If you’re looking for a unique outdoor adventure or experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States, then Penn’s Cave is the place to visit! With its all-water cavern viewed by way of a guided boat tour and a farm-nature-wildlife park to bus or walk through, there are a vast amount of activities to do and views to take in around the beautiful Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park property in Centre Hall, PA.
Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a cave-lover in search of a unique adventure, or simply someone who appreciates the outdoors and the history this area has to offer, Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park has everything you need for a trip packed full of excitement and exploration. Located in Centre Hall, PA, about 30 minutes northeast of Pennsylvania State University, Penn’s Cave is home to a unique cave tour guided by boat, a farm-nature-wildlife tour, and activities such as Miners Maze and Gemstone Panning. These activities are perfect for people of all ages and from all areas of the country. It doesn’t matter if you’re already in central PA, just visiting, or looking for a place to plan a trip to; Penn’s Cave is certainly something to put on the list of things to see and do during your time here.
The most popular attraction at Penn’s Cave is their water cavern which has a tour guided completely by boat. This is a feature that is distinctive to Penn’s Cave because it is the only location in the entire United States that has an accessible all-water cavern and offers this type of experience. As a result, people from all over the country travel to visit this amazing park. Penn’s Cave offers something truly special to all of its guests. Between the accommodating and energetic staff and the numerous amenities, it is a very visitor-friendly venue for all. It is also the only cave in the state of Pennsylvania that is on the National Register of Historic Places, and there are certainly a lot of interesting stories that you can read about at Penn's cave that would support this great honor. The cave features stalactites and stalagmites that are uniquely named for their shapes and textures and the overall experience is unmatched by any other cave. From the colored lights that reflect off of the cavern walls and the charismatic tour guides that enhance the experience so much more, it is an unforgettable experience being down there. No matter what interests you, a day at Penn’s Cave will show you the beauty and wonder of central Pennsylvania.
Penn’s Cave is staffed by a wonderful group of tour guides and employees, many of them family members, which makes them an even more close-knit group of workers. The Marketing Director, Terri Schleiden, shared some incredible stories and advice about visiting Penn’s Cave. Terri has worked in tourism and marketing for several years and grew up in a dairy farm environment, so she has an extra sense of appreciation for the farming industry, which includes the farm located right on Penn’s Cave’s property. She loves interacting with the visitors who come from all over and believes that there is truly something special about the experience of being at the park. Her dedication to making sure that everyone is happy and able to create wonderful memories during their visit is what makes the Penn’s Cave experience that much better. The excitement that Terri shows toward the atmosphere of working at and exploring Penn’s Cave is something that was evident as soon as she spoke, and it really exemplified the great qualities of staff and employees.
When you sign up for the cave tour, be prepared to experience the incredible feeling of being in such a unique setting of an all-water cave. Since the tour is given entirely by boat, visitors often say that they get to take in all of the sights of the cave and really listen to the stories told by the guides because they are not focused on watching their step and keeping up with a walking group like most other cave tours in the United States. Like several other caves, this all-water cavern was discovered by accident, first by a group of Native Americans. Then, in 1885, the cave officially opened as a commercial attraction. The historic Penn’s Cave House located on the property was originally a hotel that belonged to the Long Family but is now home to offices that are occupied by staff. The hotel back in the day had about 38 rooms and was perfect for the era because there was very little public transportation, meaning families needed a place to stay when sightseeing and traveling. The family who owned it at the time marketed the cave as an attraction and worked hard to bring in visitors, but unfortunately had to sell the property due to some constraints. In 1908, the Campbell Family then purchased the property because of the great farming land, and again worked to promote the cave as a unique attraction for visitors.
Now that the times and methods of transportation have changed, Penn’s Cave works alongside other caves in Pennsylvania and the surrounding area to support each other in the tourism field. Penn’s Cave is a member of the Pennsylvania Cave Association, National Caves Association, Hershey Harrisburg Visitors Bureau, and 5 other visitor bureaus as well. Indian Echo Cavern is another cave in the area and a place that Penn’s Cave is friendly and supportive of since they each have such unique and separate experiences to provide for tourists.
One of the stories that is special to Penn’s Cave and can be read on the plaque at the front of the park is the legend of the cave. While speaking with Terri Schleiden, she was eager to explain the legend herself because it is such an iconic story for the whole area of central Pennsylvania. In summary, a famous French fur trapper from Lancaster County, Malachi Boyer, became friendly with the Seneca Indians. Malachi was especially close with the chief, and ended up falling in love with his daughter, Princess Nita-nee. They wanted to get married, but did not receive approval from the chief, so the lovers ran away. The chief had 7 sons as well and tasked them with bringing back Nita-nee. As for Malachi, he was tied up and thrown into the cavern where the brothers constantly guarded him until he died of hypothermia. Legend has it that when visiting the cave today, if you listen closely you just might hear him faintly calling out “Nita-nee”. Of course, now, the area has several locations that have taken this legend to heart and named landmarks and other things after the princess including Mount Nittany, Nittany Mall, and the most popular one of them all, the Penn State Nittany Lions.
If being in the country’s only all-water cavern isn’t already exciting enough for you, the wildlife tour is sure to leave you in awe. The 1,600 acres of land surrounding Penn’s Cave have been carefully preserved and maintained over the years for the local wildlife to continue to enjoy. It provides a home to animals such as wolves, foxes, bears, sheep, elk, mustangs, mountain lions, bison and Texas longhorn cattle. The tour around the park is given by bus and travels through the animal’s grazing grounds over beautiful mountain paths that used to be stagecoach roads. When you reach the top of the hill, the scenic views of the valley are breathtaking, especially in the fall when the leaves are beautiful maroon, orange, and yellow colors and the sky seems to look an even brighter blue than usual. In addition to the wildlife park of big animals, there is also a natural butterfly garden that you can walk through and enjoy peacefulness. The cave itself leads out to Lake Nittany, which provides another spectacular area of scenery. It is home to large trout that you can’t fish for but can definitely feed, which is a sight to see according to visitors and Terri Schleiden.
Penn’s Cave also features activities such as gemstone panning and a maze, both of which are perfect for people of all ages. When speaking with Marketing Director Terri Schleiden, she mentioned that even locals come on a rather regular basis to enjoy the multitude of activities that Penn’s Cave has to offer. Gemstone panning is something that some adults like to come participate in even monthly because of the great quality and rarity of the rocks that they find. The maze is also a fun activity for everyone because it brings out the friendly competitive side of groups, friends, and family. No matter what age or interests you have, Penn's Cave has something for everyone to enjoy!
If you’re looking for an adventure for any type of day or group of people, Penn’s Cave provides more than enough exploration and excitement for everyone. With outstanding reviews and praise on several media platforms, Penn’s Cave is an all-around friendly and welcoming spot in central Pennsylvania. They are also open during a majority of the year because the cave itself always stays a cool 52 degrees, even when it may be freezing cold outside! Be sure to stop by all the different buildings and activities around the park, and maybe you’ll hear the legendary call of “Nita-nee” or even get the chance to see Waldo the wild beaver who has made his home near the exit of the cave.
Written by Anna Beaver
Edited by Griffin Relford