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Lost River Cavern A Fascinating Look Into Local Geology

7 August 2011 2 Comments

Ever look at the calendar and say, “Oh, crap, where did the time go?” Happens to me all the time. I think it’s true that time moves faster when you’re getting closer to being over the hill. For instance, I realized last week that it was August and the last time I posted here was April. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to May, June and July. (Heck, I’m still trying to figure out what happened to the 1980s and 90s.) Truth is, the paying side of my business picked up greatly during the past few months – no complaints here – so the blog had to take a back seat for a while.

But I am back and I promise that I will be posting more often – I’m shooting for weekly, at least, from now on –and probably more frequently since the new design gives me some flexibility to hold a feature post at the top and add news and other items on the lower side of the screen.

The Lost River of the Cavern.

The mysterious Lost River that flows silently through the cavern is remarkably clear, deep and actually pure enough to drink because of the natural filtration.

Anyway, for those of you who thought I might have fallen into a hole in the ground over the past 15 weeks, I figured that would be a good place to kick start the old blog – from a hole in the ground.

Lost River Cavern is one of those unique little tourist destinations I had in mind when I started this project about a year ago. Located in Hellertown just off Interstate 78, Lost River isn’t as big as Crystal Cave near Kutztown nor some of the other famous caves made possible through Pennsylvania’s unique limestone-karst geography, but it is a fascinating way to spend an hour or so – especially with the excessive heat and humidity Mother Nature has inflicted on us this summer.

Lost River Cavern is named for the little stream that flows mysteriously through the cave, which goes down about 150 feet below ground level. According to owner Bob Gilman and the tour guide who showed me around, numerous efforts to determine its origin or destination have proven fruitless.

“They’ve made several attempts to see where the water goes,” said Mike, my tour guide. “Some of us believe there is an underground lake filled with all the red dye they have used over the year, because nobody has ever seen it come out anywhere near here and none of the local wells have reported any red coloring.

“We also think that there might be a chamber beyond this that is just filled with ping-pong balls.”

Gilman said the cave was discovered in 1883 when miners were digging for limestone in what is now the cave’s parking lot. His grandparents bought the property in 1929 and opened it for visitors in 1930. While the Gilmans installed lighting, some short steps and a brick floor in one spot to help visitors negotiate the sometimes slippery or steep floor, the cave has otherwise been left in its natural state.

It’s believed to have formed over the past 250,000 years and features several large chambers, including the Crystal Chapel and the Breakdown Room. The Chapel was once the site of local square dances and guides will point out the natural stage above the room where the fiddler and band played. It has also been used for more than 80 weddings, though the Gilman family has cut back on that use in more recent years because of the damage caused to the cave walls from candles and guests touching the surfaces.

The Crystal Chapel

The Crystal Chapel is one of the prettiest rooms in the cavern and it has been used for weddings, square dances and even to store booze.

The Breakdown Room (so-named for the overhanging bridge of stone that fell during the early evolution of the cave) features a small, painted star that tour guides say was placed there by fraternity boys from nearby Lehigh University, who used to leave pledges literally in the dark as part of initiation ceremonies. Lost River is also said to have been used by bootleggers during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s. Its constant 52-degree temperatures would have made it a great place to store booze.

Small stalactites and stalagmites hang from the roof and floor and the cavern features a number of fascinating and beautiful geologic features. (How do you remember the difference between a stalactite and stalagmite? Stalactites hang “tight” to the ceiling and stalagmites “might” someday reach them, according to my guide.)

Gilman said the cavern remains very popular with school groups, especially in the late spring months of May and June. Every so often, an article in the local paper will remind locals of its existence and prompt a flurry of visits, which is what happened last month when The Morning Call included Lost River on a list of places to dodge the hear.

“It’s one of those forgotten surprises,” said Gilman. “People say ‘we’ve been here all our lives and never knew it was here.’ It’s almost as if you have to go away before people think something is important or special.”

If You Go: Lost River Cavern is located at 726 Durham St., Hellertown, Pa, just about a mile off Interstate 78. It’s open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission (Updated Aug. 3, 2015) $12.50 for adults (13 years and older) and $7.75 for children 3-12. Children 2 and under admitted at no cost.

What To Know: The cave is a constant 52 degrees so you might want to bring a sweater or light jacket if you visit during the summer. Also, Mother Nature has never been politically correct, which means the natural site is not easily handicapped-accessible. Claustrophobics shouldn’t have too much trouble since the caverns are fairly large, but bigger crowds can make them seem worse.

Fact: During a prolonged drought in 1963, spelunkers seeking the source of the Lost River instead found a lost cavern behind the Crystal Chapel, dubbed the “Queen’s Room” because of the elaborate geological features found there. Though it is inaccessible most of the time because of the flowing water, photos are on display in the souvenir shop.


  • Lost river caverns said:

    Please remove the information regarding admission fees as they have changed and those reading this site may not realize that the information was posted in 2011 — thank you!

  • Lost river Caverns said:

    Thanks for you great article.
    Admission prices starting January 1, 2015 are $12.50 for adults (13 years and older) and $7.75 FOR CHILDREN 3-12. 2yrs. and under admitted at no cost.