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The Cavern Systems of New York's Schoharie County

The Mysteriously Odd Cavern Systems of New York's Schoharie County

Do you think you have to be a professional spelunker to go caving? For a unique vacation experience, why not visit the fascinating and beautiful cavern systems of New York's Schoharie County!
Vacayholics Staff
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
By Earl Hunsinger

In the 1700s, the Native Americans called it 'Otsgaragee', which can be translated as 'Cave of the Great Galleries' or 'Great Valley Cave'. When Lester Howe and his family settled on a farm east of Cobleskill, NY, he heard stories about 'Otsgaragee', as well as a legend about a cool breeze that came from a rocky ledge known as 'Blowing Rock', even on the hottest days of summer. One day in 1842, while chasing a cow named Millicent, Howe felt a change in temperature as he approached the grazing herd. Pushing aside some bushes, he discovered the mysterious 'Blowing Rock', the cave system known today as Howe Caverns.

In February 1843, Howe purchased the property from his neighbor for $100. He opened for business almost immediately, charging 50 cents for an 8 - 10 hour torch-lit tour. For a while, he prospered, but eventually, the public's interest in caves waned, he sold his interest in the business, and it eventually closed. For 45 years, no one toured Howe's Caverns, until it reopened for public tours in May of 1929. Today, rather than wading through the water and mud by torch light, visitors are given guided tours along well-lit paths, ending in a quarter mile boat ride.

The Howe Caverns site is located in Schoharie County, about 38 miles west of Albany NY. It is a limestone cave system that is 160 to 200 feet below the surface. Traditional tours begin with an elevator ride to 156 feet below the surface, where the temperature is a steady 52 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is between 70 and 75 percent. Private tours are also available. Or if you want to see the caves the way Howe saw them, you might want to take a lantern tour. For the more adventurous, over 18, adventure tours are available, which go off the main trail and last up to two hours.

In addition to tours, the Howe Caverns site features gemstone mining, geode cutting, and pony rides. For a unique memory, you can even book Howe Caverns' Bridal Altar for the exchange of your wedding vows.

Howe Caverns is not the only cave system in the area. As the McFail's Cave Nature Preserve Management Plan says, the West Passage in Howe Caverns is believed to connect to the Southeast Passage of McFail's Cave, which at seven miles is the longest cave system in the northeastern US. Unfortunately for tourists, McFail's Cave is not open to the public.

In addition to Howe Caverns and McFail's Cave, Schoharie County is also home to Secret Caverns. Like Howe Caverns, Secret Caverns was found by a farmer's cows. Today, it too is a popular tourist attraction, with probably its most amazing feature being a 100-foot underground waterfall. Secret Caverns has not been altered as much as Howe Caverns, and has thus been called the Northeast's most natural cavern that is open to the public.

So then, for a unique experience that's both interesting and educational, visit the Cavern Systems of New York's Schoharie County. Before you know it, you'll be calling yourself a spelunker.