Colossal Cave Tucson AZ

An Amazing Place To See

Colossal Cave South Of Tucson Near Vail Arizona

A tour of Colossal Cave is a great day trip if you live in Tucson AZ or just visiting. Located in Colossal Cave Mountain Park near Vail, it is just 20 miles southeast of Tucson on the I-10 Freeway.

Colossal Cave and the nearby La Posta Quemada Ranch make up the Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

colossal cave mountain park

Creation Of Colossal Cave

From a geologists perspective, the Colossal Cave system is a newcomer to our planet. It creation began about 300 million years ago.

At that time, most of southwest America was under a large ocean. Over millions of years, the water receded. One of the materials from that process was limestone.

Moving forward to about 80 million years ago, eruptions pushed up the earth’s surface. That is how mountains formed around what is now Tucson.

The Rincon Mountain became the home for Colossal Cave. But not over night. After millions of years of water erosion, the cave reached a “dry” state.

That means formations in the Cave are completely dry, or “dead”. Formations do not grow — get bigger. Why??

The cave formed by water depositing limestone, but this source has disappeared.


In 1876, a man named Sidney H. Ramsey owned the Mountain Springs Station. The station was a stage stop approximately 22 miles east of Tucson.

A few years later, the station became a ranch. Around 1879, Solomon Lick a former Union soldier and a partner took over the ranch.

Later that year, Lick discovered Colossal Cave and its extensive cave system. Over 3.5 miles of passageways have been mapped. But this is less than 10% of the cave’s 39 miles of tunnels.

Colossal Cave is important to the areas history. Artifacts found in Colossal Cave confirmed it was used by the Hohokam Indians between 900 AD to 1450 AD.

La Posta Quemada Ranch got its name in 1875. The working ranch was the site of a Southern Pacific Line stagecoach station. The station burned  down in 1875.

From that day, the ranch was know as Posta Quemada which means “burnt station”.

Two Caves Not One

There are two caves in Colossal Cave Park. Colossal Cave is open to visitors. Arkenstone Cave is a “live cave” and not open to the public. The “live cave” designation means the cave continues to grow formations. Only research scientist have access to the Arkenstone cave.

Its estimated that Colossal Cave has about 39 miles of cave tunnels. But only 2 miles of tunnels explored and mapped. The 2 miles of tunnels open to visitor tours drop over 6 stories into the Cave.

Colossal Cave contains with stalagmites, stalactites and large columns. Formed by ground water seeping through the limestone ceilings of the cave to create them. As water flowed over millions of years mineral deposits in the water bond together.

When the water evaporates, mineral deposits bond to create the stalactites and stalagmites. Columns are formed by the union of a stalagmite and a stalactite.

Temperatures inside the Colossal Cave average 70 degrees (F) throughout the year. Even in the summer when outside temperatures are in the low 100’s.

Touring Colossal Cave

Visitors can explore Colossal Cave by taking anyone of six tours .

The “Short” Tour

This tour is for visitors that want to say “I was there”,  without spending a lot of time. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and covers about ½ mile. Tour guides describe the history of the cave, its geology and legends.

Although short, the tour takes you up and down the 6 ½ stories of the cave. So bring comfortable walking shoes.

Daytime Ladder Tour

This 1 1/2 tour takes visitors down the paths “less traveled” in the cave. The tour is strenuous and limited to those 12 years and older. But you will see sections of the Cave rarely seen by the public.

On this tour a helmet with headlamp and full fingered gloves are a required. The 1 ½ hour tours will have you

  • Climb Ladders
  • Scramble across bridges
  • Squeeze through narrow passageways.
  • See and learn about the array of formations in the cave.

Helmets and headlamp come with the tour, but gloves are not. You can bring your own gloves or buy some on site.

Nighttime Ladder Tour with Optional Dinner

As with the daytime ladder tour, this tour is strenuous! Participants will need to be fit, agile and able to move in tight spaces.

But participants will see the beauty of the Colossal Cave up close and personal. Helmets with headlamp come with the tour, but full finger gloves are not. Bring your own or buy them on site.

Dinner is at the Terrace At The Cave restaurant. Nothing fancy. The menu includes burgers, wraps, hot dogs, sandwiches and pizza.

Wild Cave Tour

The Wild Cave Tour is for the true explores. Guides follow the paths early explorers and outlaws walked. These unmarked paths meander ¼ mile in to the earth. This is caving at its best.

Two options are available.

  • Intermediate – participants must be 14 years or older
  • Advanced – For those 16 years and older

Tours are strenuous and participants will be climbing obstacles and squeezing through tight places. Tour size is limited to 6 people and lasts 3+ hours for the Intermediate tour and 4+ hours for the Advanced tour.

Helmets with headlamp and gloves are mandatory. Knee and elbow pads recommended. Guess what? They aren’t included either. Visit Home Depot or REA before signing up for this one!

Candlelight Tour

This tour attracts people with a hint of romance along with an adventurous spirit. Participants experience Colossal Cave as the first explores of Colossal Cave may have seen it in 1879. But with a lot more flair. Edges of pathways are lit with candles. And participant carry a candle as well.

The flickering images on the walls of the cave add a mystic and surreal feel. Shadows shimmer off the cave formations to create images of the past.

Participants must be 12 years or older and tours scheduled at least two weeks advanced.

Group Tours & School Tours

Got a lot of friends that want to do something different? Maybe a birthday outing? How about a group tour of Colossal Cave. 20 or more participants can schedule their own private tour. You can come with a smaller groups, but combined with other groups.

Scheduling requires 2 weeks advance notice.

Colossal Cave is a unique and a fascinating place to visit. Tours are available from easy walks to down and dirty caving. Pick the one that suites your fitness and agility. And remember, bring your own gloves and pads.

Please call (520) 647-7275 to make reservations and for current rates. Visit the Colossal Cave Park website for more INFORMATION.


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