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Cool off with nat­u­ral AC on this easy day­hike to a 143-foot-deep cave.

One way to evade late-sum­mer temps in the South? Go un­der­ground. It’s not a big hike, but trust us: You won’t mind cool­ing off in this 143-foot, open-air cave. Bet­ter than the nat­u­ral AC is that Stephens Gap is be­gin­ner-friendly and non­tech­ni­cal. Ex­pe­ri­enced cavers can, of course, rap­pel in through the top (pic­tured), while the rest of us can scram­ble in near mile .7 of an easy hike from the epony­mous trail­head on AL 35. The side en­try looks like a vast garage door, and hik­ers can clam­ber through it to get to the wa­tery cave floor (wear sturdy shoes; the open­ing lets in enough nat­u­ral light that you can forgo a head­lamp). PER­MIT Re­quired (free); ap­ply at per­ CON­TACT


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