Touring Penn’s Cave: Pennsylvania’s Only All-Water Cavern
If you’ve driven anywhere around the State College area, you’ve no doubt seen the small billboards for Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park. Located in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, Penn’s Cave is one of nine show caves in the state. However, it is the only one that takes visitors through the cave entirely by boat. In fact, Penn’s Cave claims to be America’s only all-water cavern.
The cave has been long-known to the local Seneca Indians that lived in the area. There has been evidence found in various parts of the cave that show that Native Americans and European explorers used the dry parts of the cave for storage and shelter.
The cave is also connected to the local legend surrounding the Indian maiden Nita-nee, for whom the nearby Mount Nittany was supposedly named. Nita-nee fell in love with a French fur trapper from Lancaster County, and they decided to run away together to marry. Nita-nee’s brothers caught up to the pair and brought them back to the village. The Frenchman was thrown into the cave, and the entrance was guarded by Nita-nee’s brothers to prevent his escape until he died inside the cave.
Penn’s Cave has been open for visitors since 1885, when Jesse and Samuel Long built a hotel on the site and a boat to guide visitors through the cave. Over the years, the tour has changed, highlighted by a man-made opening on the far end of the cave into Lake Nitanee which was constructed in 1927. This opening now allows visitors, when water levels allow, to exit the far side of the cave and take a brief boat tour around this man-made lake.
Today, tours of the cave last roughly 45 minutes and are conducted entirely by boat along John Penn Creek. While depths vary based on water conditions, the average depth of the creek is only about one meter, and it is often possible to see the bottom of the creek while on the tour.
The tour guide sits at the front of the boat and guides it through the cave. Along the way, the guide stops the boat and points out cleverly named rock formations and makes the requisite cave-related puns before moving on through the cave. Of course, there is also a lot of fascinating information about the cave’s history and geology that is included in the tour.
The unique boat-based tour of Penn’s Cave makes this a really great destination, even for people who’ve visited many of the other caves in Pennsylvania. However, it’s not just the cave itself that makes Penn’s Cave a fantastic place to visit. The Penn’s Cave property is also home to a large wildlife park, a 5,000 square-foot maze, and an off-roading adventure.
In addition to the cave, I had a chance to check out parts of the wildlife park when I was on-site. Most of the animals are housed in large, natural enclosures, and many of the grazing animals can come right up to the bus visitors ride in. Other animals, like the wolf pack, are housed in a giant enclosure that separates them from visitors, but still provides them with a great habitat and allows them to be seen.
The wildlife park is also home to two mountain lions and a bobcat. While their enclosures are much smaller than the other animals’ enclosures, they seem to be on par with most zoos in Pennsylvania.
The maze at Penn’s Cave sits directly behind the gift shop and looked like a lot of fun from my quick look. I’m told that the paneled walls allow them to change it from time to time, so it’s a fun activity that you can do again and again without getting bored.
Overall, I was really impressed with my time at Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. With the multiple attractions available, you could spend an entire day there with the whole family. Of course, the cave itself is worth the visit if you just have a couple of hours to spend onsite before heading to the many other attractions in and around Centre County.
Note: My visit to Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park
Hours: Daily March-November
Cost: Adults: $17.95, Children: $9.75
Address: 222 Penn’s Cave Road