Southeastern Outdoors Caving in Tennessee
Southeastern Outdoors
Home > Outdoor Activities > Caves & Caving > Invertebrate Cave Species
Backcountry StoreWeb Site Promotion

Crystal Cave Management Plan Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

January 1999

Crystal Cave constitutes one of Sequoia and Kings Canyon's most outstanding natural features, and is also one of the most popular visitor destinations within the two parks. The cave is generally visited by more than 45,000 people each summer season. For the past 16 years the commercial tour operation at Crystal Cave has been managed and staffed by the Sequoia Natural History Association, (SNHA) a non-profit cooperating association operating under a memorandum of understanding with the Park Service. The SNHA also operates a "Wild Tour" that provides park visitors with an off-trail, "caving" experience in sections of the cave that have not been developed for formal tours.

Crystal Cave contains an impressive array of significant resources. The cave with 2.95 miles of surveyed length, is the second longest in Sequoia and Kings Canyon and is the fourth longest cave in California. The block of marble in which the cave has formed is only 600 feet thick, 150 feet wide and 120 feet tall. The three miles of passages in this small area have formed in a dense anastomotic maze pattern characteristic of a sinking stream hydrology. The cave features an active stream, which is a piracy of Yucca Creek through the marble ridge containing the cave to Cascade Creek. A number of "lakes" where deep ground water pools are exposed are also known in the cave. These imply that cave development is continuing at depth, below the level of the current water table. Other primary features include the largest cave room in the parks, Marble Hall, which is 150 feet long, 60 feet wide and 60 feet tall. Many other rooms have also formed in the cave, including the Dome Room, Phosphorescent Room, and Slickensides Room. Other primary features include many pendants and shelves of bedrock. These unusual forms imply that massive inundations of sediment filled or nearly filled some cave passages throughout Crystal's history. Sediment filling passages allows aggressive water to cut laterally across sediment deposits or down between sediments and the cave's walls.

The cave is also very rich in secondary deposits. These include many standard forms including thousands of stalactites, curtains, soda straws and stalagmites, and large areas of flowstone and rimstone. These deposits occur throughout the cave. Crystal also contains many much more rare calcite features including more than 90 shields. Shields are found in less than 60 caves in the United States. Other rare forms include both vermiform and beaded helictites and folia. Folia is a particularly rare speleothem that is associated with resurging ground water and the rapid release of carbon dioxide. There appear to be four deeply weathered deposits of folia in Crystal. The cave also contains an extensive collection of raft cones, formed when dripping water disturbs thin deposits of calcite formed on the surface of a pool. An apparent unique version of raft cones has formed in the Organ Balcony section of Crystal. Here the raft pieces are large and often lie at perpendicular angles to each other. Non-calcite secondary deposits also occur in many areas of Crystal Cave. Aragonite crystals are known from several locations including the Dome Room. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) crusts and blisters have grown on the surface of several outcrops of schist in the cave. Pyrite and quartz crystals and rosettes occur in Marble Hall and near the Phosphorescent Room, respectively. Their presence implies that the marble bedrock has undergone periods of hydrothermal activity. The pyrite may be the source of the sulfate in the cave's gypsum.

Crystal Cave contains a unique of assemblage of cave-adapted animals. At least six species of bats (Myotis lucifugus, Eptesicus fuscus, Myotis californicus, Corynorhinus townsendii, Pipistrellus hesperus, and Tadarida brasiliensus) have been seen in the cave. The species Corynorhinus towsensdii includes two sub-species that are listed as threatened, though this listing does not include bats in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Other vertebrates that use the cave include ring-tailed cats (Bassariscus astutus), the Ensantina Salamander ( Ensantina escholtzi), and numerous rodents including the brush mouse (Permyscus boylii), the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and the dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes). The cave also houses many invertebrate animals including several endemic troglobitic species. Non-endemic species include a Pimoa sp. spider believed to be a twilight-zone dweller, Hypochilus, petrunkevitch, also an entrance dweller, Ceratinops inflata, and Nesticus silvestrii, the Sierran cave spider. Spider species that may be endemics or at least new species include a Bathyphantes, a Tetragnatha, an Agelenidae, a Titiotus, and Liocranoides individuals. The cave has two troglobitc isopod species. One is aquatic and the other terrestrial. Both are rarely seen and have been observed in only a few locations in the cave. The cave is home to two species of troglophilic Collembolans (springtails) Tomocerus pogonognathellus and Tomocerus californicus. Other likely troglobitic endemics include a millipede, a centipede, and a mite. Troglophilic endemics include Tropidischia cave crickets.

