One of the most mesmerizing caves that you can visit is located in North Alabama about 40 minutes east of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Cathedral Caverns State Park is a truly unique experience that you won’t want to miss. The cave is an incredible sight to behold, with its massive entrance and naturally formed stalagmites and stalactites. I found it to be a great day trip experience with a friend and think you will, too.
History of Cathedral Caverns
Once upon a time, the caverns used to be an ancient ocean. Today, we have evidence of prehistoric sharks in the area thanks to fossils embedded in the ceiling of the cave. (Hundreds of shark teeth have been found inside Cathedral Caverns.)
There is also evidence inside the cave of the 1812 New Madrid earthquakes that rocked the area and caused the Mississippi River to flow backward.
During the Civil War, it was home to the Kennamer family after their home was burned down by Union soldiers.
Fast forward to the mid-1900s, and a man named Jacob Gurley came across the cave. Unbeknownst to his wife, he decided to purchase the cave for $4,000.
It took Jacob Gurley 2 years to get his wife to go into the cave. (She was probably a little miffed at him for making a huge purchase without consulting her first.) When she saw some of the columns, it reminded her of a cathedral. Hence, the name changed from the Bat Cave to Cathedral Caverns.
In 1975, the cave was sold at auction to Tom German who later sold it to the State of Alabama (in 1987). In 2000, it became an Alabama State Park and opened to the public. The park has 493 acres and includes hiking trails, RV hookups, and campsites.
What to Expect on a Tour
On the tour, you will walk along lighted pathways as your guide explains the various features of the cave. The pathways are not too challenging, and the tour is suitable for people of all ages.
The temperature is naturally 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so in the warmer months, you will want to bring a sweater or light jacket with you.
Tours last about 90 minutes and you will walk about 3/4 of a mile to the end of the cave (1.5 miles round trip).
As soon as you step inside, you’ll be amazed at the sheer size of the cave. The huge opening measures 25 feet high and 126 feet across, which might make it a world record among commercial caves.
Facts About Cathedral Caverns
- Scenes from Huck and Fin, a Disney movie, were filmed inside the cave.
- The cavern is home to the world’s largest column inside of a commercial cave – Goliath. It measures 45 feet tall and its circumference is 243 feet at its base.
- The formations are still growing! Because of this, visitors are not permitted to touch any of the stalactites or stalagmites. (There is one formation on the ground near the entrance that guests are permitted to touch.)
- There is a mystery river that runs through the cave. It is the only natural source of water in the cave.
Formations in the Cavern
If you are a geology nut, you will love this cave! There are hundreds of beautiful and unique rock formations. Among them are:
Stalagmites – They can be identified by their upward-growing shape. They form when water dripping from the ceiling of a cave accumulates on the floor and hardens over time.
Stalactites – They grow in the opposite direction, downward from the ceiling of a cave. They form when mineral-rich water drips from the ceiling, leaving behind tiny deposits that build up over time.
An easy way to remember the difference is that stalactites “hold tight” to the ceiling and stalagmites have a “G” for ground.
Columns – These are the result of stalactites and stalagmites fusing together.
Soda Straws – Also known as tubular stalactites, these formations grow from the tops of a cave downward and have a hollow center, like a straw.
Flowstone – This type of formation occurs when calcite is deposited by a thin sheet of flowing water. There are two types: smooth, created by constant water flow, and rough, caused by dripping water. (The frozen waterfall inside the cave is a type of smooth flowstone wall.)
Other Attractions at Cathedral Caverns State Park
The park offers plenty to do beyond the cave tours. There are plenty of picnic tables to enjoy a picnic lunch after your tour.
Like panning for gemstones? You can purchase a bag or bucket of mining dirt and pan for rough-cut gemstones and fossils. There’s a gemstone identification display to help you identify your newly found treasures. (Price ranges from $6 – $50 plus tax.)
Camping enthusiasts will appreciate that the park has a campground area with sites for primitive tent camping and backcountry sites, as well as full hookups for those with RVs. (RV-ers will appreciate that each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and grill.)
In November, the park is the site of the Cathedral Caverns 5K and 15K trail run in which part of the race(s) take place inside the cave! In March, a yearly half marathon and 10k run are held on the grounds.
Be aware that the park is located in a remote location and cell phone service is spotty at best.
Admission and Hours
Park hours are from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm. Guided tours are offered daily every hour on the hour from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. (You must have a guide to enter the cave.) The cave is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
Tours of the cave take place rain or shine (it doesn’t rain inside of the cave) year-round. It’s recommended that you make your (nonrefundable) cave tour reservations (256-728-8193) no more than 2 days in advance for tickets. Tickets can be purchased at the visitor center.
Tickets are $20 for people ages 13+, $18 for military (with id), $9 for children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and younger (a ticket is required, but there is no charge).
Pets are not allowed on the tour.
Cathedral Caverns is located in Northeast Alabama at 637 Cave Road in Woodville. It’s a short drive (30 minutes) from Scottsboro, home of the Unclaimed Baggage Center, and about 40 minutes from the city of Huntsville.