Best Caves in Alabama for Weekend Adventures
It's dark and damp, your path lit by the orange glow of lamps. Slowly, you make your descent into the cave. Daylight fades, and suddenly you're surrounded by stalagmite behemoths, menacingly jagged, inspiring awe and maybe a little fear. Welcome to the caves of north Alabama. This area of the state forms a part of the reputed TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia) region, which is home to thousands of caves that draw visitors from all over the world. Many are wild, meaning they are not open to the public (or that require experience and a permit). However, there are also caves that are privately or publicly maintained that people of all ages can enjoy. There is as much to see for the serious caver as there is for the history buff and families with young children. Get on outside; majestic stalagmites, cave-water pools, bat emergences, and even a Moon Dance await, as you explore the cavernous depths of some of nature's most beautiful hidden places.
Known for its gargantuan stalagmite, Goliath, Cathedral Caverns in Woodville does justice to its name. Experience the reverent, hallowed halls, walk solemnly through the stalagmite forest, and marvel at the seemingly frozen waterfall. And, when you do come across Goliath, you'll know—it's 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.
At Rickwood Caverns in Warrior, you'll walk in the presence of 260-million-year-old rock formations 175 feet below ground. This is an ideal cave to visit in the sweltering summer months, as you can swim in the Olympic-sized pool that is fed by cave water. Additionally, visitors can hike the Fossil Mountain Trail and try their hand at gemstone mining.
Russell Cave National Monument
While the cave itself, located in Bridgeport, is not open to the public, it remains an important archeological site as one of the South's most comprehensive prehistoric records, according to the National Park Service. If you do choose to visit, you can stroll down the cave boardwalk, which winds its way to the cave entrance, and explore the woodlands and fields of the surrounding area. The Russell Cave National Monument is site number 44 on the Alabama birding trail. You may even spot a white-tailed deer.
Manitou Cave of Alabama
The Manitou Cave of Alabama is a prehistoric cave and sacred Cherokee ceremonial site near Fort Payne. Through the non-profit formed in 2016, a board of directors is working to preserve and restore the area, as well as provide educational information to the public about the cave's history and significance in Cherokee culture. By appointment only, visitors can come to learn about the cave's past, view the sacred Cherokee inscriptions on the walls, and see Great Spirit Mountain, a 40-foot-tall rock formation.
Sauta Cave has had a varied history, from saltpeter mine during the Civil War to a roaring '20s nightclub and fallout shelter during the Cold War. Now, the entrance to the cave, located near Scottsboro, is gated and closed to the public. However, visitors can still explore other parts of the 264-acre national wildlife refuge. During the summer, the cave is a must-visit for the spectacular emergence of 200,000 to 400,000 gray bats that roost inside. Stand on the wooden platform by the cave entrance an hour from dusk between June and August to catch the show.
As a former limestone quarry, Three Caves, while not for serious cavers (the caves themselves are unstable and closed to the public), offers a unique summer event known as the Concerts at Three Caves, where visitors can enjoy musical acts in the cave bowl, as well as the annual Moon Dance. It is located in the Monte Sano Nature Preserve in Huntsville, which features 22 miles of hiking trails. If you hike the Three Caves loop, you'll be rewarded with views of the caves from above.
DeSoto Caverns in Childersburg is a family-friendly, accessible cave with the largest accumulation of gemstone-quality onyx in the country. As you walk through the cavern, you'll see the stone in its many colors. In its past, the caverns were one of the most significant sites for the Native Americans of the region, and DeSoto has the distinction of being the first cave on record, when Benjamin Hawkins, presidential agent to George Washington, wrote about it in 1796. During the Civil War, soldiers dug a trench where they made gun powder, and the trench still exists today. In addition to cave tours, visitors can enjoy many of the educational entertainments above ground, such as forge demonstrations and gemstone painting.