Stephens Gap Cave. Photo by Lynn Roebuck. Stephens Gap Cave. Photo by Lynn Roebuck.
Stephens Gap is one of the most beloved caves in the Southeast, with a beautiful 143-ft pit that cavers love and a huge walk-in entrance that draws hikers, photographers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. The view of the pit from the walk-in passage is one of the most photographed wild cave scenes in North America. Located in the heart of Jackson County, AL, Stephens Gap, is SCCi’s 30th cave preserve. By acquiring this preserve, SCCi ensures that it’s protected and preserved for future generations of cavers, hikers, and photographers.
The bottom of the entrance pit can only be reached using vertical caving skills, knowledge, and equipment to safely descend by rappelling a rope and ascending that same rope with specialty equipment to exit the cave. The bottom of the entrance pit is 143 feet below the edge.
The best way to obtain the skills needed for vertical caving is to join a local caving club (grotto) of the National Speleological Society (www.caves.org) and receive hands-on training from its members. The walk-in passage does not require rope, but is steep in places and may be slippery, particularly when it’s wet. The walk-in passage intersects the pit about 50 feet above the floor; therefore, extreme caution should be exercised close to the edge as footing can be uncertain.
Help us preserve and protect this beautiful cave by making an honorary purchase of a section of Stephens Gap by clicking here.

Important Information About Your Visit



  • If you do not possess vertical caving skills, ability or experience needed to safely visit the bottom of the pit, Stephens Gap is still an impressive and unique place to visit and the short walk-in passage alone may be worth the hiking effort. Please be careful – the trail is primitive and can be steep and slippery. Bring water and stay hydrated.

  • Helmets, headlamps and sturdy shoes/boots are strongly recommended, even in the walk-in passage; helmets are required for any climbing or rope-related activities.

  • Cellular telephone coverage is poor to nonexistent in the area; don’t count on being able to call for help from the preserve.

  • Please do not endanger your life or the lives of rescuers by attempting anything beyond your known skills and abilities.

  • There are only three rig points for rope allowed at the top of the pit: the large tree near the arrival area; the large tree on the bench above the arrival area; and one of several trees up the hill from the “Keyhole” entrance.

  • Pad any trees used to rig ropes at Stephens Gap.

  • Camping is only allowed on the bluff above the pit entrance (no camping in the parking area); there is only room for a couple of small tents; conditions are primitive (no electricity, water or toilets) and all waste must be packed out. Add camping to your permit request’s itinerary if you’ll be staying overnight.

  • Use of drones is prohibited.

  • When you visit the preserve, please place your permit on the dashboard of your parked vehicle while you are visiting the preserve. Vehicles without evidence of a permit – either the permit form itself, or a piece of paper with a valid permit number must be displayed – may be towed. Do not use or block the green gate into the adjacent quarry property.


Preserve Information


Cave type: 143 ft open-air pit (requires vertical rope skills) and steep walk-in horizontal entrance
Trail: Approximately ¾ mi / 300 foot increase in elevation
Hiking-only permit (no cave access) available: No
Camping: Yes; limited primitive camping (no electricity, water or toilets); campsite is on bluff above pit entrance ¾ mi from parking area
Pets: On leash; pack out waste
Acreage: 123 acres in Jackson County, Alabama
Preserve Management Team: Milton Polsky, Tom Whitehurst, and Aaron Polsky (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Preserve Management: Stephens Gap Visitor Use Plan
Maps: Cave Map | Pit Map


All SCCi Preserves require a no-cost permit. Visit permits.scci.org .


 
Stephens Gap Cave Alabama
Stephens Gap Cave, photo by Alan Cressler

Stephens Gap is one of the most beloved caves in the southeast, with a beautiful pit that cavers love and a huge walk-in entrance that draws hikers, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The SCCi is very excited to announce that we now own this fantastic cave! Located in the heart of Jackson County, AL, the Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve is our 30th cave preserve! By purchasing this beautiful cave, the SCCi will ensure that it's protected and preserved for future generations of cavers, hikers, and photographers. This purchase was not cheap. We need to raise $150,000 to cover the land costs, closing costs, and the funding needed to care for the cave in to the future. If you enjoy visiting Stephens Gap, or would like to visit it in the future, please join us in establishing our newest, and likely one of our most popular, preserves! Thank you for your support.
Help us preserve and protect this beautiful cave! 
Details coming soon about how you can buy your own honorary piece of this beautiful cave.

