Linville Caverns, located just outside Linville Falls North Carolina, are North Carolinas only underground caverns that are open to the public for tours. Linville Caverns is an educational, exciting, and beautiful trip under Humpback Mountain. This is a must-see attraction when traveling the Parkway, or if you're in the Linville area.
Linville Caverns, NC
Linville Caverns is a privately owned and active limestone cavern located just outside of the Linville Falls community, in McDowell County North Carolina.
The caverns are open year round and offer frequent tours that last about 35 minutes. They are two miles from the Linville Falls community, and 4 miles south of the Parkway.
You may not have noticed, but we mentioned Linville Caverns is "active". What that means is that the caverns themselves are still being formed, as you walk through them.
The Cavern area was once a solid combination of limestone and Dolemite. As water trickled down through the mountains, and into the limestone and Dolemite, it combined with air and began forming rock formations, and caverns. This started several million years ago and has continued to be a natural work in progress.
Linville Caverns opened to the public 1937, and they have been providing tours ever since.
Tours are provided by friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable guides, who are always willing to answer questions. They also have a very nice gift shop, with rock jewelry, and other rock and mineral items.
Linville Caverns is full of unique formations, stalactites, and stalagmites. There is also a crystal clear stream that flows through the caverns, along with a waterfilled "bottomless pit", and multiple levels with "upper rooms". The creek is normally full of Trout, and if you visit during the Fall and winter months, you may be able to see the popular bats that live in the caverns.
The temperature in the Caverns is a constant 52 degrees, providing a nice cool retreat from the hot summer months.
Linville Caverns Admission, Hours and Location
2018 Admission Fees
Seniors (62 and older)
** Children 5 and under are admitted with a paying adult.
December - February
Saturday and Sunday
9am - 4:30pm
9am - 4:30pm
9am - 5pm
9am - 6pm
9am - 6pm through Labor day
9am - 5pm after Labor Day
9am - 5pm
9am - 4:30pm
A Tour of Linville Caverns
We've visited the Linville Caverns a number of times over the years with our family. Given the low cost, it's definitely well worth it. We most recently visited in June of 2018.
Before we begin, let us just say that while we've included photos taken during our most recent visit, photos just don't show the true beauty and magic of Linville Caverns. To really appreciate them, you have to see them in person, and up close.
Purchasing your tickets
Once parked, you'll want to head into the Gift Shop to purchase your tickets. You'll be given tickets, and a tour start time. While waiting on your tour to begin, you can browse the gift shop or head over the beautiful creek below the entrance bridge. Bathrooms are located above the gift shop on the upper end of the parking lot.
There is a covered waiting area to the left of the gift shop for tours. When it's time for your tour to begin, your guide will tell you to proceed down the entrance ramp and wait in front of the Cavern entrance door. Your guide will give you a little history on the Caverns, some basic rules (the most important being do not touch the rocks or walls), and you'll head in.
Flash photography is allowed during the tour, just no flashlights or cell phone flashlights.
The entrance area
You'll immediately note the drop in temperature. You'll also almost immediately note the beautiful sounds of the stream on your left. Of course, you'll also note the stunning beauty of the caverns, which begins almost immediately upon entering.
Linville Caverns is well lit and very professionally done. Cavern lights are directional, to highlight the rocks and formations, but do not shine in your eyes. There is also walkway lighting so you can easily see where you are going.
Normally there are lots of trout in the stream, but during our tour this time, there were none. Our tour guide said they weren't sure why exactly. We had seen the trout before on our prior tours.
As you continue deeper into the caverns, your guide will point out various named formations, and special or rare formations.
The Defectors Firepit
During the Civil War, a few defectors hid in the cavern and lived there. Your guide will point out the firepit, where they made their fire, and show you evidence of the wood, and cinders that remain, and the damage that the smoke did to the cavern roof.
They also found leatherworking tools that they think the defectors used to repair shoes and clothing, in exchange for local goods, including food and supplies.
While the defectors thought the caverns would hide the smoke from their fire, they were wrong. In fact, the fire vented so heavily out of the top of Humpback Mountain, that the defectors basically signaled to everyone surrounding the mountain that they were there, including officials, who eventually found and arrested them.
The Bottomless Pit
About half-way through your tour, your guide will instruct the group to enter into a very narrow area of the caverns. While doing so, you'll walk out onto a metal grate. Once everyone is in, your guide will turn on some lights below the metal grating that show a waterfilled cavern.
To this date, they have been unable to measure the depth of the water, or "pit". They even tried to send some explorers down into it, but due to it being too tight, they could only make it down about 15 feet or so.
If you are claustrophobic or uncomfortable, you do not have to enter this portion of the tour.
Another neat feature of the tour is when you reach a large cavern area, containing only a small old fashioned lamp. The lamp actually has an electric bulb, but it does simulate well, the type of lighting the caverns would have had back when they were first discovered.
Initially, all the lights are turned off but the lamp, so you can see what the originally explorers saw. Then, your guide will turn that light off as well, so you can experience total, complete darkness.
There is zero light at this point, and the experience is pretty amazing.
Completing the Tour
You'll complete your tour back at the entrance doors, where your guide will explain about a fungal disease called "white nose syndrome".
The fungus is harmless to humans and domestic animals but is lethal to bats. The fungus was discovered on the bats in Linville Caverns and is the main reason there are so few bats returning each year to Linville Caverns.
On the way out, your guide will ask you to wipe your feet over a mixture of water and bleach that kills any fungus on your shoes, to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Linville Caverns History
Linville Caverns were discovered in 1822, by a fisherman from Eastern North Carolina, named Henry E. Coleton.
Mr. Coleton saw fish swimming in and out of what appeared to be solid rock. As they ventured closer, they found a small opening in the side of the mountain, the fish were using. They entered through the small hole, and found the beatufiul subterrainian caverns.
Coleton wrote of his adventure 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 which man might attempt to imitate. It was not a large, gross cavern,...pendants were of a delicate lightness, and a most beautiful hue..."
Tips for Visiting Linville Caverns
As we've mentioned, we've visited Linville Caverns a number of times over the years. Here are a few tips we can offer to make your visit more enjoyable:
- Wear comfortble shoes, with soft rubber soles. Dress shoes with leather soles, or high heels are not recommended, due to the slippery and smooth cavern floor.
- The Caverns remain a consistant 52 degrees, and there is always some amout of dripping water from the cavern ceiling. On rainy days, or after heavy days, dripping water will be more heavy. We recommend bring a jacket in case you get cold, and a raincoat or waterproof jacket if you prefer to stay completely dry, especially after rain.
- Linville Caverns does not allow strollers or child carrying backpacks. While generally very roomy, there are some tighter areas, and areas with low ceilings. You'll want to expect your children to walk, or for you to carry them.
- Bring your camera! Linville Caverns does allow flash photography, and video. You are just not allowed to use a spotlight, or cell phone flashlight. Tripods, due to space restrictions, are also not permitted. You really won't have time to use a tripod anyway. You'll definitely want to use your flash - Taking photos without one, is nearly impossible without the use of a tripod.
- Pets are allowed, but only if carried. They are not allowed on leashes.
- Be sure to use the restroom BEFORE your tour begins - There are no restrooms in the caverns, and having to leave during the tour would be a disruption.
- If you are very claustrophobic, or don't like being close to other people, this is probably not the right attraction for you.
Linville Caverns is one of the few Caverns that are Wheelchair friendly and accessible!