Day Tripping to Linville Caverns
Discovering caves, falls and cheeses in western North Carolina’s High CountryBy Karen Olson House
As the weather warms, you may yearn for cooler places. Linville Caverns, in western North Carolina’s High Country, is cool in many ways. The state’s only “show caverns,” its mystical marvels wind deep inside Humpback Mountain.
During its lighted guided tours visitors see stunning, limestone formations, hear about minerals that influence the color of rocks there and discover the difference between stalactites and stalagmites (stalactites hold “tight” to the cave ceiling). They also enjoy learning about the small bats that hibernate there from late fall into early spring and seeing blind trout that live in the frigid underground stream.
Tours last 30–40 minutes, and a gift shop sells local artisans’ crafts. Much of the tour is wheelchair-accessible, although there are places where wheelchairs can’t go. Front baby-carrying packs are allowed but not other kinds of packs or strollers, so families hold little ones.
Bring a jacket. The caverns have a steady temperature of 52 degrees and don’t be surprised if a few water drops fall on you.
In the Neighborhood
Travel south of the caverns, and within about a half-mile you’ll find English Farmstead Cheese. This family farm has been in operation since the early 1900s, and began making and selling a variety of soft and hard cheeses on-site from its cows’ milk in 2013. Other fare includes unique cheese spreads with flavors such as pineapple almond or seasonal fresh fruit, and other local products such as jams, meat, eggs, crackers and ice cream. Its cheeses sell out quickly from July to October, so plan to arrive early!
Or venture north of the caverns for a hike to the wondrous Linville Falls. Hiking from the gravel road trailhead off US Highway 221 can get confusing. Start instead at the Linville Falls Visitor Center (open May–October), about 5 miles away from the caverns. The Erwin’s View trail is 1 mile to see Erwin’s View only, or can be an overall moderate walk of 1.6 miles (some elevation gains and drops) to include several sidetrail overlooks, including sights of the upper and lower falls.
Note: At press time the Linville River Bridge (on the way if you are driving from the caverns) was closed but due to reopen around the end of May 2016. Check road status at go.nps.gov/blri-roads. Some GPS mapping systems don’t recognize addresses in the areas mentioned, so check websites for directions before you go.
Want to make a day of it? Plan for extra time on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and consider exploring the towns of Marion, Little Switzerland and Spruce Pine — each offers interesting attractions.
Know Before You Go
Open daily March through November (weekends December through February). Hours are 9 a.m.to 6 p.m. June through Labor Day. Admission: $8 adults; $7 seniors; $6 children; free for under age 5. Address: 19929 US 221 N., Marion, N.C., 28752. 800-419-0540 or linvillecaverns.com.
English Farmstead Cheese
Generally open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturdays (check website calendar for updates). Address: 19456 US 221 N., Marion, N.C., 28752. 828-756- 8166 or englishfarmsteadcheese.com.
Best address: Near milepost 3.14, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Visitor Center: 828-765-1045 or nps.gov.