TheChattanooganHotel
Ticket sales for the 2nd Annual SCCi Christmas Party are LIVE! 


This year's event will be held at The Chattanoogan Hotel, a lovely venue in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee on December 13th starting at 6:00pm. Guests will be treated to a special presentation by Jennifer Pinkley who will describe the early years of discovery and exploration in the 1960s and share a wide variety of historic photos and maps. Steve Pitts will then discuss more recent activities in the cave including information about the remapping project. The evening will also include Buffet Dinner, Cash Bar and Silent Auction.  Tickets are $40 each and may be purchased by following this link.
For guests wishing to stay the evening hotel rooms are available for a special rate of $99/night. These may be purchased directly from the Chattanoogan (www.chattanooganhotel.com or 800-619-0018). Please mention the SCCi Christmas Party and make your reservation by November 15th to ensure the discounted rate.
For more information about the event follow this link to the event page. Make sure you check back often as we will be updating the list of items included in the Silent Auction.
Though we have chosen to hold this year’s event at an indoor location we encourage you to visit Tumbling Rock Cave to see the Christmas Tree in a Cave. The Christmas Tree will be decorated on November 22nd and lit every Saturday through the Holiday Season. Tumbling Rock, Inc invites you to join them for the lighting of the tree and Smokey the Kitty Anti-Vandalism Rally on November 22nd. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Ticket sales are limited. To ensure your spot place your order today.


SCCi Tumbling Rock Preserve
Our property managers posing next to the beautiful Christmas Tree in Tumbling Rock. Photo by Nathan Williams & Sabrina Simon

Last year, the SCCi hosted our first annual Christmas Party at our Tumbling Rock preserve. It was a huge success and everyone had a great time--except it was really cold! We're planning our 2nd annual Christmas party for Saturday, December 13. Mark your calendars! To make sure we all stay warmer this year, the party will be indoors at a venue probably in Chattanooga. This year, Steve Pitts and Jennifer Pinkley will give a presentation about the history and current status of Fern Cave, Alabama. We will also have another silent auction featuring caving related art.
We're still working out the details and will let you know more soon!
Even though the party will not be held at the Tumbling Rock preserve, you can go caving in Tumbling Rock during the day, visit the decorated Christmas Tree, then head over in the afternoon for the party!
 
 

John JV Van Swearingen IV Stewardship Award
JV Van Swearingen IV

Nominate cave stewards for the JV Van Swearingen IV Stewardship Award!
The SCCi, in cooperation with the Huntsville Grotto, is proud to announce that nominations are open for the John Van Swearingen IV Stewardship Award!
The award was conceived by the Huntsville Grotto in honor of long-time member, conservationist, cave steward, and SCCi Director, JV, who passed away in 2001. It is presented annually at the TAG Fall Cave In.
JV served for many years as the Fern Cave Access Coordinator, providing stewardship of the Fern Cave system and preserve for both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the SCCi.
The purpose of the award is to meaningfully recognize the stewardship efforts of an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization that has provided significant stewardship activities for one or more caves, cave preserves, or karst properties, personally conducted over an extended period of time.
The award, sponsored by the Huntsville Grotto and the SCCi, is also intended to promote long-term cave conservation and stewardship activities, and to encourage and thank those individuals and organizations who perform them.
We are accepting nominations until September 15, 2014. Please fill out the Award Nomination Form and return your nomination to the award committee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please recognize deserving individuals or organizations! Feel free to re-post and/or print for your Grotto and fellow cavers. If you have any questions, please contact the committee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Past winners of the JV Van Swearingen IV Stewardship Award:
2013: Chuck Henson, Rossville, GA
2012: Nathan Williams, Huntsville, AL
2011: SERA Karst Task Force (SKTF), TAG Region
2010: Tom Moltz, Byron, GA
2009: Jay Clark, Birmingham, AL
2008: Buddy Lane, Signal Mountain, TN
2007: Bill Overton, Pegram, TN
2006: Bill Birdsall, Ocala, FL
2005: Steve Pitts, Ardmore, TN
2004: Lonnie Carr, Sparta, TN
2003: Bruce Brewer, Tallahassee, FL
2002: William Oldacre, Gainesville, FL
 
 
 
 

