Cumberland Caverns

Higgenbotham Cave - Henshaw Cave

Useful Information

Location: Between Nashville and Chattanooga, 3 km from McMinnville. From Nashville: I-24 south, exit Murfreesboro, Hwy 70 S to McMinnville. From Chattanooga: I-24 north, exit Manchester, Hwy 55 to McMinnville. McMinnville Hwy 8 south, 3 km. U.S. 70 between Nashville and Knoxville or via Highway 55 from
Open: MAY daily 10, 12, 14, 16. JUN to AUG daily 9-17, every hour on the full hour. SEP to OCT daily 10, 12, 14, 16. NOV to APR by appointment. [2005]
Fee: Adults USD 12.50, Children (6-12) USD 7.50, plus tax. [2005]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave. Mississipian Limestone.
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=13 °C, L=44,444 m, VR=61 m.
Guided tours: D=90 min, L=2,400 m.
Bibliography: Larry E Matthews (2005): Cumberland Caverns - Tennessee's Largest Cave, Second Edition, Greyhound Press, 196 pp, 354 photos, 14 maps.
Discover the exciting and personal story of exploring one of America's Premier Caves. From its discovery in the 1800's to the latest breakthrough in 1976. Fascinating historical anecdotes.
Available from the WorldNSS Bookstore
Larry E. Matthews (1989): Cumberland Caverns, Greyhound Press, 196pp, ISBN-10: 0961509341, ISBN-13: 978-0961509347
Address: Cumberland Caverns, 1437 Cumberland Caverns Rd., McMinnville, TN 37110, Tel: +1-931-668-4396, Fax: +1-931-668-5382. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1810 discovered by a surveyor Aaron Higgenbotham and was known as Higgenbotham Cave for 150 years.
1812 used as a saltpeter mine.
1945 start of exploration by members of the National Speleological Society.
1950 new entrance discovered, 250 m from the old one.
1953 connection between Henshaw and Higgenbotham Cave discovered.
1955 developed, renamed Cumberland Cave, opened to the public.


Cumberland Caverns as the plural suggests, are more than one cave. Higgenbotham Cave or Higgenbotham's Cave was discovered in 1810 by the early surveyor Aaron Higgenbotham and named after him. He was a famous surveyor and built the first highway nearby, but he was not very good in cave exploring. When he first explored the cave his torch went out and he got trapped. Thats why we recommend multiple light sources. But obviously he obeyed the second important rule, he told others were he was going, so he was rescued after three days by a rescue party. Local legend tells, his hair had turned white when he was rescued.

A nearby cave was called Henshaw Cave, but neither the discovery nor the reason for the name are known. The discovery must have been at the same time, as it was used for saltpeter mining both during the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

In 1945 an era of exploration started, when members of the NSS explored and mapped the cave. A new entrance was found, and also the vicinity of the two caves discovered, who belonged to the same system, only separated by an extensive breakdown. The debris was removed, the artificial tunnel now connects the two parts of the cave.

The cave was developed for the public in 1955. The tour includes both caves, Higgenbotham and Henshaw Cave, the old saltpeter mining and some really huge rooms. The Underground Ballroom seats 500 people and is available to groups and parties of 40 or more by reservation. Lighting is provided by a huge 750kg crystal chandler, for banquets, parties or weddings. Candlelight and organ music are included.

Cumberland Caverns is the longest cave in Tennessee and it displays some of the most spectacular cave formations in Eastern America, including an historic 1812 saltpeter mine, pools and waterfalls. "God of the Mountain" an original underground pageant of light and sound, is shown on every tour.

A leading light in the development of the cave was Roy Davis, who developed the lighting in this cave and about 30 other US show caves.

The Ten Acre Room is a corridor 20 m wide and over 420 m long where early explorers camped while exploring deeper into the cave. Other features include the Mountain Room, a huge unsupported ceiling 64m wide and more than 150 m long with some spectacular speleothems, which are still growing.

Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission.