Exploring Longhorn Cavern State Park's ‘parkitecture’ is just part of the adventure at this Burnet County treasure. Only the underground cavern tours require a fee. Above ground, enjoy a gift shop, the 90-year-old stonework of the Civilian Conservation Corpsl buildings, hiking trails, a viewing tower, and picnic areas. Photo courtesy of 101HighlandLakes.com

Longhorn Cavern State Park much more than a cave

Longhorn Cavern State Park offers fun experiences below and above ground. 

After a 135-foot descent into the cavern, visitors feel a distinct drop in temperature. No matter the temperature outside, in Longhorn Cavern, it is always a comfortable 65 degrees. 

A guide leads tour groups through the cave, which was formed by a flowing river, not dripping water as most caves were created. Longhorn Cavern has a more sculpted look, accentuated by sparkling calcite crystals. 

Long before the cave opened to tourists, it hosted prehistoric peoples who used it for shelter. In more recent years, Native Americans held meetings there, Confederate soldiers used the cave’s bat guano to make ammunition, and entrepreneurs ran a subterranean speakeasy and dancehall during prohibition. Legend has it that outlaw Sam Bass hid up to $2 million in ill-gotten funds there, although none has been uncovered. 

The most common tour is a 90-minute walking tour, but hardcore spelunkers can opt for a three-hour wild cave tour of Longhorn Cavern’s deeper, less accessible areas. Just get ready to don requisite caving attire (knee and elbow pads and a lighted helmet) and prepare to crawl through tight spaces. Visitors usually emerge wet and muddy.

Cave tours require tickets and a fee, but the above-ground part of this 645-acre park is absolutely free. 

The state of Texas acquired Longhorn Cavern and surrounding land from private owners in 1932. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began work on the park in 1934, hauling 2½ tons of silt, debris, and guano out of the cave. They also constructed buildings, roads, and picnic areas. 

The park opened to the public in 1938. Almost three decades later, during the Cold War, the Johnson administration considered using the cave as an underground bunker in case of a national emergency. 

The state park sits along Backbone Ridge, a small group of limestone hills. It features picnic areas beneath canopies of old-growth oak and juniper trees. A 1½-mile, well-marked nature trail system offers an easy walk and an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which is native to the area. 

Visitors can also admire the work of the young men of the CCC, who made this park possible and built some of the finest examples of “parkitecture,” a building style that incorporates native materials so structures blend with their surroundings. 

A CCC exhibit in the uniquely designed old administration building tells the story of their work during the Great Depression. 

Near the picnic area, an observation tower gives those who climb the 43 (easy!) spiral steps to the top an amazing view of the surrounding landscape, including a view of Falkenstein Castle and a bird’s-eye view of a park whose colorful history and distinct geology make it a must-stop on any trek through Burnet County.

Longhorn Cavern State Park is located 14 miles from Marble Falls and 10.9 miles from Burnet at 6211 Park Road 4 South in Burnet. Call the park at 512-715-9000.

Longhorn Cavern is a day-use facility. For park hours, go to visitlonghorncavern.com. Visitors not touring the cave pay no entrance fee and enjoy full access to the park’s above-ground facilities. 

Camping is available nearby at Inks Lake State Park. Guests can find overnight lodging at Burnet and Marble Falls. For more information on area activities and attractions, visit highlandlakesofburnetcounty.com.

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