as the terrain changes often.
Also, the wildflowers. WOW the wildflowers. We came in early May and it was like the floor was exploding in color.
TOTALLY kid friendly. Watch out for the kids on the rock formations, there’s some larger holes in between the rocks that a kid could easily slip into.
Hiking poles, drinking water, sunscreen. As always, leave no trace.
As I mentioned above the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were a major reason why this park even exists today. They helped clear rocks out of the cave and then used those rocks to build many of the buildings on the park property. Make sure to check out the CCC Administration Building, Cabin and Observation Tower. The craftsmanship is just incredible and the view from the observation tower is amazing.
Final Thoughts About Longhorn Cavern State Park
Just go. Go here and see the things. Period. This was such an amazing surprise during our Inks Lake trip. The history of this park isn’t just the history of Texas, it holds history of our country in every stone, truss and stair. Go experience it.