Caving in Georgia

Below the red clay and rolling hills of Georgia lies a vast, hidden world – over 12,000 documented caves that draw adventurers from beginners to hardcore spelunkers.

These natural underground playgrounds offer thrills, chills, and access to rare ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth. Mystifying geological formations crafted over millennia dazzle the senses. Historic sites and tales imbue certain caves with an otherworldly allure.

But caving does come with real risks that need proper preparation and guidance. That’s where this comprehensive guide comes in.

I’ve explored the best ways to safely experience Georgia’s incredible subterranean treasures. From commercial tours to technical vertical descents, let’s uncover the most exciting caving adventures across Georgia.

Why Go Caving in Georgia?

Before we get underground, let’s look at why Georgia is such an amazing caving destination:

Sheer Abundance of Caves

With over 12,000 mapped caves, Georgia has the second highest density of caves in the US after Tennessee. The complex geology of alternating limestone, marble, sandstone and other soluble rock provides the perfect conditions for extensive cave development.

Incredible Diversity

From tiny crawl spaces to massive corridors, bone dry to river-filled, Georgia caves offer incredible variability to satisfy any interest. Unique speleothems like moonmilk flowstone and translucent formations occur in specific caves.

Home to Rare Species

Georgia’s caves harbor ancient ecosystems with rare species like the Georgia Blind Salamander found only in caves. Responsible caving practices minimize disturbing these fragile communities.

Year-Round Access

Warm winters allow year-round access unlike colder caving regions. But each season brings different considerations – avoid summer heat or rainy season floods.

Legendary Destinations

Several Georgia caves like Fantastic Pit and Ellison’s Cave are considered among the most spectacular and challenging caving spots worldwide.

Close to Major Cities

North Georgia’s abundance of caves sits conveniently close to metro Atlanta, allowing single day trips.

Let’s look at the top destinations and ways to start your Georgia caving adventures!

Top Caving Destinations in Georgia

From wild, undeveloped systems to beautifully lit show caves, Georgia serves up underground thrills for every skill level. Here are some of the most spectacular caves to explore:

1. Pettyjohns Cave

One of North Georgia’s largest show caves, Pettyjohns Cave lies west of Chattanooga off Highway 27 near Lafayette.

Inside you’ll find towering corridors studded with massive columns, drapery formations, and translucent boxwork. Delicate soda straws crowd the ceilings. Three underground waterfalls cascade through the caverns.

Kids and adults ooh and aah over the colorful mineral deposits and quirky formations on guided tours ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours. The constant 54°F temperature provides a refreshing break from Georgia’s humid summers.

Try the extended Deluxe Tour to see more chambers and learn about local folklore of a Civil War deserter hiding treasure here. Just wear sturdy shoes on the uneven pathways. Private group tours also available.

2. Ellison’s Cave

Considered one of the most remarkable vertical caves in the eastern US, Ellison’s Cave challenges experienced spelunkers with its 586-foot deep Fantastic Pit entrance drop.

But beginners can also get a taste of this extensive 12+ mile system on Walker County’s rappelling adventure trips. Guides provide equipment and training for descending the sheer pit walls in groups of 2 to 4.

For the hardcore crowd, the Pigeon Mountain Grotto organizes permit trips to fully explore Ellison’s wild depths. Weaving through tight squeezes and rappelling multiple waterfalls require advanced caving techniques.

Just beware of hazards like falling debris and keep groups small. Leave No Trace principles protect the ecosystem supporting gray and Indiana bats. Permits required for unguided trips.

3. Sitton’s Cave

Experience the magic of Sitton’s Cave year-round on guided tours through chambers adorned with glistening columns, curtains, and soda straws. Located near Trenton, the entrance staircase descends past a still reflecting pool into the impressive Palace Room.

Kids and adults alike “Oooh” over formations like the Giant’s Coffin and Crystal Chandelier. Extensive concrete pathways and lighting make this a very accessible adventure.

Just watch your head on low overhead areas! For added intrigue, try a special nighttime lantern tour or the holiday Music in the Cave concerts. Durable footwear still recommended despite improved trails.

4. Pettijohn’s Sinks Cave

One of Georgia’s wilder treasures, Pettijohn’s Sinks Cave offers an Indiana Jones-worthy journey into unspoiled passages riddled with rare albino salamanders.

A sinkhole discreetly hides the entrance amid dense foliage. Descend a wobbly root ladder into stream passages lined with soda straws. Belly crawl through crumbly sections to reach dramatic waterfall drops and blind pits.

Due to the rugged terrain, Pettijohn’s Sinks stays off commercial tour radar. Instead, join a Dogwood City Grotto wild caving expedition to safely navigate this maze.

Wetsuits, kneepads, helmets, and gloves make scrambling through the mud and tight squeezes more comfortable. Prepare to get intimately acquainted with this unspoiled living cave system.

5. Fricks Cave

Sandstone Fricks Cave tempts experienced cavers with over 6 miles of passage to get gleefully lost in. Situated on Lookout Mountain, the Hunters Croft entrance requires descending 143 stairs to reach stunning rooms like Meteor Room with starburst flowstone.

The maze-like complexity includes treacherous vertical shafts and flooding risks, so first-timers should join a guided group like the Chattanooga Grotto.

