Kartchner Caverns: Cave Tours & Discovery Center (Details 2023)

The main draw of Kartchner Caverns is of course the caverns themselves.

And for good reason too.

Kartchner Caverns is not only home to the longest soda stalactite (at 21+ feet) in the world, it also has the tallest column in the entire state (standing at 58 feet).

Many other caverns have also looked to Katchner Caverns as an example of how to set-up their own due to it’s design.

Found by two cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, in 1974, the caverns were not known to the public until 1988 as the 2 men worked hard to protect the caverns.

The entrance to the desert botanical garden in Phoenix, Arizona features elements inspired by Kartchner Caverns.

Today, visitors can explore the caverns on a guided tour.

And it all starts in the Discovery Center.

The Discovery Center is Kartchner Cavern’s visitor center. This is where you can:

  • Pick-up tickets for tours
  • Speak with the rangers
  • View a museum
  • Enjoy a theater presententation
  • Grab a bite to eat
  • Visit the gift shop
A group of people are exploring the mesmerizing Kartchner Caverns.
Source: Kartchner Caverns | Arizona State Parks

Cavern Tours

The only way to see the caverns is on a guided tour. While you might expect the caverns to be located just outside the Discovery Center, they’re actually not.

You meet your tour guide just outside the backdoors of the Discovery Tour. The ranger giving the tour will talk for abou 15-20 minutes about the tour, provide some history, go over some guidelines and answer questions.

Our tour guide was very engaging and it was fun when passing rangers would jump in to keep things fun and lively. They all really seemed to enjoy their job.

A cavernous museum showcasing an impressive array of items for display.

Once the ranger has finished speaking, the group boards a tram that drives you on a paved road to the entrance of the cave which sits higher up on he mountain.

The surrounding landscape is beautiful and as you head up the mountain, you’ll even see the original entrance where the 2 men who found the caverns first entered.

A group of people exploring Kartchner Caverns in a small white vehicle.
Source: Kartchner Caverns | Arizona State Parks

Tour Choices

There are 2 parts of the caverns which require separate tours and a total of 4 different tours you can participate in. Let’s look at the options…

Rotunda / Throne Tour

This is the tour we did and at the time it was our only option. It was 1/2 mile long and took about 90-minutes. About 50-minutes of the tour is spent in the cave while the other time is spent with the ranger and taking the tram ride.

A group of people exploring the breathtaking Kartchner Caverns.
Source: Kartchner Caverns | Arizona State Parks

The ranger turned the lights on for the section of the cave we were in so it was never dark but they never unneccessarily lit up any parts that weren’t being used.

The tour ends in the Throme Room, looking at the 58-foot tall Kubla Khan formation, which is the largest in Arizona. The play a short light and sound show at this formation.

A cavern with icicles hanging from the ceiling, like Kartchner Caverns.
Source: Kartchner Caverns | Arizona State Parks

The Big Room Tour

When we visited, this tour wasn’t available as it’s only available from mid-October to mid-April as the other months are bat season. The park closes it off to respect the bats and give them their space which is nice.

While this tour is 1/2 mile long as well, you’ll spend about an hour underground on this 1ยพ hour tour.

Note: kids under 7 are not permitted on this tour

A cave with an abundance of stalactites and stalagmites, resembling Kartchner Caverns.
Source: Kartchner Caverns | Arizona State Parks

Helmet & Headlamp Tour

The Helmet & Headlight tour is very much what it sounds like. You’ll be fitted with a helmet and a headlamp as you enter the cave and the groups headlights will be the only source of light on the tour.

This will give you more of a feel of what it was like for the 2 founders who first found the cave.

This tour is offered year round. From October to April, the tour will be in the Big Room, while it will take place in the Throne / Rotunda Room during other months.

This tour is 75 minutes long and is a 1/2 mile in distance.

Note: children under 10 are not permitted on this tour

A man is standing on a tv in the Kartchner Caverns.

Photo Tours

On the 3rd Saturday of every month, Kartchner Caverns offers photo tours for those who want to take photos of the caverns.

Unless you are on a photo tour, you are not permitted to take pictures or videos inside the caves.