Cavers may have heard that it's been a challenge to access the Horse Skull/Jack's Hole Cave Preserve lately due to lots of downed trees on the property and some issues with parking. Our great property manager Andy Zellner coordinated cutting and flagging a new trail that leads from the paved road, through the beaver swamp, across the power line cut, and through the woods. Details on the parking area are still being worked out, so please contact Andy Zellner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. before you visit the cave to make sure you have the most up to date information. Cavers should not use the neighbor's driveway at this time.
Jacks Hole Preserve
The SCCi is pleased to announce a new lease agreement of Varnedoe Cave. This fine cave is located within the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama and is one of the more popular multi-drop caves in the southeast. Both entrances to Varnedoe Cave can be rigged all the way to the Fox Skeleton Room where the register is located. Entrance 1 has a pit series of 73’, 15’, 41’, 72’ and Entrance 2 has a pit series of 115’, 12’, and 69’ with the latter entrance route dropping near the waterfall in the Fox Skeleton Room. Beyond the Fox Skeleton Room are meandering passages that lead to tall dome complexes and a formation area. Access to Varnedoe Cave requires a permit. Contact the Varnedoe Cave Access Coordinator Julie Schenck Brown at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at least three days before you would like to visit the cave.
Varnedoe Cave with Elliot Stahl and Joy Palmer (Photo by Alan Grosse)
Varnedoe Cave with Elliot Stahl and Joy Palmer (Photo by Alan Grosse)
Varnedoe Cave is located within the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama and is one of the more popular multi-drop caves in the southeast. SCCi  currently leases the cave through an agreement with the landowner. Both entrances to Varnedoe Cave can be rigged all the way to the Fox Skeleton Room where the register is located. Entrance 1 has a pit series of 73’, 15’, 41’, 72’ and Entrance 2 has a pit series of 115’, 12’, and 69’ with the latter entrance route dropping near the waterfall in the Fox Skeleton Room. Beyond the Fox Skeleton Room are meandering passages that lead to tall dome complexes and a formation area. Access to Varnedoe Cave requires a permit.
Varnedoe Cave with Elliot Stahl and Joy Palmer (Photo by Alan Grosse)
Varnedoe Cave with Elliot Stahl and Joy Palmer (Photo by Alan Grosse)

Preserve Information: Acreage: Lease/management agreement in Madison County, Alabama.
Preserve Management Team: Julie Schenck Brown (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Access:To request a permit, visit http://permits.scci.org
Jack Fischer at the entrance of Varnedoe Cave (Photo by Matthew Setchfield)
Jack Fischer at the entrance of Varnedoe Cave (Photo by Matthew Setchfield)

Below is a brief timeline of SCCi Cave Preserve purchases, donations, leases, and management agreements:

2017

Elroy and Marilyn Daleo Cave Preserve, KY
Goshen Hollow, AL
Howards Waterfall Second Entrance, GA

2014

Varnedoe Cave Preserve, AL (leased)
Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve, AL

2013

Run To The Mill Cave Preserve, TN

2012

Lost Canyon Cave Preserve, GA

2011

John T. Dolberry Tumbling Rock Cave Preserve, AL

2009

Kay Hill Deen Fern Cave Preserve (Fern Sink aka Surprise Pit entrance), AL
Kennamer Cave (Orgy entrance) and Secret Pit (additions to Kennamer Cave Preserve), AL

2008

Steward Spring Cave Preserve, AL

2007

Anderson Cave Preserve, AL (management agreement)

2006

Hollow Ridge Cave Preserve, FL (donated)

2005

Byers Cave, GA (addition to Fox Mountain Cave Preserve)

2003

Frenchman Knob Cave Preserve, KY
Limrock Blowing Cave Preserve, AL

2002

Rattling Cave Preserve, TN (leased)
Wolf River Cave Preserve, TN
Snail Shell Cave Preserve, TN 
Valhalla Cave Preserve, AL

2001

Hound Dog Drop (Holly Creek Cave Preserve), TN
Sinking Cove Cave Preserve (includes 73 caves), TN (leased)
Custard Hollow Cave Preserve, TN

1998

Lobelia Saltpeter Cave Preserve, WV (donated)
Jennings Cave Preserve, FL

1997

Fox Mountain Cave Preserve (including Cemetery Pit and Rustys Cave), GA
Logsdon Cave Preserve, KY (leased)
Fricks Cave Preserve, GA
Gourdneck Cave Preserve, TN (leased)
Kennamer Cave Preserve, AL
South Pittsburg Pit Preserve, TN
Horse Skull Cave Preserve, AL 

1995

Neversink Preserve, AL
Glove Pit Preserve, AL (donated)

1991

Howard's Waterfall Cave Preserve, GA (donated)