I have been a resident of the Volunteer State for the majority of my life now.
But for most of my youth, I was raised in Indiana. Most of my people are Hoosiers and so I still identify with the Hoosier ethos – corn and basketball – fairly comfortably.
However, I was actually born in North Carolina. I am a former Tar Heel.
I have visited many times as an adult. But I don’t have a lot of memories of my native state. And the ones I do have involved times I was terrified.
Specifically, there was an incident at a North Carolina beach that led to tiny sand crab-related nightmares. There was a hiking incident at Lake Lure when I slipped and was convinced I was about to tumble off a mountain cliff.
It was a mildly steep hill. I would have been fine.
Maybe my memories would have been more positive had I known there was a Bat Cave nearby.
Are there caves in North Carolina?
There are a variety of gem mining operations in Western North Carolina’s high country which are rich with mineral deposits.
Some have cave and mine access. Others do not, but make up for it in other ways.
Elijah Mountain, for example, has hiking trails that reveal a variety of beautiful above-ground waterfalls which would be the perfect place for a scenic picture.
Some of these are open from early spring to late fall and are closed during the winter months.
The truth is, there aren’t a lot of caves you can visit in North Carolina. At least not as many compared to Tennessee.
So yes, North Carolina has nearly 900 known caves but there is only a handful the public can enter. You’d think the mountains – and the cave system on one side of the border wouldn’t be so different from the other, but apparently, they are.
After all, rock formations made over eons by dripping water shouldn’t be beholden to state lines.
Here are some of the best caves in North Carolina that you should know about:
5. The Bat Cave Preserve
The Bat Cave Preserve is a granite fissure cave that is home to the endangered Indiana Bat. It seems like it was built specifically for me. The North Carolina-born, Hoosier boy who dressed as Batman for every Halloween.
Bat Cave? Holy Spelunking, Batman.
We go apple picking in Hendersonville every fall and take the Bat Cave exit but alas, we cannot go. The Nature Conservancy has canceled hikes on the property due to caution about spreading white-nose syndrome in the bats.
The Bat Cave is described with possibly the best sentence ever written about a cave that doesn’t involve the words “mobile” or “dark knight” on the Blue Ridge Heritage website. The site covers the area along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“The main chamber inside the cave is a dark cathedral more than 300 feet long and approximately 85 feet high”.
I’m starting a heavy metal band called “Dark Cathedral” right now.
Our hit songs? “Total Darkness”, “Bottomless Pool” and “Tectonic Cave”.
We’ll also cover Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” and sing odes to little brown bats because, why not?
4. Linville Caverns
There is a place where you can visit the subterranean world, visit the gift shop and check out the stalagmite formations. It is Linville Caverns located in Humpback Mountain in McDowell County.
The caverns, which are about an hour northeast of Asheville, have been open to the public since 1937 and represent the most popular caverns in the state.
“For centuries, the marvels of Linville Caverns were unknown to man,” the website states.
A fishing expedition was headed by Henry E. Colton in the early 1800s.
He was astounded to see fish swimming in and out of what appeared to be solid rock.
A small opening in the terrain allowed them to enter the subterranean recess, still home to native trout in an underground stream.
Colton, who later served as the state geologist of Tennessee, wrote of his exploration in an 1858 issue of NC Presbyterian:
“… now began the wondrous splendors of the hidden world … we emerged into an immense passage, whose roof was far beyond the reach of the glare of our torches, except where the fantastic festoons of stalactites hang down within our touch. It looked like the arch of some grand old cathedral, yet it was too sublime, too perfect in all its beautiful proportions, to be anything of human, but a model that man might attempt to imitate. It was not a large, gross cavern … pendants were of a delicate lightness, and a most beautiful hue …”
Today the caverns have upgraded paths and a lighting system to enhance the guided tours. The tour guides are knowledgeable and will share the history of the caverns as you take in the natural wonder.
Our next hit song will be “Fantastic Festoons of Stalactites”.
About white-nose syndrome
A handful of bats in the cave have been diagnosed with white-nose syndrome at Linville Caverns. It sounds like something that could lead to the creation of a member of Batman’s rogue gallery. But the disease poses no threat to humans.
The staff will ask visitors to follow a cleansing routine after the visit to ensure that no visitor is contributing the spread of the disease.
Tickets are $12 per adult with discounts for seniors and kids. Tours are limited to 14 people each and management recommends arriving early to book your spot.
3. Rumbling Bald Cave
Located at the base of the climbing walls on Rumbling Bald Mountain which is near Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, this cave features fairly easy access.
This is not a commercial cave, however. Anyone who enters does so at their own risk. This isn’t a cave to be approached on a whim.
Popular with rock climbers, the cave is 55 degrees year-round.
2. Worley’s Cave
High Mountain Expeditions leads a half-day hike to Worley’s Cave from its Banner Elk outpost.
Worley’s Cave is a beginner-friendly cave. In other words, no previous experience is required.
If you’re looking for a perfect adventure for kids and adults of all ages, this might be your best bet.
The adventure is also popular among Boy Scout groups, where an outing will feature “mud, rocks, headlights and wonder”.
1. Emerald Village
The mountains of North Carolina are also home to “mining” operations that allow visitors to go and hunt for their own precious gems.
Emerald Village in Little Switzerland has options that allow visitors to dig for their own gems at the site. It was, in fact, a commercial emerald mining operation for about 100 years before it closed in the 1990s.
Open from April through October, the site is also home to the North Carolina Mining Museum.
The nighttime blacklight tour is available 10 times a year and reservations are required in advance.
The tour highlights the amazing mineral colors.
Notably, the brilliant coatings in the Bon Ami Mine are mostly deposits of Hyalite Opal, a true form of opal found in the area, according to the Emerald Village website.
These coatings fluoresce or glow a vivid lime green under shortwave ultraviolet light.
Other spots that deserve an honorable mention
North Carolina’s other major public caves, Boone’s Cave and Tory’s Den Cave are far to the east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are located to the south and north of Winston Salem, respectively.
Have you visited caves in North Carolina? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments!