Natural Bridge Caverns are a large collection of subterranean caves and passages that are located approximately ten miles northeast of downtown San Antonio. The caverns derive their name from the 60-foot limestone bridge at the mouth of the entrance. Surrounding the site is the splendor of the Texas Hill Country, and should time allow, a trip out to the area can include a stop at the nearby Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. The caverns and the wildlife ranch aren't affiliated, but since they're so close together, both are often featured on same-day itineraries.
The Natural Bridge Caverns were discovered by four students from St. Mary's University in 1960. The students were looking to further explore the area around the Natural Bridge, and while they knew there were caverns in the area, they weren't aware of just how impressive these caverns were. The Natural Bridge Caverns offer up numerous chambers, one of which is as large as a football field, and spectacular formations abound throughout. Stalactites and stalagmites are among the dazzling cave formations, and those who choose to enjoy Natural Bridge Caverns tours will also encounter brilliant pools of water and huge limestone columns. Helping to make the Natural Bridge Caverns so interesting is the fact that they are still very active. Water continues to drip and flow throughout, and the resulting waxy sheen in some parts is a relatively unique thing to see on cavern tours, which are some of the cooler tours to take in the San Antonio area.
There are a few different options when it comes to the Natural Bridge Caverns tours, and they include the original Discovery Tour. This most popular tour takes visitors a half-mile into the caverns and 180 feet below ground, revealing a magical realm. A knowledgeable guide is with you the entire way, pointing out all the highlights and offering wonderful insight into their formation. Other Natural Bridge Caverns tours include the Illuminations Tour and the Lantern Tour. The Illuminations Tour takes visitors into a set of chambers that are dramatically illuminated with state-of-the-art lighting systems. At one point during the tour, all lights are extinguished, creating total darkness. As for the Lantern Tour, it involves exploring various chambers with just a lamp in hand. These tours are only offered on a once-a-day-basis in the summer months, with a 9 a.m. starting time. Take the early Lantern Tour, and you will have plenty of time left over for the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, not to mention other San Antonio attractions, such as the famed Alamo and the San Antonio Botanical Gardens.
Rounding out the Natural Bridge Caverns tours are the Adventure Tours. These tours last three to four hours and allow visitors to rappel, hike, and climb through the caverns. Regardless of which tour you choose to enjoy on your visit to the Natural Bridge Caverns, you might leave some time left over for the Mining Co. and Rock Shop, a great place to do some panning for gems and minerals. Or the Watchtower Challenge, which sees visitors flying 350 feet across the sky on a zip line. Leaving some time left over for a trip to the nearby wildlife ranch can also be a good idea.
If you have the San Antonio Zoo on your itinerary, there's another area attraction that is also worth keeping on the radar. The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is safari park that features hundreds of animals from more than 50 different species. These animals include emus, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and other exotic creatures. Three large pastures are where the animals roam, and visitors can admire them from the comfort of their cars while driving around the 400-acre environs. The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. The hours vary, though the park always opens at 9 a.m. Closing times range from 4:40 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.