Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Welcome to Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge

Fern Cave Entrance.  Credit: Morgue Pit, USFWS

Fern Cave Entrance. Credit: Morgue Pit, USFWS

Fern Cave NWR is one of eleven National Wildlife Refuges located in the State of Alabama.

Refuge Facts:

  • Established: Fern Cave NWR was purchased in 1981 “... to conserve (A) fish or wildlife which are listed as endangered species or threatened species... or (B) plants... U.S.C. 1534 (Endangered Species Act of 1973).”
  • Acres: 199
  • Location: Fern Cave NWR is located on the western slope of Nat Mountain. From Huntsville, take U.S. Highway 72 north to Gurley. North of Gurley, turn left on Jackson County road 500 just after U.S. Highway 72 crosses the Paint Rock River. CR 500 is closed at a gate but access by foot traffic is still allowed. Road access is extremely difficult. Follow the old road as it winds along the Paint Rock River along the southwest base of Nat Mountain and look for National Wildlife Refuge signs.
  • Administered by: Fern Cave is a satellite Refuge of Wheeler NWR in nearby Decatur, AL. Fern Cave NWR is currently unstaffed and all management activities are carried out by Wheeler NWR staff.
  • Wildlife: Fern Cave contains the largest wintering colony of gray bats in the United States with over one million bats hibernating there in the winter. Bat experts also think that as many as one million Indiana bats may be using the cave. The endangered American Hart's-tongue fern also occurs on the Refuge and many species of resident wildlife such as deer, squirrels, and turkey are common.
  • Habitats: Fern Cave NWR consists of 199 acres of forested hillside underlain by a massive cave with many stalactite and stalagmite-filled rooms. The cave has five hidden entrances with four occurring on the Refuge. Access is extremely difficult and has been described as a vertical and horizontal maze by expert cavers. Horizontal sections of the cave are known to be more than 15 miles long and vertical drops of 450 feet are found within. Spectacular features including unrivaled formations, important paleological and archaeological finds, and a diverse cave fauna have contributed to Fern Cave as being described as the most spectacular cave in the U.S. and has fame both nationally and internationally.


Last updated: April 25, 2014