Head for the cool of Longhorn Cavern in Burnet County
Beat the Texas heat in Longhorn Cavern, an enchanting underground cave in the Highland Lakes of Burnet County. Formed by an ancient river millions of years ago, it delivers a comfortable 68 degrees year-round.
On the 90-minute Walking Tour, a friendly guide gives details on the incredible rock formations and tells a story about its history and use.
The tour starts with over 50 steps down to the entrance. You’ll visit multiple rooms and see the effects of rushing water over limestone, dolomite, and glittering rock.
Crystal City is one of the early cave rooms visited, where the first tourist trip was made in 1879. Four couples ventured there on Valentine’s Day. They saw the cave with candlelight only and described the room as houses made of crystal, thus the name.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps began excavating debris from the cave, which built up over time from rain and runoff. Over 2 million square-feet were removed by CCC workers, who dug by candlelight for $30 a month, or a dollar a day.
As the CCC was clearing out the cave, some creative entrepreneurs opened a nightclub in a space they called the Underground Ballroom. A 2,000-square-foot wooden dance floor was installed, and food and supplies were delivered through an opening in the top of the cave. A kitchen was built above it. Live musicians played for the dancers and a radio broadcast. The humid air destroyed the wood, soon making it unusable, and the dance hall closed down. This is but one of the true Texas tales told during the tour.
Tiny, 2- to 3-inch long male bats sparsely inhabit Longhorn Cavern during the summertime, making it a true “man cave.” Female bats are teaching baby bats to fly and feed themselves during the summer. In winter, you might encounter a few of both sexes.
Another memorable room in the cave is the Gunpowder Room. Looking up, the top of the space is stained black from previous bat inhabitation. At one time 300-400 bats occupied each square-foot of the ceiling. Bat guano, now removed, was mined and used to manufacture gunpowder during the Civil War.
Grand rooms near the turnaround of the tour and in the deepest part of the cave are the Moon Room and the Hall of Marble, where dolomite has been carved by nature into smooth, graceful surfaces. Growing stalactites, mineral formations that hang from the ceilings of caves like icicles, and stalagmites, growing from the ground up, are found throughout the walk.
All tours are guided and follow a mostly flat hike about 1.1 miles long. Supportive, comfortable shoes are recommended. Anyone over 4 feet tall should be prepared to stoop for a short distance, as the cave height drops to 4 feet 4 inches in one section. Private tours for groups can be arranged as well.
Another option is wriggling, climbing and crawling through lower and upper regions and wading through water on the Wild Cave Tour.
The star attraction of Longhorn Cavern State Park is the CCC observation tower, which provides views of the park, Falkenstein Castle, and the waters of Inks Lake, the Colorado River, and Lake Buchanan. Guests can enjoy short nature trails and picnic tables under shady trees. A visitor center provides restrooms, snacks, and a unique gift shop.
The park is just outside of Burnet, and close to Marble Falls and Kingsland as well, where you’ll find places to eat, shop, and stay in Burnet County. It is available for day-use only, but you can find overnight camping at neighboring Inks Lake State Park or one of the many other places to stay in the Highland Lakes.
Longhorn Cavern State Park is located at 6211 Park Road 4 South in Burnet. It’s open 364 days a year; closed on Christmas. For more information or to book a tour, go to visitlonghorncavern.com or call 512-715-9000.