Crystal Cave's extensive resource base, the commercial use of the cave for both walking and wild tours, and use by recreational cavers, preclude a simple plan for complete management of the cave. The following plan attempts to delineate appropriate areas for all of the above-mentioned activities and still allow adequate areas for resource protection and preservation.

About This Plan

This plan addresses only management classifications for specific geographic areas of Crystal Cave. This plan has no bearing on agreements between the Park Service and SNHA concerning the commercial operation of Crystal Cave and the associated infrastructure that supports this operation. This plan also has no bearing on employee and visitor health and safety issues, including search and rescue functions and radon monitoring. Cave Research and Cave Restoration within Crystal Cave will adhere to the general Park standards outlined in the Park Cave Management Plan.

This plan is organized as a map-based delineation of the known passages within Crystal Cave. Maps illustrating the completed plan will be provided to approved Crystal Cave Trustees, and employees of the SNHA. Areas of Crystal Cave are divided into six different management schemes. 1) Tours are authorized to occur on the paved cave trail (Management Classification 1a). 2) Visitor wild tours, employee wild tours, SNHA employee caving trips, and visitor caving trips (led by park approved Trustees) may visit the specific sections of the cave set aside for wild tours (Management Classification 2b). 3) SNHA employee and visitor caving trips may visit a few sections of the cave (Helictite Passage and Cathedral Balconies) only once per year due to the presence of fragile resources. 4) Some areas adjacent to the tour route may be visited by SNHA employee and visitor caving trips only when tours are not present. 5) Other sections of the cave have no special restrictions and may be visited by SNHA employee and visitor caving trips at any time. 6) A number of areas of the cave are closed to all recreational caving due to the presence of significant fragile resources (Management Classification 5).

In cave notification of the restrictions created by this plan will be made using flagging tape to mark closed areas and as signs informing cavers and SNHA employees of closed and restricted areas. The signs and flagging boundaries will be maintained by the Cave Specialist.

Restrictions Based Upon Visitation Type

Walking Tours: (Under Management Classification 1a) The normal Crystal Cave walking tours provide thousands of visitors with the rare opportunity to visit a natural cave environment. Tour ticket sales, tour leading and interpretation, and rules enforcement are all managed by employees of the SNHA. Tours are currently managed so that one begins every half and hour during the busy season and tours last 50 minutes. Currently 11 tours per day are offered to the public during the summer. Tours will be no larger than 70 people. At least one trained guide from the SNHA staff will be on all tours. Visitors may not bring rigid objects such as walking sticks, frame packs or tripods into the cave. Visitors are required to stay on the paved cave trail at all times while on a tour. There is no smoking, eating or drinking while on walking tours inside the cave. Visitors will refrain from touching the cave's walls and features. The one exception to this is the "Touching Rock" stalagmite adjacent to the bathrooms in the cave's historic entrance. Additional and different tours that meet the above requirements will not be in conflict with this plan. Areas along the cave trail are generally closed to protect delicate features within the view-shed of visitor tours. Obviously light maintenance will require occasional entrance into these areas. However, employees entering these areas must be very careful to protect delicate features.

Wild Tours: (Under Management Classification 2b) The SNHA Wild Tours have generally been offered three times per week. Maximum tour size is six people with two trained SNHA guides per tour. In order to minimize impact on the Wild Tour route, a maximum of 60 Wild Tours per year will be given. Wild Tours are strictly limited to certain areas of the cave. This includes the Hedlund Complex and adjacent passages in the Catacombs; the route from the Dome Room to the Shield Room, passages beneath Marble Hall, and the route from Marble Hall to the Hub Room, the Well and to Solstice Lake. See the accompanying maps for a complete view of passages available for these tours. Employees and visitors visiting the cave will encounter biological monitoring plots. In order for these plots to succeed as tools in the long term monitoring of the cave's ecological health, they must not be disturbed.

Employee Wild Tours: (Under Management Classification 2b) Employee Wild Tours must also follow the defined wild tour routes. No more than 15 Employee Wild Tours per year should be offered to minimize impact on the cave. No more than six people may be on an employee wild tour with a single guide and no more than eight people may accompany two guides on an Employee Wild Tour. Employees visiting the cave will encounter biological monitoring plots. In order for these plots to succeed as tools in the long term monitoring of the cave's ecological health, they must not be disturbed.

