Linville Caverns

Useful Information

Location: At the base of Humpback Mountain in Linville Valley. On Hwy 221, 28 km north of Marion.
Open: MAR daily 9-16:30.
APR, MAY daily 9-17.
JUN to Labor Day daily 9-18.
Labor Day to OCT daily 9-17.
NOV daily 9-16:30.
DEC to FEB Sat, Sun 9-16:30.
Closed on Thanksgiving, 25-DEC.
Fee: Adults USD 10, Children (5-12) USD 8, Seniors (62+) USD 9.
Groups (25+): Adults USD 8, Children (5-12) USD 6.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=11 °C
Guided tours: D=35 min, Max=15.
Photography: allowed, no flash
Accessibility: partially wheelchair accessible
Bibliography: Henry S. Brown (1961): Linville Caverns Through the Ages, The Geological Story. Pamphlet, 1st Edition, January 1, 1961
Cato Holler, Susan Holler (1989): The Hollow Hills of Sunnalee, The Linville Caverns Story. Paperback – 1 Jun. 1989
Henry E Colton, W. L. Pomeroy (1859): Mountain Scenery The Scenery of the Mountains of Western North Carolina and Northwestern South Carolina. 2 p., [ix]-xii, [13]-120 p., ill. Raleigh, N. C., W. L. Pomeroy, 1859 online
Address: Linville Caverns, 19929 US 221 North, Marion, NC 28752, Tel: +1-828-756-4171. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1822 discovered by members of a fishing expedition who were intrigued by the mystery of fish swimming in and out of the mountain.
1915 two teenage boys decided to explore the caverns with a lantern.
1937 start of development by John Q. Gilkey.
01-JUL-1939 opened to the public.
1940 John Q. Gilkey dies, great flood.


Trouts in Linville Caverns, responsible for its discovery, North Carolina, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Linville Caverns, North Carolina, U.S.A. Public Domain.

Linville Caverns is a nice show cave with a cave river. The fish which are living in both the river outside and the cave, lead to its discovery. The members of a fishing expedition headed by Henry E. Colton saw the fish swimming in and out of solid rock. They discovered a small opening, which allowed them to enter the cave. The fish living in the cave are Speckled, Brown, and Rainbow trout. They are no true cave animals, but cave visitors. Colton later served as the state geologist of Tennessee. In 1858 he published an article of his exploration in an issue of NC Presbyterian.

Previous to this, nothing of a very remarkable nature had met with, but now began the wondrous splendors of that hidden world. Stooping through a low passage, in which the coldest of water ran rippling and singing a merry song, which echoed back a thousand times from the dark dismal arched roof of the unmeasured space which stretched itself before, behind, and above us, 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.
Henry E. Colton, NC Presbyterian, 1858

Actually there are lots of legends around the cave, like this one from the Civil War:

Linville Caverns was used by Civil War soldiers to hide from enemy troops, another version says defectors hid in the cavern and lived there. Traces of campfires were later found in the cavern's central chambers, the traces of smoke at the cavern roof is still visible. There was also a workshop for a resourceful old man who made and mended soldiers’ shoes, leatherworking tools were later found. But eventually smoke from the fires made it out of the mountainside and so the soldiers were found and arrested.

This story is a mixture of archaeological evidence and local lore, its impossible to decide what is true and what is legend. The next legend is about a famous man:

Thomas Edison once sent a team of explorers to the cave to find platinum. At that time it was thought to be vital in the production of incandescent lamps. They returned empty-handed.

Again a story which might have happened or not. Linville Caverns is located at the base of Humpback Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It formed inside Shady Dolomite of early Cambrian age, about 520 Ma old, the deposits of an ancient carbonate platform on the margin of the paleocontinent of Laurentia. It contains fossils of trilobites, archaeocyathids, algae, brachiopods, and echinoderms, along with the enigmatic fossil Salterella. In general its a bad idea to search for ores in limestone, but the Shady Dolomite was subjected to the Alleghanian orogeny during the Late Paleozoic. Warm and saline groundwater moved through the cracks in the rock and deposited hydrothermal ores, mostly sphalerite, galena, and hemimorphite. So the Shady Dolomite actually contains lead and zinc ore in some areas. However, there is no platinum. But there is yet another legend, which actually might be true:

In 1915, two teenage boys decided to explore the caverns with a lantern. The lantern holder tripped, dropping the lantern and it broke. Thankfully, the boys found the stream and on their hands and knees crawled to the entrance along the stream. It took them two days to navigate the 250 m and they suffered hypothermia, but both survived to tell about it.

Like other caves Linville Caverns tries to praise its formations. However, most of them are not even average. But nevertheless the cave is very interesting and well worth a visit for its erosional forms. The river passage shows scallops and dolly tubs, there are spectacular erosional forms along the walls. The cave is sometimes inaccessible, when the water rises and the path is flooded. There are a few nice spots, where water was standing undisturbed for a very long time and formed nice calcite crystals and cave coral. A highlight at the end of the tour is the Bottomless Lake, gauged to be 75 m deep. A metal bridge allows visitors a gaze deep into the clear water, which is illuminated.

During the winter and early spring eastern pipistrelle bat, which is now called tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) and little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) hibernates in this cave. But the bats are in danger, as the cave is infected with the disease White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).