Cathedral Caverns State Park is located near Lake Guntersville in Northeast Alabama. (Photo: Peter Jones)
Two-thirds of the Alabama’s more than 4,200 known caves occur in the northeastern section of the state, and one of the region’s most visitor-friendly and impressive caves is Cathedral Caverns, located at Cathedral Caverns State Park near Woodville, Alabama.
The massive entrance to Cathedral Caverns – 128 feet wide and 25 feet tall – leads to an underground wonderland featuring one of the largest stalagmites in the world (measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference).
Other unique sites within the cave include a stalagmite forest that covers about three acres, a flowstone wall, and a giant stalagmite at 27 feet tall and 3 inches wide. Mystery River flows through the cave, occasionally flooding during heavy rains.
Ranger-guided tours along a handicapped-accessible pathway are offered seven days a week. The lighted concrete trail system is about a 2-mile round-trip adventure that takes about 1.5 hours to complete. The cave is a comfortable 57-60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
“Cathedral Caverns is a premier show cave in the United States,” said Cathedral Caverns State Park Manager Lamar Pendergrass. “There are places in the cave where you could put a 10-story building.”
Cathedral Caverns has seen a lot of action through the centuries. Archaeological excavations indicate occupation by American Indians dating back 9,000 years ago. During the Civil War, a local family reportedly lived in the cave after their house was burned by Union soldiers. Two movies were filmed in the cave: Disney Studios’ movie “Tom and Huck” (1995) and portions of the 1983 science-fiction adventure film “What Waits Below.”
Local entrepreneur Jay Gurley first opened the cave to the public in 1959. It was originally called Bats Cave, but Gurley and his wife dubbed it Cathedral Caverns based on the cave’s high ceilings. In 1972, the cave was declared a National Natural Landmark.
The state of Alabama purchased the cave and surrounding 461 acres in 1987. After years of funding delays and restoration work, the site was reopened in 2000 as Cathedral Caverns State Park.
Some 11,000 feet of passages have been mapped through the cave; however, most are not open to the public in an effort to protect sensitive areas from heat, humidity and disturbance. One such site, known as the Crystal Room, features delicate white calcite formations.
In addition to cave tours, the park has a welcome center, six miles of hiking trails, tent camping and backcountry camping sites, picnic areas and a gem stone mining attraction.
The park is just a short drive from Lake Guntersville State Park, which offers an overnight lodging package that includes a tour of the cave.