When most people think of Sequoia National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is gigantic trees. While the trees are the highlight of the park, there are lots of other hidden gems to explore. One of our favorites was Crystal Cave. We were a little nervous after speaking with the park ranger about taking a 3 month old infant, but it ended up being quite enjoyable and totally doable.
All visitors (including infants) must have a ticket to enter the cave. You can purchase your tickets online or at one of the visitor centers (we bought ours at the Foothill Visitor Center). Check which locations sell them before you go. The cost for the standard tour was $16 for adults, $8 for kids (under 12), and $5 for infants (under 4).
The road to the Crystal Cave parking area is clearly marked and located just two miles south of the General Forest Museum. Unfortunately, the free shuttles do no go to the cave, so you will have to drive your own vehicle. Once you turn onto the road, you will go about 6 more miles until it dead ends into the Crystal Cave parking area. Despite being only 8 miles from the main hub of the park, plan for the drive to take at least 30 minutes due to the winding and narrow road. There are several places where it is barely wide enough for two cars to pass. With that said, there are few places to pull off, so keep the diaper bag and snacks within reach in case you need anything. Just give yourself plenty of time and take it slow.
What to Bring
Water is an absolute must. There is no access to water at the parking area or on the trail. There is a small office that sells bottles of water and snacks, but there is no guarantee that will be open. Also, bring a light jacket. The inside temperature of the cave is 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. I wore jeans and a t-shirt into the cave and didn’t find it to be terribly cold. We did bring a nice warm jacket for the baby.
Note – You are not allowed to take any large items such as backpacks or baby carriers into the cave. You can take a water bottle and camera (no camera bag). All large items have to be left unattended at the entrance of the cave. We used the baby carrier on the hike down and just carried Finn inside the cave. We did also take a full bottle, which ended up coming in handy as he decided he was hungry mid-tour.
Also, traveling with kids means that you probably have lots of snacks in the car. Be sure to remove all the food items from your car and place them in the bear proof lockers at the trail head. If you have every seen one of those YouTube videos of a bear breaking into a car, you’ll understand why. Just pray the bear can’t smell the stale Cheetos wedged in your back seat :).
Planning Your Schedule
Including the drive there and back (from the museum, budget more time if you are coming from another part of the park), hike in and out, and cave tour, you can expect to spend at least 3 full hours.
The Hike Down
The park website labels the trail as “steep and strenuous”. While the trail is 1/2 mile long, we didn’t find it terribly difficult even with a baby in tow. You do have to move a little quicker on the way down so you can keep up with your tour group, but you are able to take more time hiking back up after the tour so use that opportunity to rest and take the photos you didn’t get on the way down (there are a couple nice waterfalls near the bottom, so listen for the water to know you are getting close). There are a few hazards to be aware of when hiking the trail with kids:
Rockfall Areas – There are a few areas that are clearly marked as rockfall areas. While the chances of getting hit with a falling rock are slim, the ranger encouraged us to “walk with purpose” in these areas.
Rattlesnakes – There are several sections of trail that are in the sun which is a perfect place for snakes to warm themselves. While we didn’t run across any snakes, we did pass a couple who warned us that they had spotted a rattlesnake not far ahead. Fortunately, it was gone by the time we got there.
Poison Oak – We spotted a good bit of poison oak along the trail. Best to keep the little ones out.
Inside the Cave
The cave itself was quite impressive and much more than I was expecting. There is a fairly clear path that is easy to follow. The path makes a loop so you won’t get lost if you get separated from the group.
While the cave is artificially illuminated, our tour guide made sure to provide a flashlight to any parents with small children so we could easily and safely make your way out the cave in the event that a child got scared. We did make it the entire tour, but quickly discovered that our baby is a sympathy crier and couldn’t resist joining in when the other tiny travelers decided to cry. On the bright side, we got a great feel for the acoustic properties of the cave itself (I’m sure the sleeping bats weren’t as amused).
Our guide was fantastic. He shared a lot of great information about how the cave was formed. At one point, our guide had us turn off all our electronic devices and stand very quietly. He then proceeded to turn off the artificial lights for 15-20 seconds so we could experience the cave in it’s natural state. I have to admit that the sensation of total darkness and silence (except for the occasional sound of water dripping from the cave ceiling) was pleasantly tranquil.
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