I can’t think of any Southern road trip I have been on where I didn’t see a plethora of colorful billboards advertising various caving adventures, making promises of bedazzlement and wonder. However, on said road trips, these billboards were merely daydreams while en route to an alternative destination. But now it’s the summer, and what better way to escape the heat than to retreat into one of these cool marvels of nature and finally check “go to one of those billboard caverns” off of your bucket list? Check out this collection of underground exploits throughout the South that we have compiled for you (you might even need to grab a jacket!):
1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy., Mammoth Cave, KY 42259 • (270) 758-2180
Mammoth Cave National Park is located in the hilly country of south central Kentucky. Mammoth Cave has the title of being the world’s longest known cave system, well earning its name “Mammoth.” There’s a wide variety of ranger-led tours available, starting at $5, so you can let the pros show you the highlights of the 400 explored miles of this cave (don’t worry, you don’t hike all 400 miles!).
1720 S. Scenic Hwy., Chattanooga, TN 37409 • (423) 821-2544
With zip stream aerial adventures, cave tours, lantern tours and killer views of the Tennessee River Valley at Lookout Mountain Tower, Ruby Falls is sure to have something that piques your interest. Ruby Falls is the nation’s largest and deepest waterfall that is open the public, and it is well worth the hype. As a child, I always thought the name implied that the cave was filled with rubies, but I recently discovered that the name comes from a much more heartfelt place. In 1928, the caves were discovered by Leo Lambert, who then named the location after his wife, Ruby. A cave with a romantic back story? I can’t resist!
1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, TN 37110 • (931) 668-4396
Like many of these underground spectacles, Cumberland Caverns has tours and activities for all explorer levels, from daily walking tours to overnight camping expeditions. A specialty of these caverns is the famous Bluegrass Underground concert series, bringing in renowned performers to put on a unique show more than 333 feet underground. Past performers have included Lee Ann Womack, The Civil Wars, Old Crow Medicine Show, St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Bela Fleck. Also worth noting, in the Volcano Room, there’s a 1,500-pound crystal beaded chandelier from the Lowes Metropolitan Theater in Brooklyn, New York. You never know what you’ll find in caves these days! And, if you get hungry, there is a bbq counter for sandwiches with picnic table seating available — inside the cave in plain view of the music stage as well!
101 Cave Hill Road, Luray, VA 22835 • (540) 743-6551
You’ll want to schedule a whole day to spend at Luray Caverns because there’s so much to do! There are multiple caverns and underground structures to see, including Dream Lake, Saracen’s Tent, Giant’s Hall, Titania’s Veil, Double Column and the famous Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument. After exploring underground, return to the surface and visit the Luray Valley Museum for a dose of history, check out The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum for automobile lovers and explore Toy Town Junction to bring out the kid in you. There’s so much to do — plan to experience it firsthand.
1841 Taylor Ave., Louisville, KY 40213 • (877) 614-6342
This cavern is definitely for the more adventurous crew! We are all familiar with the thrill of ziplining, but have you ever thought of trying underground ziplining? Now is your chance! What better way to tour through this man-made cavern than by a 2.5-hour zipline tour? Louisville Mega Cavern also offers an underground ropes course, an extreme biking park or, for those less-athletically inclined, a more relaxing 17-mile guided tram tour. TripAdvisor rates this excursion the #1 attraction in Louisville, and we can see why.
2818 Nashville Road, Bowling Green, KY 42101 • (270) 393-0077
Kentucky’s only underground boat tour, the Lost River Cave provides its passengers with stories of history and visions of chilly limestone. In addition to this guided, educational tour, the Kayak the Cave tour is also available, offering a flatwater experience for beginners and experts alike. Also of note, every second Monday of the month Lost River Cave hosts Water Wheel Rounds, a songwriter showcase in the round. Being just over an hour outside of Nashville, it only makes sense for this cave to host some of the nation’s brightest musicians in such a unique setting.
140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, TN 37874 • (423) 337-6616
Part of the Craighead Caverns cave system, The Lost Sea Adventure takes you on a glass-bottomed boat to tour America’s largest underground lake. The massive underground lake was discovered in 1905, and the extent of its size is still unknown. Besides the spectacular water formation, about a mile from the small natural entrance is a room known as “The Council Room,” which holds artifacts such as pottery, jewelry, arrowheads and weapons, showing evidence of Cherokee inhabitance in the area. This cave holds a rich history that is better left for the boat tour guides to share. Head over to East Tennessee to discover for yourself these fun stories from the past and to share visions of rare crystalline structures and seemingly endless waters.
5181 DeSoto Caverns Pkwy., Childersburg, AL 35044 • (256) 378-7252
Family-owned for over one 100 years, DeSoto Caverns has some of the most spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations in the South. These cavern tours emphasize a rich Native American history, as well as stories from the Civil War and the Prohibition Era. Besides the caves themselves, DeSoto Caverns has more than 20 outside attractions, including a maze, gem panning, water golf, archery, amusement park-style attractions and more. And if the natural wonders of the cave isn’t enough to wow you (it should!) the light, sound and water show is an experience unlike any other.
Looking for more fun ways to spend a summer weekend? Check out our travel section for great weekend getaways, girlfriend trips and more.