SNHA Employee Caving: (Under Management Classification 2a) Employees of the SNHA need access to the off trail sections of Crystal Cave for Wild Tour training and to familiarize themselves with the cave and its features. First year employees at Crystal Cave may not lead wild caving trips, however they may participate in trips led by more senior Crystal Cave staff. Second and subsequent year employees may lead a maximum of three trips per year to off-trail and off-wild tour route sections of the cave (sections with no special restrictions). Employee Wild Tours and participation in a caving trip does not count towards one's limit of three led trips per year. Employee caving trips may not enter closed areas of the cave, and a permit must be filled out for each of these trips that enters Crystal Cave. A few areas of the cave are available for trips only once per year, per employee eligible to lead trips. Employees visiting the cave will encounter biological monitoring plots. In order for these plots to succeed as tools in the long term monitoring of the cave's ecological health, they must not be disturbed.

Visitor Caving: (Under Management Classification 2a) Recreational Caving trips to Crystal Cave may enter the cave once every two weeks. All trips will be led by Park approved Trustees or trip leaders and require a permit. A description of how to become a Trustee is included in the Cave Management Plan. A total of ten Trustees may be designated at one time. A weekend meeting and Trustee training will be held generally in the spring, before tours begin at the cave. Trustees are responsible for the actions of cavers on their trips. Trustees should carefully choose the people they allow on their trips into the cave. Trustees must avoid all light fixtures and wires used to support the commercial tours, and also must coordinate their trips with the SNHA Crystal Cave staff. Trips on weekends or weekdays are generally not possible during the summer months, but cavers may visit the cave on weekday evenings during the summer, on weekend evenings during the May and September and before the cave opens and after it closes each year. Due to heavy snow, winter trips to the cave are not possible. In general, Trustees should contact the Cave Specialists office two weeks prior to a proposed trip date. A few areas of the cave are available for a trip only once per year per Trustee. Cavers visiting the cave will encounter biological monitoring plots. In order for these plots to succeed as tools in the long term monitoring of the cave's ecological health, they must not be disturbed.

Closed and Restricted Passages and Justifications


1. Bear Den Cave, North, Paleontology, pristine nature

2. Lake Room, North, Cultural remains

3. Tomorrowland, North, Pristine nature

4. Passage below Marble Hall, North, Pristine nature

5. Flagging below Marble Hall, North, Delicate, pristine nature

6. Flagging at Solstice Lake, North, Undisturbed sediments

7. Passage near Hub Room, North, Microbe colonies

8. Organ Balcony, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy

9. Calcite Staircase, Upper and Middle, Delicate

10. Cathedral Balconies, Upper and Middle, Delicate, pristine nature

11. Shield Room area, Upper and Middle, Delicate

12. Pool Room, Upper and Middle, Delicate

13. Delicate Passage, Upper and Middle, Delicate, pristine nature

14. Raft-cone Passage, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy

Passage between Marble
Hall and Slickensides, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy

16. Oberhansley's Entrance, Upper and Middle, Bats and invertebrates

17. Near Oberhansley's, Upper and Middle, Delicate, pristine nature

18. Broom Room, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy

Flagging and closures in the
Phosphorescent Room, Upper and Middle, Delicate

Flagging and closures
in the Millipede Room, Upper and Middle, Invertebrates

Flagging and closure
in the Swank Room, Upper and Middle, Delicate

22. Flagging in Ensantina, Upper and Middle, Delicate

Entrance Passage to Little Tour route Visitor view-shed, lighting Cathedral and Dome Room system, microbe colonies
and invertebrates

24. Whitewash Canyon, Tour route, Invertebrates

25. Helictite Passage, Tour route, Unique mineralogy, delicate

26. Sugar Cookie Passage, Tour route, Delicate, restoration

27. Sugar Cookie Parallel, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature

28. Hidden Passage, Tour route, Bats, invertebrates

29. Lower Catacombs, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature

30. Red Belly Entrance, Tour route, Invertebrates

31. Below Fat Man's, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature

32. Small area in Marble Hall, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature

33. Ceiling area in Fault Room, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature

34. Fault Room, Tour route, Rockfall danger



For caving related discussions, questions, and answers please visit our Caving Discussion Forums 

Caving Info
Caves & Caving
Caving Discussions
Lost Creek Cave
Hubbard's Cave
Cave Laws
Sponsor Links
Related Links
Caving Discussions
Bat Conservation
Sporting Goods
California Cabins
Cave Books