Show cave

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A guide and visitor in the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

A show cave — also called tourist cave, public cave, and in the United States, commercial cave — is a cave which has been made accessible to the public for guided visits.


A show cave is a cave which has been made accessible to the public for guided visits,[1] where a cave is defined as a natural occurring void beneath the surface of the earth, per the International Show Caves Association.[2]

A show cave may be managed by a government or commercial organization and made accessible to the general public, usually for an entrance fee.[citation needed] Unlike wild caves, they may possess constructed trails, guided tours, lighting, and regular opening hours.[citation needed]

The term is used inconsistently between nations: many countries[which?] tend to call all caves which are open to the public show caves. However, there are many caves which are not developed with trails, light and tours, which are visited by very many people. This kind of cave is often called a semi-wild cave.[citation needed] Access may involve anything between an easy stroll and dangerous climbing[citation needed]. Most cave accidents happen in this kind of cave, as visitors underestimate the difficulties and dangers.[citation needed]


The oldest known show cave in the world is probably Reed Flute Cave in China with inscriptions from 792 in the time of Tang Dynasty. Other old show caves are Postojna Cave in Slovenia, with the presumed first record of a cave tour in 1213. Other early show caves are Jasovská jaskyňa in Slovakia with inscriptions from 1452, the Sontheimer Höhle in Germany which was reportedly visited by Herzog Ulrich von Württemberg on 20 May 1516 and Vilenica Cave in Slovenia where entrance fees were taken from 1633 on. In 1649 the first "authorized" cave guide started guiding Baumannshöhle in the Harz in Germany though this cave was intensively visited much earlier.

The development of electric lighting enabled the illumination of show caves. Early experiments with electric light in caves were carried out by Lieutenant Edward Cracknel in 1880 at Chifley Cave, Jenolan Caves, Australia. In 1881 Sloupsko-Šošůvské Jeskyně, Czech Republic, became the first cave in the world with electric arc light. This light did not use light bulbs, but electric arc lamps with carbon electrodes, which burned down and had to be replaced after some time.[citation needed]

The first cave in the world with electric light bulbs as we know them today was the Kraushöhle in Austria in 1883. But the light was abandoned after only seven years and the cave is today visited with carbide lamps. In 1884 two more caves were equipped with electric light, Postojna Cave, Slovenia, and Olgahöhle, Germany.[citation needed]

Because of the unwanted development of lampenflora around incandescent electric lights in show caves, many of these attractions, such as Ingleborough Cave in England, have switched to LED lighting[3].

Notable show caves (in alphabetical order)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jennings Joe N, Cave and Karst Terminology, in Matthews P. G. (ed), Australian Karst Index 1985, ASF Broadway, pp 14.1-13
  2. ^ Definition of show cave n.d. The International Show Caves Association (I.S.C.A.), accessed 24 July 2017
  3. ^ "Limestone cave can now be seen in a new light". Retrieved 30 December 2017. 

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