Types Of Caves – Explanation + Visual Guide

Caves are the result of different processes. As a result, there are different types of caves formed when these processes occur. For example, there are sea caves, eolian caves, lava caves, sandstone caves, and solution caves.

A cave is a natural opening in the ground extending beyond the zone of light and large enough to permit the entry of man. Occurring in a wide variety of rock types and caused by widely differing geological processes, caves range in size from single small rooms to interconnecting passages many miles long. The scientific study of caves is called speleology.


Caves are formed due to wind or water erosion (or other natural force) of rocky surfaces found in different types of terrain. For example, you can find different cave types in deserts, high mountains, within glaciers, or in karst landscapes.

The most common kind of cave are those found in karst landscapes and they are also the most visited caves due to their expansive interiors. Here are the 4 main types of caves ( solution, glacier, lava, and sea caves) with examples of each (where possible).

Glacier Caves

When water formed by the melting snow and ice (meltwater) unearths drainage tunnels through the ice in a glacier, it can create a cave.

Kverkfjöll glacier cave

The Kverkfjöll glacier cave in the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland is an example of a glacier cave.

Solution Caves

These types of caves form in limestone, salt, chalk, marble, gypsum, etc. (carbonate rocks or sulfate rocks). These kinds of caves form when groundwater erodes the rock’s surface and forms tunnels.

Timpanogos Cave in Utah.

Most caves and, the largest caves, are usually solution caves. They are also known as karst caves. An example of a solution cave is the Timpanogos Cave in Utah.

Lava Cave

Lava caves, as the name implies, form through volcanic activity. When magma rises to the surface, becoming lava, and flows down a volcano’s slopes it cools and solidifies.

However, beneath the solidified surface, lava continues to flow. When it finally stops flowing it leaves behind hollow tubes. These types of caves are known as lava tubes.

Kazumura Lava Tube

The Kazumura Cave in Hawaii is an example of a 40.7-mile long lava tube. Other types of caves formed by volcanic activity include lava mold caves, rift caves, inflationary caves, and volcanic conduits.

Exploring the Valentine Cave, a lava tube.
Valentine Cave, Lava Tube.

Ice Caves

You might be thinking that an ice cave is related to a glacier cave or is, in fact, a type of glacier cave but they are not.


Ice caves are usually solution caves or lava caves where ice forms and remains all year round. The Eisriesenwelt, in Austria, is an example of an ice cave. It is also the largest ice cave in the world.

Sea Caves

As waves from the ocean erode rock (bedrock) on the coastline or seashore, eventually, they form caves.

Italy’s Blue Grotto

Some sea caves are but small crevices and can only be accessed by boat. For example, the Blue Grotto in Italy.

Others are vast and can be found along beaches. An example is Fingal’s Cave in Scotland.

Scotland’s Fingal’s Cave

Eolian Caves

Eolian caves are shallow caves formed when wind blasts silt or fine sand against a rock face. These types of caves are rarely longer than a few tens of meters.

Sandstone Caves

Sandstone caves or rock shelters form when erosion of insoluble rocks takes place. For example, a resistant rock such as a sandstone overlies some other relatively weak rock (like shale).

Surface weathering or stream action erodes the shale, diminishing it into the hillside. Eventually, the sandstone is all that’s as a cover to the rock shelter.

Talus Caves

Talus caves are openings created between rocks stacked up on mountain slopes. Most of them are tiny both in length and in cross-section.

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