About a month ago, I attended TBEX in Huntsville, Alabama. TBEX, which stands for Travel Blogger Exchange, is a huge travel blogging conference with hundreds of travel bloggers and representatives from many destinations around the world. During the conference, I had a chance to talk with the Marshall County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. Before chatting with them I thought “Marshall County, Alabama?! There probably aren’t even any good things to do in northern Alabama, much less Marshall County!”… but I was totally wrong in thinking that. While talking with them, the representative told me that Marshall County is famous for a cave known as Cathedral Caverns. I said, “Oh, cool. But I like to focus on wheelchair accessible attractions”. She quickly exclaimed, “Cathedral Caverns is wheelchair accessible! It has a paved path that goes over a mile into the cave”. I can only imagine what my face looked like when she said that. A cave? Accessible? In Alabama? Surely it couldn’t be true.
After returning home from the conference, I looked up Cathedral Caverns State Park online to scout its accessibility. From what I could tell in the videos and photos, it looked to be accessible, but there was only one way to find out for sure. My friends and I made a plan to check it out in person, and we were soon on our way to experience one of the most popular caves in Alabama.
Cathedral Caverns lies in Woodville, Alabama, about 30 minutes from Huntsville or an hour and a half from Chattanooga, Tennessee. This would be a great day trip from either of those cities. Once we arrived to Cathedral Caverns, we parked at the designated handicapped area and I rolled the short distance over to the Visitor’s Center. Inside the building, there were souvenirs, snacks, drinks, and there were also restrooms. The tour inside the Cathedral cave lasts about 90 minutes, so it’s certainly wise to use the restroom beforehand. You’ll also need to purchase your tour ticket inside the Visitor’s Center. The Cathedral Caverns cost isn’t expensive, at just $18 per adult and $8 per child. Now that we had paid for the tour and got our tickets, it was time to embark on one of the most fun things to do in Alabama.
The entrance to the cave was right outside the Visitor’s Center. Tours are every hour, so when it was time for our guided group tour (there were about 15-20 people in our group), I rolled into the cave. There was a long paved path, which was somewhat steep, at the cave entrance. My powered wheelchair managed the steep hill just fine, but if you use a manual chair then you may need some help. Almost immediately, our guide, a girl named Shelby that looked to be in her early twenties, started pointing out places of interest in the cave. Shelby was enthusiastic and seemed to really know a lot about the cave.
Some fun Cathedral Caverns facts that I learned during the tour are:
• It has the widest entrance of any commercial cave in the world. The entrance is 25 feet tall and 128 feet wide.
• The cave dates back about 9,000 years and was completely under water at some point.
• A man named Jacob Gurley explored the cave in 1952, fell in love with it, and sold everything he had to buy the cave. He wanted the public to see its cathedral-like beauty as well.
• If you’re looking for one of the most unique and best things to see in Alabama, check out the stalagmite known as “Goliath” inside the cave. At 45 feet tall and 243 feet in diameter, it’s the world’s largest stalagmite!
During my tour, I was able to see Goliath and many other stalagmites. It was all seriously impressive and throughout the tour I kept asking myself “Why have I not been here before?!”. I only live a little over an hour away, but I guess this goes to show that sometimes I’m more focused on far-flung international destinations than the special local ones. After visiting Cathedral Caverns Alabama, I’ll certainly make more of a concerted effort to explore the Southeastern U.S.
The paved accessible path worked great for most of the tour, despite there being some very steep hills throughout the cave. At one point I had to back down a section because it was steep and slippery, and my friend had to hold onto my chair to keep it from sliding. As long as you use caution in the cave though, you should be perfectly fine.
The path went 1.3 miles deep into the cave, so I was able to see a lot. There were bats (yes, I’m serious!), a shark fossil on the wall of the cave, and more. The cave does stay 60° Fahrenheit year-round, so I’d suggest bringing a light jacket if you are constantly cold like I am. At the end of the path, our guide turned out all of the lights inside the cave and allowed us to experience it just as Mr. Gurley did back in the 1950s; in pitch black. It was a little nerve wracking to be in a cave with absolutely no light (only for about 30 seconds, but still…), but also surreal to think about what it was like to discover it. I can only imagine the hours that have gone into making it what it is today. While it certainly has some new features that make it easier to navigate now than 50 years ago, you can still feel the magic of the cave.
Being inside Cathedral Caverns was honestly an incredible experience and showed me that even when I think things aren’t possible as a wheelchair user, they still might be. Whether you are someone that’s new to caving and never thought it was possible for you or even if you’re an Alabama caverns enthusiast, if you’re looking for one of the best things to do in north Alabama, look no further than the Cathedral.
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