Ready for an awesome underground adventure? Melrose Caverns is where it’s at! Get set to marvel at stunning formations and uncover the cool history behind hundreds of Civil War signatures etched into the walls. These Virginia caverns in Harrisonburg guarantee jaw-dropping sights and unforgettable memories.
History of Melrose Caverns VA
Melrose Caverns rests on the John Harrison, Sr. homestead, a parcel of land that traces back to a 1748 pre-revolutionary land grant awarded to the Harrison family from King George II.
The stone building from which the tour departs was built to be a Civil War Museum but later transitioned to a Blackfriars dinner theater. Now, it’s a wonderfully rustic wedding venue.
Endless Caverns ran tours of Melrose Caverns from the 1920s until 1967, when the interstate opened up and cut down on all the road traffic. Tours didn’t start back up until 2021.
Melrose Caverns Cave Tour: What to Expect
We entered the cave through two large metal doors outside the stone lodge as our guide, Ariana, gave us the above background history.
Next, we walked through the Gothic Corridor, so named for its steeple-like ceiling. It’s beautiful!
The variety of formations in Melrose Caverns is awe-inspiring. From stalactites and stalagmites to columns, cave bacon, shields, cave popcorn, and coral, there’s something everywhere you look.
Tower-like columns soar from the ground to the ceiling, creating a breathtaking sight within the cavern.
Not all caves boast cave shields, yet Melrose Caverns hosts many of them. The process of their formation never fails to astound me! (Nearby Grand Caverns is known for its abundance of shield formations.)
Cave coral and cave popcorn were abundant in some parts of the cave.
As in most caves, there are some imagination formations that kids will love. Look for the lizard and some Star Wars characters.
Civil War Signatures
There are hundreds of Civil War signatures inside Melrose Civil War Caverns, more than any of the other Shenandoah Valley caverns. Union and Confederate soldiers carved their signatures with their bayonets or knives or wrote them in charcoal from their torches. (Look for torch holes throughout the cave too!)
During the Civil War, soldiers discovered Melrose Caverns was an ideal hideaway. Tucked 40 feet below the surface, the caverns remained concealed from enemy eyes. Initially accessed by a precarious rope ladder from which soldiers climbed one by one, resourceful troops carved stairs into the cavern walls. I can’t even imagine how challenging it was to carry supplies in and out!
Kids will be delighted by the pipe organ, a fascinating example of flowstone. One of the littles got to play it using a rock and absolutely loved it!
Unique Chambers and Features
This massive chamber hosts weddings, the Cave Comedy Show, and holiday pictures with Santa.
The Crystal Palace features stalactites in the process of regrowth. During the soldiers’ stay, they broke many of them to allow for easier passage. Surprisingly, the stalactites are growing three to four times faster than expected due to the abundant limestone and ample water supply.
This section of the cave has an interesting story. Originally a sinkhole, a man stumbled upon it and decided to build a hotel over it. Ummm… His grand plan included installing a giant fan under the floorboards for natural cooling. However, he started blasting to expand the hole without permission. The family who owned the property put a stop to the unauthorized construction, and then the Great Depression halted it permanently.
While the deepest point in the cave is 106 feet below the surface, some areas are close enough to the surface that tree roots have made their way in.
Let There Be Light (and Dark)
The breathtaking finale came when the caverns were bathed in mesmerizing blue, green, and red lights—impressive! But we also experienced pitch-black darkness when our guide turned the lights out for a few minutes. Cool…and terrifying!
The Melrose Caverns tour was top-notch! The mix of cool formations and all those Civil War signatures made it a real standout. Totally worth checking out!
Know Before You Go – Melrose Caverns VA
- Address: 6639 N Valley Pike Harrisonburg, VA
- Hours: Hours vary seasonally. Winter weekends – Sat 10-5, Sun 11-5
- Admission: $20 online in advance; tickets are higher at the door. Ticket info here.
- Tour Length: 45 minutes – 1 hour.
- What to Wear: Light layers or a jacket. The temperature is a constant 55 °F. If it rains, the cavern floods and creates large puddles, so I recommend rain boots or waterproof shoes.
- Accessibility: Walkways are made of crushed stone and are not ideal for wheelchairs or strollers.
- Restrooms: Yes
- Gift Shop: Yes, in the ticket office (first building off the main road).
- Special Events: Cave Comedy Fest, Pictures with Santa
- Photography: Photos allowed, videos prohibited.