Journey to the Center of Alabama: Exploring Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns State Parks

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Embark on a thrilling underground adventure that will take you deep into the heart of Alabama’s natural wonders: Cathedral Caverns State Park and Rickwood Caverns State Park. From towering stalactites to mystifying underground waterfalls, you’ll witness otherworldly rock formations and more while spending the day exploring the caverns in these two parks.

Are you ready to dive into the depths of these incredible underground worlds?

Morning at Cathedral Caverns State Park

Kick off the day with breakfast at Gail’s Diner. Just a 10-minute drive from the park in Woodville, this classic American locale serves up delicious breakfast fare such as biscuits and gravy, loaded omelets and breakfast sandwiches.

Next, head to Cathedral Caverns State Park for your 90-minute cavern tour. Originally known as the Bat Cave, it was purchased by the state in 1987 and opened to the public in 2000 for guided tours that begin by walking through its impressive 25-foot-high and 127-foot-wide entrance – one of the widest cavern entrances in the world. It also makes for a perfect photo op, so snap a few shots before the tour begins.

As you stroll the paved path through the cavern’s magnificent entrance, you’ll descend underground past Goliath, a towering 45-foot stalagmite considered one of the largest in the world. There’s also the smaller version of Goliath, a whisper-thin 27-foot-tall stalagmite only three inches wide. You’ll find other notable features during the tour, like the “caveman” – a petrified structure that looks like a crouching man – atop a flowstone wall and a stalagmite forest that spreads out over two miles of paths and passageways throughout the limestone cave. Keep an eye out for prehistoric shark teeth embedded in the ceilings and walls throughout your tour.

Nature’s art is constantly in motion, and the frozen waterfall is no exception. Crossing the Gurley Bridge, you’ll come upon the famous 32-foot-tall flowstone waterfall formed over the years by accumulating calcite deposits. Bathed in blue and golden light, it’s a truly magnificent natural wonder.

A flowstone waterfall in Cathedral Caverns. Photo Courtesy of Dystopos.

Up next? The Big Room. Spreading over 790 feet in length, it’s an incredible space that inspired the cavern’s name. Finally, you’ll end the tour at the Mystery River. Owing its name to the fact that no one is quite sure where it originated, the river flows out of the cave into the nearby Pain Rock River.

With your cave tour over, it’s time to hunt for buried treasure! First, purchase a bag of mining dirt at the Gemstone Mine and head to the water-powered mining flume. As you pan the dirt, you’ll uncover rough-cut gemstones and possibly some fossils.

Afternoon at Rickwood Caverns State Park

The adventure continues 90 minutes south at Rickwood Caverns State Park. Before your next tour, grab lunch at Annie Mae’s Wing Stop in Warrior, Alabama. You’ll dine on finger-licking-good wings, from mild to spicy, served with all the fixings such as onion rings, fried okra or gooey mac and cheese.

A winding pathway through Rickwood Caverns. Photo Courtesy of Outdoor Alabama.

After lunch, it’s time to spend an afternoon inside the Rickwood Cavern. Designated as a living, geological structure due to the mineral water that actively trickles through it, this cavern was discovered by the Boy Scouts in the 1950s. The one-hour guided tour will take you 175 feet down as you explore the Miracle Mile, home to 260-million-year-old rock formations, such as the Frozen Castle and Bridal Column, featuring floor-to-ceiling columns surrounded by an array of stalactites.

You’ll also find an underground pool where you may spot the nearly translucent, blind cavefish, frogs, and salamanders. In addition, a small resident bat population keeps an eye on cavern explorers.

After your tour, why not go for a dip? The park is home to an Olympic-sized pool fed by the natural spring waters from the cave – word of warning; the water is freezing!

The park is also home to the 1.25-mile Fossil Mountain Hiking Trail, which is the perfect way to see the park’s natural limestone and dolomite boulders. If you look closely, you may even spot the fossil imprints of leaves and small creatures etched in the stone.

Evening Shopping and Exploring in Birmingham

It’s now time to leave the subterranean wonders of Rickwood Caverns behind and finish the day in Birmingham. Spend the evening shopping in Birmingham’s Jewelry Quarter or New Street, or check out the trendy boutiques in the Five Points South Shopping District.

Downtown Birmingham, Alabama, at dusk.

Wrap up the evening with dinner at The Southern Kitchen and Bar for the quintessential Birmingham dining experience. It is a casually chic restaurant with regular live music and a reliably mouthwatering menu featuring new twists on Southern classics such as fried green tomatoes, and shrimp and grits topped with grape tomatoes and corn.

Stay the night at the Birmingham Treehouse, a unique bed and breakfast that features yoga in a newly renovated Victorian mansion from 1898.

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