Stephens Gap Cave: Know Before You Go

Stephens Gap Cave

Stephens Gap Cave

After years of wanting to visit this cave and capturing its wonder, I finally made it! What cave do you ask? Stephens Gap Cave, a part of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, SCCi. Located in Northeast Alabama. After recently visiting this cave, I shared some of the photos on social media. The engagement was crazy! There were a lot of people asking where the cave was located. I deliberately didn’t post the name of the cave, only that it was in Alabama. I didn’t mind sharing the location with everyone, but I only wanted those who wanted to really go and were willing to do some digging or investigating to get the info they sought after. My hope is everyone who visits this cave has an awesome experience that’s not ruined by others who haven’t obtained the proper approval to visit. To help everyone out, I have provided all the info you may need to have the best experience at this cave! Want to win a free print? There are contest details at the end of this post!

Permits Required!

Before I go into detail of how to get to the cave and what you can expect, I must make it a key point to mention the permit system. This cave and hundreds of others are owned by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. and they require a permit! Don’t worry. They are easy to obtain. Below, I have listed a few facts about the permits and how to get them.
  1. Free permits can be obtained through SCCi website.
  2. You can obtain a permit the same day you plan on visiting a cave. Stephens Gap even has wi-fi at the gate to make it even easier to go online and get a permit.
  3. Like I mentioned already, they are FREE, but each cave has a limited amount available each day. Stephens Gap has a max of 25.
  4. If you park outside the gate in the grass next to the road, you may be ticketed or even towed by local law enforcement. Save yourself the trouble and get a permit!

Why do you need a permit?

I spoke with executive director, Ray Knott, about the reasoning behind permits. The big reason is to keep the caves unlike Disney World so those who visit can truly enjoy their time. I totally get it. Stephens Gap is a small cave and the experience can be ruined if there are too many people. Another reason is that almost all of the caves under the SCCi are actually bought and owned by them. Meaning that these caves, along with Stephens Gap, are private property. They are in charge of keeping these caves clean and preserving their beauty for years to come. The more people that visit the caves the more damage that is done. That is the importance of the permits. Last thing before we get into the where, how, and what, let’s talk about how they get funding! These caves are expensive to buy and maintain. SCCi is funded almost entirely from donations from visitors. While they don’t charge for permits, you can still donate when you get your permits. In order to keep the caves beautiful for a long time to come, please consider donating if you end up visiting.
And the light show begins. Photo Credit: Tyler Johnston. 1/60th, ISO 2000

Where, How, and When?

Stephens Gap Cave is in North Alabama. Click here for driving directions and a trail map to the cave from the parking area. The light show starts around 10 A.M. and can last until around 2 P.M. depending on the time of year. Clear sunny skies are preferred to get the best light show. Consider arriving early to do a bit exploring and to find the best spot for some photos. The hike is roughly 15-30 minutes long depending on weather conditions and fitness level.

The descent.

I’ve been to a few caves since I was a kid, but this one is different. Most caves people visit are explored with a guide and a lot of commentary, but Stephens Gap is self-explored and you can take your time and fully soak in this wonder. The main part of the cave is quite small, but if you are experienced in caving or you are with someone who is, there is a bit more to be explored. The hike starts at the parking area just inside the entrance gate. After a short but moderate hike, you come to the entrance to the cave. Even though you have only been hiking for a short while, you find out how hot it really is once you begin your descent into the cave. The entrance is a very wide opening going down into a cool retreat from the heat. The climb down is somewhat steep and very wet. I wouldn’t say that this descent is hard, but because of the wet and loose rocks, take your time and tread carefully. Before entering the cave, continue up the trail another 50 feet or so and you will come to a large opening looking down into the cave. This is a complete drop off that many use to repel into the cave. It is also the opening that allows the light to shine through making those otherworldly light rays from within the cave.
Basking in the warm rays of sunlight. 1sec, f/5.6, ISO 250

The light show.

The section of the cave where the light show happens isn’t too large, so don’t hesitate to explore a bit looking for the best spot to shoot from. For me, the rays began showing around 10:00 A.M. They start shining to the right, facing the entrance to the cave, and gradually over the next 2-3 hours they move across the cave. The pedestal, from which you can see me and some others standing in the pictures below, is directly under the opening of which the light shines through hitting the pedestal just perfectly. This light show is something you don’t see all that often. If you see my photos of this phenomenon and think it’s truly awesome, you have to find time to go visit for yourself! If you thought this was of help to you, please consider sharing with your friends on social media or email. Subscribe for more adventure suggestions and photography tips in the future! Got any questions about Stephens Gap? Leave a comment below and I will help as best as I can.

Giveaway! Win a Free 16×24 Print! Ends 9/9/2018.

Ok, now here’s what you all were really wanting. A free 16×24 print of Stephens Gap Cave. The unique thing about this print is that you can’t buy it anywhere! It will be the first and possible only print in existence. How do win? Easy! Follow the steps below. Only the 1st step is required to enter.
  1. Subscribe to my blog here and your name will be entered.
  2. Follow me on Instagram @natebowery for one additional entry.
  3. Like my Facebook page @nateboweryphoto for one additional entry.
  4. Make sure to message me on Instagram or Facebook so I can match your username with your name/email when you subscribe.
  5. Contest ends on 9/9/2018.
Giveaway Details

Nate Bowery

View posts by Nate Bowery
I’m Nate Bowery, a photographer from the Southeast US. I have a passion for landscape and adventure photography that takes me all over the Southeast US and occasionally the west.

1 Comment

  1. Hope everyone found interest in this info on Stephens Gap Cave! If you have ever visited the cave, what was your experience like? Do you have any other suggestions for another cave to go visit?

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