An underground, guided tour of Indian Echo Caverns is a lot of what you’d expect – impressive, ancient rock formations and natural beauty – along with some fascinating facts and history about the limestone caverns and its first inhabitants! Uncover the secrets of Indian Echo Caverns, a natural geologic wonder millions of years in the making.
The limestone in the caverns is more than 440 million years old! As water flowed from the surface through the limestone, it eroded the rock, giving way to more and more openings and crevices. Geological forces led to an “uplift” of the limestone.
The rooms inside the caverns are plenty big to stand in. The largest area – The Indian Ballroom – is 49 feet high and 110 feet wide.
One of the most Instagrammed spots inside the caverns is Crystal Lake, a six-foot-deep pool of water. The rock below the lake isn’t as permeable as the rest of the ground, so water seeping down from the surface sticks around for a while!
A stalagmite is a type of rock formation that forms from the ground up, while a stalactite inches down from the ceiling. When the two meet, they create impressive columns. The caverns are always changing and growing, ever so slowly. It can take anywhere from 35 to 150 years to grow 1 inch of new formation! Look around; you might even see some Hershey’s Kisses shaped formations, perfect for the region.
The caverns maintain a temperate 52 degrees Fahrenheit year round, making it a comfortable refuge in no matter the weather. The caverns’ earliest known inhabitants – the Susquehannock Indians – used the caverns for shelter and storage. In the 17th century, early European explorers and hunters most likely discovered the mouth of the caverns while navigating the Swatara Creek and wrote home about their use of the caverns. One of the caverns’ most famous residents was the Pennsylvania hermit, William Wilson, who called the caves home from 1802 to 1821.
In 1919, a group of teenagers made a cool discovery – a small wooden chest known today as the Mystery Box. Inside they found several stones, jewelry, foreign coins, and more. The oldest piece in the box was a Moroccan coin dated 1288. To this day, no one knows who owned the box, but you can peek at its contents on display in the gift shop.
It wasn’t until 1929 that the caverns opened to the general public by Mr. John Bieber. He made the caverns’ pathways safe for visitors and opened several rooms closed off by mineral deposits. The caverns’ attracted thousands of visitors in its first year. Today, a local family owns and operates the caverns, which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Now that the caverns are maintained and operational to visitors, you don’t see many animals inside. But there’s always a chance to see the occasional bat or salamander.
Tours last approximately 45 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes for walking to and from the cavern entrance. Your knowledgeable tour guide will share caverns’ history, talk about the ecology, and point out impressive formations. While you’re listening and asking questions, please pay attention to your surroundings. The caverns are well-lit, and its pathways are clear of debris, but you may encounter low ceilings and small puddles after a rainfall.
Tour times vary by day and season, depending on how busy the attraction is. As soon as you arrive, check in at the gift shop to reserve your spot on the next tour, then you can browse around for a bit before it’s time to meet the group.
The caverns maintain a consistent 52 degrees Fahrenheit year round, making it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It’s a good idea to dress in layers. When it comes to footwear, wear comfortable shoes for walking and ones that cover your toes.
No, you don’t want to touch any rock formations. The natural oils on your hands can prevent the formations from growing. Remember, it can take 100 years to sprout just one inch!
From gem panning to goat petting, there’s even more to do above ground at Echo Dell – Indian Echo Caverns.
Make a discovery like a real pioneer at the Gem Mill Junction, where you can pan for gemstones, coins, arrowheads, fossils, and more. Purchase a bag of sand and goodies from the gift shop then take it outside to sift it. As water washes the sand away, you’ll uncover several small treasures that are yours to keep! The Gem Mill Junction is open seasonally, usually April to October.
It’s free to visit with the adorable farm animals outside at Echo Dell. They have goats, alpacas, chickens, a rooster, a turkey, peacocks, and pheasants. All of the animals are friendly and trained. You can purchase a handful of snacks for the animals from the coin-operated machines nearby.
While Indian Echo Caverns doesn't sell any concessions, you can plan ahead with a packed lunch at one of their free-to-use picnic tables. Let the kids' imaginations run wild at the playground area, featuring several slides, swings, monkey bars, and climbing wall!