Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cathedral Caverns State Park: Yellow and Green Trails (Blog Hike #508)

Trails: Yellow and Green Trails
Hike Location: Cathedral Caverns State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Scottsboro, AL
Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2015
Overview: A lollipop loop, steep in places, to near the summit of Mount Pisgah.

Directions to the trailhead: From its intersection with SR 35 in Scottsboro, drive US 72 west 15.8 miles to CR 63; there is a state park sign at this intersection.  Turn left on CR 63.  Drive CR 63 3.5 miles to Cathedral Caverns Road and turn left on Cathedral Caverns Rd.  The trailhead parking is a small gravel lot 1.9 miles ahead on the right.  The parking lot is located less than 500 feet after you pass Cave Road, the road that leads to the actual Cathedral Caverns.

The hike: The limestone bedrock of northeastern Alabama features some of the finest underground plumbing to be found anywhere in the United States, and few places offer better opportunities to see that plumbing than Cathedral Caverns.  Originally known as Bat Cave, the cave was operated as a privately-owned commercial cavern from the 1950’s until the mid 1980’s when it was purchased by the state.  The cave closed to the public for a few years until cave tours resumed in 2000.
            The cave’s current name comes from its gigantic 126-foot wide by 25-foot high main entrance, the one used by guided cave tours.  Depending on how you measure, this entrance may be the largest commercial cave entrance in the world.  The cave is also noteworthy for a large stalagmite named “Goliath,” which at 45 feet tall and 245 feet around is one of the largest stalagmites in the world.  The only downside to Cathedral Caverns is the $17 fee you must pay for the cave tour.
            Fortunately for hikers, hiking at the park is free.  Cathedral Caverns State Park offers 4 above-ground hiking trails that total just over 6 miles in length.  The Blue and Brown Trails offer fairly flat loops around the valley floor, but the park’s best trails are the Yellow and Green Trails, which gain 400 feet of elevation to reach the top of Mount Pisgah.  I ran out of daylight before I could hike all of the trails, so the route described here uses only the Yellow and Green Trails to form a nice hike on Mount Pisgah.
Post marking trailhead
            Start by crossing Cathedral Caverns Road and finding the wooden post painted with multiple color bands that serves as the trailhead.  After only a couple hundred feet of gradual climbing, the 1.2 mile Blue Trail exits left.  Continue straight to follow the Yellow Trail, which at this point runs conjointly with the Green and Brown Trails.
            After crossing a drainage without the aid of a bridge, a little more gradual climbing brings you to a trail junction.  This point begins the loop portion of this hike.  To take the longer but more gradual route up, this description will continue straight to ascend on the Yellow Trail and use the Green Trail coming down from the left as its return route.
            The slightly rocky Yellow Trail climbs gradually as it angles left around the mountain.  Just past 0.2 miles, the Brown Trail exits to the right, leaving you on only the Yellow Trail.  After a little more nearly level walking, the trail gets rockier, curves left, and ascends more steeply on switchbacks at first and then directly up the hillside.
Climbing on the Yellow Trail
            Just before reaching the top of the ridge, the trail curves right and flattens out.  The ridgetop to the left tempts you for a few hundred feet until, 0.8 miles into the hike, the trail makes a sweeping left turn to pass over the ridgetop and descend a short distance down the west side.  At 1.1 miles, you pass a cluster of sinkholes, evidence of the underground plumbing (cave network) that runs under your feet.
Sinkhole on Mount Pisgah
            A little more gradual climbing brings you to Beech Camp at 1.3 miles.  Located in a small flat area atop the ridge, Beech Camp consists of nothing more than a primitive trail shelter and a fire pit.  Reservations are required to camp here, but the quiet, peaceful surroundings with minimal development for several miles make this a nice camping spot.
Beech Camp
Beech Camp marks the end of the Yellow Trail at its intersection with the Green Trail, which goes left and straight.  The north arm of the Green Trail that heads left provides the shortest route back to the trailhead, but to see the summit of Mount Pisgah, continue straight to begin the south arm of the Green Trail.
            The Green Trail goes on and off an old dirt road as it heads south with the mountain rising to your left.  The orange paint on selected trees up here marks the park boundary, which lies immediately to your right.  At 1.6 miles, the trail curves left and ascends directly up the hillside to reach the summit of Mount Pisgah.  Though Mount Pisgah is the highest point in the park, the flattish summit and dense forest dominated by oak trees prohibit any views.
            After curving right at the summit, the trail continues its southward course and descends moderately.  Some pine trees make an appearance when you reach the top of a cliff line at 1.9 miles, where the trail curves sharply left.  After a brief level section, you curve right and descend very steeply through a gap in the cliffs.  Bring a hiking staff to use as an extra leg and help maintain your footing here.
Approaching the cliff line from above
            Now below the cliff line, the trail curves left, levels out, then curves left again to ascend somewhat steeply but only for a short distance.  Some more descending (gradual this time) brings you to the intersection with the north arm of the Green Trail at 2.2 miles.  Turn right to descend some switchbacks on somewhat steep and eroded trail.  At 2.5 miles, you reach the end of the Green Trail and close the loop.  Turn right to hike the common entrance trail back to the parking area and complete the hike.

1 comment:

  1. Accurate and informative review,thanks for posting