As part of a summer series, T+L is highlighting amazing lesser-known attractions found in the United States. Next up: a trip into a North Carolina mountain.

By Leah Shapiro
July 30, 2016
Andrew Holmes/Flickr ((CC BY-NC 2.0)

North Carolina has no shortage of natural wonders—weather-worn water slides! rock formations that make snow fall up!—but for those with a love of exploration (and without a fear of dark, closed quarters), there's nothing quite like Linville Caverns, where visitors can explore the inside of Humpback Mountain.

Located in Marion, North Carolina, and bordering Pisgah National Forest, Linville is the only commercial show cavern in the state.

Thirty-five-minute guided tours lead guests along a concrete walkway (approximately a quarter of a mile) through the mountain, about 2,500 feet below Humpback's peak.

The caverns, composed primarily of porous limestone called Shady Dolomite, are home to a fascinating and diverse set of wildlife, including trout, bats, salamanders, cave crickets, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and crawdads. Visitors can also learn about the geology of the caverns, which feature stalactites and stalagmites, and formations like Capitol Dome (the largest calcium deposit in the Caverns) and Volcano Scene (a large flowstone deposit).

Visitors are often intrigued by the underground stream called The Bottomless Pool, which has been measured to be more than 250 feet deep. To further showcase the wonders of the space, guides like to turn off the lights in the back of the caverns, making the space completely black.

While the caverns officially opened to the public in 1937, exploration of Linville Caverns dates back at least to the early 1800s, when Henry E. Colton, who led a fishing expedition in the mountains of Western North Carolina, noticed trout swimming in a tributary stream that flows into the north fork of Catawba River. The group followed the stream to where it seemed to disappear into the mountain. Upon closer examination, they saw that there was a small opening the rock that opened into caverns. Today, the entrance door to the Caverns is located at this spot. It is believed that, years later during the Civil War, deserters from both armies hid there.

Final notes: The cavern’s temperature remains a constant (and brisk) 52 degrees, so dress accordingly. Also: the tallest part of the chamber interior is only about 23 feet, so if someone in your party has trouble being in enclosed places, he or she may want to sit this one out.

Admission costs $8 for adults, $7 for seniors ages 62 and older, and $6 for children ages 5–12. Children under five are admitted for free with a paying adult. Tours operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are only accepted for group tours and tickets are only available on site. Linville Caverns is open daily from March through November, and on weekends December through February. Visit the official site for more information, including directions.