Many travelers explore the Earth to gawk at the wonders found on its surface. What many might not realize is that there are thousands of miles still to discover within its crust. The U.S. Speleological Society states that there are over 55,500 caves in the U.S. alone, with more than 1,000 new discoveries each year. While some caves require special gear and skills to explore, many are easily accessible to non-thrill-seekers. The next time you find yourself planning a unique trip, consider flying your private jet to one of the planet’s hidden marvels.
Spruce Tree House | Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The third largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, Spruce Tree House dates back to A.D. 1211. Built by the Puebloan peoples, the cave’s structure is like an ancient housing project with 130 rooms and eight kivas, or ceremonial chambers. Spruce Tree House is the best-preserved Anasazi cliff dwelling with 90 percent of its original structures and paintings of local wildlife on the walls. Archaeologists believe that 60 to 80 people lived in the cave.
Hang Sơn Đoòng (Mountain River Cave) | Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, Quảng Bình Province, Vietnam
Discovered in 2009, Hang Sơn Đoòng is the largest known cave passage cross-section on the planet. The cavern stretches 2.5 miles and reaches up to 300 feet wide and 600 feet high. The thick tropical rainforest of Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park conceals the cave, where a thunderous subterranean echoes off its walls below the lush canopy. In several locations throughout the cave, the ceiling collapsed, creating massive natural skylights. The sun that spills from the skylights promotes the growth of miniature ecosystems with plant and animal life. In 2015, only 500 gained access to the cave, so you have to act quickly if you want to see it in the near future.
Grotte Préhistorique de Rouffignac (Rouffignac Cave) | Périgord Noir, Vallée de la Vézère, France
Situated on a hill slope near La Binche river, Rouffignac cave, or the Cave of the Hundred Mammoths, is the place to visit to see some of the world’s more precious, priceless art. Created by Ice Age-era artists over 140 centuries ago, the cave’s walls are filled with over 250 drawings and engravings of animals, including 158 mammoths, 10 wooly rhinoceros, 28 bison, 12 ibex, 15 horses, 28 bison and one cave bear. Finger flutings, or decorative etches, also line the cave’s walls and chambers. One of the unique findings in the Rouffignac cave is the representations of four human figures, which is rare in Ice Age-era cave drawings. Since you took the time to fly a private jet to France, complete your cave tour with trips to Lascaux and Font-de-Gaume to see the famous multi-color cave paintings.
Cody Caves | Ainsworth, British Columbia, Canada
If your travels take you to Vancouver, B.C., charter a flight east to Ainsworth, a tiny town on Kootenay Lake. Within the caves of the Selkirk Mountains, you’ll find the horseshoe-shaped Ainsworth Hot Springs, which you access from the Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort. The springs are open to the public. While it isn’t unusual for water to flow through caves, it is unusual for caves to contain hot springs. The odorless water in the Ainsworth Hot Springs drips from the walls and ceiling, is waist-deep and 108°F to 117°F. The water that fills the resort’s lounging pool is a lukewarm 96°F, making it perfect for year-round soaks.