Wonder Cave

Useful Information

Location: Between Monteagle and Pelham, off Dixie Highway (U.S. Hwy 41).
Open: closed.
Fee: closed.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: LightColeman Lantern
Guided tours: D=60min
Bibliography: Joe Rada (1997): Wonders of Wonder Cave, Southern Living, Southern Living Inc., 1997, ISSN: 0038-4305.
Yoe Della (1941): Wonder Cave, The WPA Guide to Tennessee, Federal Writers' Project, 1941, p. 404.
Robert Brandt (1995): Touring the Middle Tennessee Backroads, Winstorn-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publisher, 1995, pp 308-309.
Kelly Smallwood (2010): Wonder Cave, Tennessee: A Forgotten Pastime, NSS News, September 2010, p. 13.
Address: Wonder Cave, Wonder Cave Rd., Pelham, 37366 TN
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.


1897 discovered by three Vanderbilt University students.
1900 opened to the public by R. M. Payne.
1917 new entrance blasted.
1929 cave operated by J.J. "Jonah" Raulston.
1963 operated by Frank Raulston.
1980 sold to Bruce Born, managed by his sister Julia Born.
1987 added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1999 closed.


Wonder Cave is located at the foot of the Cumberland Plateau. The cave has a natural entrance which is water filled, and an artificial entrance for the tours. Electric light was never installed at the cave, the tour was made with Coleman lanterns.

At the end of the 19th century the ground was owned by Francis Rieder. He sold it to the entrepreneur, mine and hotel owner R. M. Payne. The new owner blasted a new entrance and opened the cave to the public in 1900. J. J. "Jonah" Raulston married Mary Orme Sayles the granddaughter of R. M. Payne, and they took over operation of Wonder Cave in 1929. They renovated and opened a bed & breakfast at the cave entrance too. From 1963 their son Frank Raulston managed the cave until his death in 1980. Then it was sold to Bruce Born and managed by his sister Julia Born. After she married in 1999 at the cave, she moved away and the cave was closed.

During the mid 20th century the cave was very popular because of its location at the Dixie Highway (U.S. Hwy 41) between Chattanooga and Nashville. It was the first tourist site along Dixie Highway, for tourists coming from the north. And it was the first time they reached hill country coming from the midwestern plains. In 1961 it attracted 40,000 visitors. Today there is the new Interstate 24 nearby, as a result of its opening in 1962 there was a 90% drop in visitors. That's obviously not a good precondition for a reopening.