A museum featuring a glass display case showcasing artifacts and a rock wall inspired by the Kartchner Caverns.

Temperature Inside The Caves

Surprising to me, the year round average temperature of the caves is 70ยฐ with 99% humidity.

If you’re thinking you need a light jacket, you definitely don’t. It’s warm. One ranger suggested the cave temperature to be like what Miami feels like.

Discovery Center

The Discovery Center is a neat place to learn more about the founders of the cave, formations, caves and more. It gives you a good idea

A projection screen in a room inspired by the rock walls of Kartchner Caverns.

The Museum

The museum towards the back of the discovery center was very well designed and quite interesting. For the kids in the group, they really enjoyed it and spent time here before and after the cave tour.

Some of the ineresting features of the caverns are:

  • A caving wall
  • Fossils of various animals including ringtail cat, pronghorn, bobcat, bear and cottontail and others
  • A gian tsloth
  • Rocks you can touch
  • Mock tunnels for the kids to climb through
  • Soda straw display
An auditorium displaying a kartchner caverns on-screen.

The Theater

As part of your visit, you’re invited to attend a 15-minute video presentation that plays twice an hour in the Tenen-Tufts Theater. From outside the theatre you can see a countdown for when they new show starts.

And this isn’t just a small theatre with a small TV screen. It looks like you’re actually at the movies!

The movie talks about the caverns and it’s history. Definitely worth the 15-minutes it took to watch.

Percolation maze inspired by Kartchner Caverns.

Activities for Kids

Kartchner Caverns has some fun actvities for the kids. Of course, many kids love seeing the caves (although it can be scary for some).

Beyond just the cave tour, they also have a Junior Ranger Program for kids ages 6 to 12.

In the Discovery Center, kids can pick up a booklet to complete while at the park and will receive a Junior Ranger badge.

They also have a Discovery Center Scavenger Hunt for young kids that you can print and bring with you.

Don’t forget it’s also good to encourage kids to speak with the park rangers. They love speaking to the kids and answering their questions. All the rangers were so nice during our visit and we’re happy speaking with the kids.

A museum showcasing a collection of fossils and bones, inspired by the Kartchner Caverns.

Bat Cave Cafe

Just outside the Discovery Center and next to the Hummingbird Garden is a small cafe called Bat Cave Cafe. There is only outdoor seating available on a shaded patio.

There is a rather limited menu with sandwiches, quesadillas, small pizzas and a few other yet good plates.

If you’re short on time or don’t want to wait to eat, this is your option. Otherwise, you’ll need to head into the town of Benson where more options are available.

Note: the cafe is only open from 11am to 2pm daily.

Tickets & Pricing

It’s definitely a good idea to buy tickets online before going to make sure you have a reservation. While we went during the off-season and mid-day on a weekday, the tour was still almost full.

If there are no slots available, you’ll have to come back and there’s not much else in the area you would come exclusively for.

There is a $7 fee per vehicle (with up to 4 people) to enter the park, however, this fee is waived if you have purchased tickets for a cave tour (or have a camping reservation).

Hours & When to Go

The park’s Discovery Center is open 8am to 5pm.

The park closes on Christmas but is open on Thanksgiving as well as Christmas Eve from 9am to 2pm both days.

Good to Know

  • Arrive 30 minutes before your tour (15 minutes early for 8am tours)
  • Unless you are on a photo tour which only happens once per month, cell phones and any video cameras are not permitted on the tours. In fact, not much is allowed to be brought in so you’ll need to leave belongings in the car or use one of the outdoor lockers onside (4 quarters required).
  • It is a short, easy, paved walk from the parking lot to the Disccovery Center.
  • Make sure to stop at the restroom before your tour starts. There are no restrooms in the caverns and only a porta-potty near them. The restrooms at the Discovery Center are clean and a much better bet.
  • You are not allowed to touch anything in the caves (except for the provided hand rails of course). You are asked to let the tour guide know if you accidentally touch anything so they can mark it to have it cleaned

Getting There & Parking

Katchner Caverns is located about 15 minutes outside the town of Benson, AZ at 2980 AZ-90, Benson, AZ 85602.

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OK Editorial Team

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