When searching for amenities available around a college campus, you might not think of creepy subterranean caves. But that is exactly what you’ll find on the campus of the University of California Santa Cruz. Interchangeably called the Porter/Empire Caves, they are a trio located near the university’s Porter College off Empire Grade Road – ergo the name. If you enjoy eerie, dark, and tight spaces to explore, you’re in for a (weird) treat.
The history of the cave is truly unique, so be sure to take some time to read the signage outside.
The entrance to the cave is set amidst beautiful redwood trees.
It’s just a short hike to get there, and along the way, you can enjoy spectacular views of the Monterey Bay in the distance.
The adventure—deemed suitable for beginners—starts with a climb through a stone opening, then down a ladder into the dark, cool, area below.
If you’re claustrophobic, your exploration may end here! If not, you’ll definitely want to bring a headlamp, flashlight, and reflective clothing so you can see your fellow cavers, or at the minimum, your own reflection in the dark.
Along each of the low clearance and narrow caves, you’ll encounter fascinating Karstified marble and distinctive crevices, each more unique than the last.
Because the caves are subterranean, it’s important to be aware of current and recent weather patterns.
The dry months (summer and fall) are best, but regardless, never after a heavy rain, as the caves become quite muddy and can be susceptible to flooding.
One of the things that makes the caves so fascinating, is that they are home to two rare and very endangered species (due to environmental factors and human interference).
If you’re lucky, you might spot the Dollof Cave Spider. Although native to the Golden State, is considered to be one of the rarest spiders in all of North America.
Look down by your feet and you might catch a glimpse of The Empire Cave Pseudoscorpion. This creature is believed to live nowhere else on earth.
Want to make a visit here a real spooky adventure? Then come to the caves right before sunset when the onslaught of darkness offers an entirely different perspective.
Thanks to YouTuber Devin’s Adventures, you can see the actual climb down into and through Porter Caves!
If you have an affection for exploring dark, tight passages several feet below the earth, the Porter/Empire Caves are sure to satisfy you!
Have you been to the Porter/Empire Caves? If so, we’d love to see your photos and hear about your experience there.
Santa Cruz isn’t the only place to go cave exploring. Here are seven other exciting subterranean spots dotted around Northern California.
Address: Porter College, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA