New York State’s Howe Caverns, a Trip to the Underworld – with Fudge!

What says Halloween more than a dark, cold, spooky cave filled with bats?  Central New York’s Howe Caverns certainly has all that and more.  Our family visited and found an attraction appropriate not only for Halloween, but all year long.  Want to know more about what the site has to offer?  Then continue reading for more details of our family’s visit to Howe Caverns Adventure Park.

Let me be honest, we weren’t expecting much from Howe Caverns.  This was the last stop of our Castles, Cowboys, and Caverns, Upstate New York Brave Adventure, and the family was weary and longing for home.  We were fatigued, missing our beds, and not eager to see a ticky-tacky roadside attraction.  As we drove closer and closer to our destination, there were more and more folk art road signs filled with cheesy jokes and rock music puns.  Was this what we could expect from Howe Caverns?  The girls were antsy in the back seat, “Dad, let’s just go home… I’m tired… I want to see the cats.”  I replied, “let’s give it a try; see what’s it’s like when we get there; if it’s ‘sketchy,’ we don’t have to stay.”  Let’s just say, we didn’t leave.  Howe Caverns was a very pleasant surprise for our family, and one of the highlights of our summer vacation.

When you visit, don’t be fooled by the numerous, gaudy signs for Secret Caverns.  That is a different attraction, not affiliated with Howe Caverns, and located a mile or so up the road.  Howe Caverns is a well-established attraction, with modern, newly renovated facilities that receives nearly 200,000 visitors each year.

The site was known for hundreds of years by Native Americans as a place where the winds blew forever cool.  In the mid 1800’s, Lester Howe discovered the cave’s entrance on his neighbor’s farmland, and began exploring and mapping the expanse, 156 feet (equivalent of a 15-story building) underground.  [I couldn’t imagine the risks involved exploring the cavern with 1800’s equipment.]  At the beginning of the tour, guests were greeted by an animatronic version of Lester Howe who told the story of the cave’s discovery complete with animated video display accompaniment.  Think an animatronic man sounds second-rate?  Well, this “pre-tour” experience was created by award-winning theme park designer Garner Holt Productions, who has produced many impressive audio animatronics for Disney, Universal, and other theme parks around the world.  Just take a look at Garner Holt’s video of Lester below:

Following the pre-show, our group was led to an elevator that descended into the underworld.  Over the course of 90 minutes, a guide shepherded us through a subterranean maze and pointed out rock formations such as the Godzilla Head, Witches of the Grottoes, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Chinese Pagoda, Pipe Organ, and more.

Halfway through the walk we reached a boat floating on the dammed underground stream.  It looked like a scene that should have an ominous robed gondolier maneuvering it, but we boarded regardless, and began our ride across the “Lake of Venus.”

The out and back boat ride lasted for 10-15 minutes, and then it was back through Titan’s Temple, the largest “room” in the cave with 55 foot high ceilings; a stop at the Bridal Altar, site of over 600 weddings; and we navigated the tight curves and corners of the Winding Way (note: this walk was not handicapped accessible).

The kids loved it, and actually we did too.  After reading so many Greek Myths, it was easy to close our eyes and imagine we were adventuring heroes entering the realm of Hades on a Mythological quest for… for… for what?  For Fudge!  Yes, the end of the tour led us back up the elevator to the Howe Caverns Lodge with gift and sweet shops.  Nothing satisfied a quest in the underworld quite like sweet, delectable fudge.  I’m not kidding, it was quite yummy.

Howe Caverns recently expanded its family offerings beyond the underground experience.  At the HC Mining Company, just opened in 2012, we purchased bags of “mining rough” for the girls, and they sluiced away the dirt to reveal hidden gems.  We cracked a geode to reveal shimmering crystal formations inside, and proudly display the souvenir in our home.

In 2011, Howe High Adventure opened, an area filled with zip lines, ropes courses, climbing walls, and an air jumper.  We didn’t get to experience Howe High Adventure on this visit, but we’ll definitely be coming back to check it out in the future.  Especially because, in May, 2013, the first H2OGO Course will debut in New York State.  Who wouldn’t want to see their kids stuffed into a giant transparent “hamster ball,” filled with water, and tumbled down a hill?  Sounds like great fun to me.

On Friday, October 26, 2012 Howe Caverns will have its 30th Annual Halloween celebration, and raise funds to benefit the Marathon for A Better Life – Schoharie County’s cancer walk.  Costume party fundraiser tickets cost $10/adult and $5/child.  Howe Caverns is open every day of the year, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Current pricing for the traditional 90 min tour is $23/adult (ages 16-64), $20/senior (ages 65+), $19/junior (ages 12-15), $12/child (ages 5-11), and children ages 4 and under are free.  Disclosure: Adventures by Daddy received 4 complimentary traditional tour admissions in order to share the experience with our readers.  However, all opinions expressed are our own.

So what do you think?  Is cave exploring something that appeals to you and your family?  Have you visited Howe Caverns before, or perhaps a similar attraction in your own area?  Please leave a comment below, and let everyone know your thoughts.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.