Excitement started to build as I turned left into the Cathedral Caverns State Park. Visiting Cathedral Caverns had been on my list of places to visit for many years, and I practically jumped out of the car before I had put it in park. Cathedral Caverns is located in Woodville, Alabama, about 30 minutes from downtown Huntsville.
Per the recommendation of the Cathedral Caverns State Park website, I called that morning at 8am to make my cave tour reservation. The tours are offered year-round, seven days a week. The park suggests wearing a mask during the tour, but it is not required.
When I entered the visitor center to pick up my ticket, I was greeted by a quaint gift shop. It’s small, but has all of the gem related items you could ever want, along with some snacks and drinks. While waiting for the group tour to start (you cannot explore on your own,) I entertained myself by reading posters about nature, including a fascinating one about bats.
The tour guide-maybe 5’2’’, had her face covered by a mask and hat and herded the group of about 25 people to the entrance of the cave. The faceless guide started off by noting the humungous entrance to the cave. According to her, the opening is 126 feet wide and 25 feet high, what the park likes to tout as the world’s largest commercial cave entrance. As we walked through said entrance, we start receiving the dos and don’ts of the cave. Stay with the group, be careful of slick areas, don’t be afraid of the dark and be prepared for about 90 minutes of walking. The path is completely paved throughout the tour, wheelchairs and strollers are welcome.
Cathedral Caverns, originally called the Bat Cave, was opened to the public by Jacob Gurley in the 1950s. You can see some of the old tracks and paths that Gurley and his visitors took, wondering how they managed not to crash and die each time they went in there-usually with a motorized vehicle. Throughout the tour I learned lots of fascinating history of the cave, which I won’t spoil for you here. I did find it especially interesting that Mr. Gurley did not ask his wife about purchasing the cave, so she refused for many, many years to go in it. Once she finally did, she came to the most gorgeous ‘room’ in the tour and immediately said it looked like a cathedral. She shamed Mr. Gurley for his originally silly name, and after that it was called Cathedral Caverns.
Our spunky guide (she was very good, though you can tell she died a little inside each time she told the same scripted joke) kept the group entertained throughout the tour. I particularly enjoyed when you come to a small body of water and the reflection makes you think the cave goes on forever. The elephant butts are lots of fun, too! When you get as deep into the cave as you go, the guide will have you turn off all lights and experience true darkness. I couldn’t see my hand directly in front of my face, it was a trippy experience that I was glad to do for only a few minutes.
Your guide will let you meander back, giving you time to take videos and pictures that you might have missed on your way into the cave. I enjoyed being able to go at my own pace and really explore the different formations, stalagmites and stalactites- think back to middle school geology, do you remember which is which?
The Cathedral Caverns experience was everything I hoped for, minus the high humidity the further back you get into the cave. The cave stays around 60 degrees year-round, and weather doesn’t impact the ability to have tours. There are additional things to do at the park, such as hiking, camping and gem mining. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do any of those, but I will certainly go back and try out the hiking!
Ashley Polesak has spent the last 10 years living her best life in Huntsville, Alabama. She loves to explore all of the things that Huntsville and the surrounding areas have to offer and is a big proponent for scouting out local experiences. Ashley lives and breathes the outdoors and recreation opportunities in the area, you are very likely to run into her at a park or on a hiking trail. If she has her two rescue dogs with her, Oba and Twyla, please excuse their over-excitement, they are currently being trained and it’s a work in progress! If she had to describe herself in television characters she would choose 1/4 Eleanor Shellstrop, 1/4 Leslie Knope, 1/4 April Ludgate and 1/4 Margaery Tyrell.