Even seasoned cavers appreciate extra sets of eyes to prevent wrong turns. Don your helmet and kneepads to start squeezing through tight fissures into Fricks Cave’s legendary depths. Just save energy for the stairs back up!

6. Fern Cave

Fern Cave in northwest Georgia lives up to its verdant name. The sinkhole entrance opens to a passage draped in rare ferns up to 30 feet tall! Two miles of trail meander past ancient fossils and the sparkling calcite of Calcite Mountain Room.

Beyond lie tight squeezes and a turquoise pool known as the Devil’s Looking Glass. Sign up for a seasonal guided tour to safely navigate this unspoiled natural wonderland.

Cap each visit by striking a yoga pose atop the fern-coated entrance bluffs. Just watch out for potentially high CO2 levels in lower rooms. Kneepads and gloves protect on the uneven terrain.

7. Cherokee Caverns

Designated a National Natural Landmark, Cherokee Caverns stuns visitors with massive rooms dripping in ornate mineral deposits. Located near Lafayette, stone staircases wind down into the Temple Room’s soaring columns.

Shimmering rainbow hues reflect in pools throughout the half mile of pathways. The floor creeps with eyeless cave crayfish and salamanders adapted to the total darkness.

Kids cling to parents during optical illusion walkways like the “Bottomless Pit” bridge over a misty void. Standard tours provide a great overview while the specialized Cathedral Cave tour extends into deeper chambers.

Grip railings on the steep metal stairs. And watch your head on low ceilings in this dream-like underworld.

Caving By Skill Level

Georgia’s 12,000 caves offer adventures spanning guided show cave tours to technical multi-drop vertical caving. Here’s an overview of caving opportunities based on skill level:

Beginner Caving

Guided tours of well-lit commercial caves like Pettyjohns and Sitton’s provide easy introductions to the magic of caving. Improved trails and lighting make these family-friendly adventures accessible to most mobility levels.

For an extra thrill, try beginner rappelling day trips to descend vertical pits at places like Ellison’s Cave. Guides provide equipment and teach basic descending techniques. Camps also often offer intro caving programs for kids.

Intermediate Caving

Joining a local grotto club like the Dogwood City Grotto opens access to more adventurous wild cave trips. Gain vertical skills on practice climbs and partner with experienced cavers exploring extensive systems like Pettijohn’s Sinks.

Having proper gloves, kneepads, helmets and backup light sources keeps these rugged trips safer and more enjoyable. Take beginner classes to hone essential skills like knot tying and using cave radio.

Advanced Caving

Once you’ve mastered basics like ascending/descending ropes, advanced caves like the legendary Fantastic Pit entrance to Ellison’s Cave await. Join experts from the Pigeon Mountain Grotto to push your limits worming up narrow fissures and rappelling multiple waterfalls.

Cave camping overnight unlocks the chance to venture farther into Georgia’s most extreme caves. Just be conservative on time/fitness limits and carry ample emergency supplies when tackling advanced caving frontiers.

Top Caving Clubs & Outfitters in Georgia

One of the best ways to learn caving safely while accessing more wild caves is joining a local grotto club. These regional chapters of the National Speleological Society welcome newbie to advanced cavers. Popular Georgia grottos include:

Dogwood City Grotto – Grotto club hosting weekly caving trips into wild caves across North Georgia plus beginner training and vertical practice. Great community for cavers based in Atlanta.

Pigeon Mountain Group – Active grottos organizing advanced permit trips into legendary Ellison’s Cave system. Ongoing projects to extend Ellison’s mapped length.

Chattanooga Grotto – Regional grotto with extensive knowledge of wild caves across the Chattanooga area. Fun opportunity for cavers in South Georgia.

University outdoor programs like Georgia Tech’s Outing Club, the Sewanee Outing Program, and Emory University’s Outdoor Emory also organize intro caving trips for students plus training workshops open to the public.

For guided tours of wild caves, check outfitters like Southeastern Cave Conservancy and Cherokee Caverns providing equipment and trained guides.

No matter your skill level, joining a supportive caving community makes reaching new underground milestones more enjoyable.

Caving Safety Tips

While inherently adventurous, caving can be done safely by following these essential guidelines:

  • Never cave alone and avoid groups exceeding 8 people.
  • Wear a helmet, gloves, knee and elbow pads. Sturdy grippy boots are a must.
  • Carry 3 independent light sources per person. Rechargeable LED is best.
  • Watch for hazards like crumbly pits, falling debris, slippery flowstone.
  • Bring high-carb snacks/water to prevent fatigue and hypothermia.
  • Let someone know your location and expected finish time.
  • Follow posted commercial cave guidelines and get permits for wild caves.
  • Avoid touching cave formations or stirring up sediment.
  • Report anything amiss like vandalism or pollution immediately.

The more you cave, the more attuned you’ll get to safely navigating Georgia’s subterranean playgrounds. Always exercise caution and use proper gear.

Ready to Start Your Journey Below Ground?

I hope this guide gets you pumped to start exploring Georgia’s incredible caving options.

From kid-friendly nature walks through show caves to adrenaline-pumping vertical expeditions, a magical underground world awaits.

Joining a grotto club helps hone your skills while meeting fellow adventure seekers. Just work within your fitness limits and use proper gear to cave safely.

Belay on and get ready to make some new discoveries beneath Georgia! Let me know if you have any other caving questions. I’m happy to help as you plan your next underground quest.

Leave a Comment