Adventure Us: Dixie Caverns

On some cold, dreary, miserable winter days, you just want to crawl into a hole. Fortunately, you can do just that and still entertain the whole family at Dixie Caverns!

Dixie Caverns is not just any hole. This long standing attraction of the Roanoke area celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Back in 1920, the massive limestone cave was first discovered by two boys; their dog was actually the first to enter when she tumbled down 30 feet through the cave’s natural entrance. The dog survived the incident and was pulled out by ropes; the boys and the farmer who owned the land went on to explore the cave, but everyone agreed that the caverns should be rightfully named after the dog, and so it was.

Dixie Caverns is another facet of the beauty and variety of the Roanoke valley; it’s a reminder that as magnificent as the Blue Ridge mountains are above ground, they also hold treasure at their ancient roots. One of many limestone cave formations scattered throughout the mountains, Dixie Caverns offers a rich experience of subterranean beauty and grandeur. 

During the 30 minute tour, you’ll get to experience stunning flowstone formations, underground lakes, narrow tunnels, and the towering expanse of the Cathedral Room. The cave extends some 100 feet upwards from the entrance; you are actually climbing up into the heart of the mountain. Be prepared for plenty of steps, some of them steep! Also, the incessant drip of water makes some areas slippery. Fortunately, your tour guide will be careful to point these places out to you.

In our multiple experiences of Dixie Caverns, the guides have been pleasant and knowledgeable. Our most recent one stopped to point out the tiny salamanders on the rock faces to our kids. He also told us about the little known Salem Fault Line – not to worry, it apparently has not been active for a few thousand years! There isn’t too much life to be found within the cave, but besides the salamanders we were privileged to see bats (one of our kids preferred animals) on each of our visits.

There are also reminders that humans have not always treated this treasure so well; the ‘breakdown room’ is covered with the broken stumps of stalagmites that explorers broke off and stole during the first several years after the cave’s discovery. Since then, the caverns have been treated much more respectfully, and the tour guide will warn you and your kids not to touch the rock formations – the oils on your skin will stunt the continuing growth of the mineral rock.

Perhaps the most memorable moment (or half a moment) of the tour comes at the very end, when the tour guide, after giving you appropriate notice, turns off all the lights for 30 seconds, plunging you into complete and total darkness. This remarkable experience quickly convinced us and our kids that real-life spelunking would not be our adventure of choice!

Before or after your tour, explore the gift shop and antique market next door. Though the cave itself dates to ancient times, the antique market is firmly ensconced in the 1970s!

The Dixie Caverns is a great place to explore on a winter day when the world above ground is a cheerless place!

Name: Dixie Caverns, 5753 W Main St, Salem, VA 24153

Time from Roanoke: < 30 minutes

Activity Options: Cave exploring, rock shop, gift shop, camping

Nearby Food: Salem offerings such as Mamma Maria’s or Famous Anthony’s

Nearby Attractions: Falls Ridge Preserve, Green Hill Park 

More Adventure Us

Cristy Carr

Cristy and her family keep busy writing, tutoring, homeschooling, homesteading, and adventuring in the beautiful Appalachian mountains.
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