Underground Adventure at Worley’s Cave

Wedge yourself between two stalagmites nearly 2,000 feet from the entrance of Worley’s Cave. Photo: CARl SCHOLL


DISTANCE: 100 miles, 2 ½ hours to Boone (plus 45 miles, 1 hour to Elizabethton)

ADVENTURE LEVEL:  5 (No lights. Underground. Enough said.)


In the small town of Elizabethton, Tennessee, experiencing an underground world filled with rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites is as simple as stepping through the entrance of Worley’s Cave. Seven miles of passages with names like Tombstone and Hobbit’s Hallway run through the cave, which is believed to date back 100,000 years. It’s primitive—no lights, no paved paths—which adds to the eerie feeling. River and Earth Adventures, located in Boone, leads tours. More adventurous travelers can crawl through cracks and weave through narrow passages; advanced trips require wading in an underground river to get to the back of the cave, where a log book records the names of the travelers who complete the trek. —J. H.


REST UP: From hot tubs and fireplaces to quilts and rocking chairs, Boone Cabin Rentals provides all of the amenities you’d expect in a mountain retreat in each of its 10 luxury cabins. Check in and chill out.

GEAR UP: The best place to find fleece jackets and hiking boots for navigating the cave is Footsloggers. If you want to bring a headlamp, the outfitter has those, too (otherwise River and Earth Adventures will provide one).

REFUEL: Dan’l Boone Inn was a hospital and rooming house before becoming a restaurant in 1959, making it the oldest restaurant in Boone. Be prepared to wait a while for a table; Southern fare such as fried chicken and collard greens draws serious crowds.


CHICKEN? Rent a kayak and paddle down the Watauga River. The class I and II rapids are perfect for rookie paddlers and there are plenty of spots to rest on the shore and take in the scenery. Adventure Level: 3 (Class I and II rapids are a gateway adventure activity.)