& Natural Resources



Thunderhole Cave in Putnam County
There are close to 5,543 surveyed caves within the Cumberland Plateau region hosting the highest diversity of cave-dwelling species in the United States. A large population of federally listed bat species dwells within these naturally sculpted caverns and new cave species are continually being discovered. A total of 48 caves are found within 10 miles of the Byway.

Historically these caves functioned as dwellings for Native Americans and frontier settlers, as well as livestock holding pens and hideaways for distilling whiskey. Once settlers discovered calcium nitrate in bat droppings they refined it into saltpeter, which was used to make gunpowder. One cave in the plateau region, Big Bone Cave, is said to have produced 25% of the Confederacy’s gunpowder. (Source: The Cumberland Plateau National Heritage Corridor Feasibility Study, 2006)

Visitors to the caves can experience an environment that has essentially been intact for thousands of years. Spelunking should be enjoyed in publicly accessible caves only, and special notice should be paid to public awareness bulletins concerning cave dwelling bats.

The following caves are directly accessible from the Byway.

  • Ament Cave
  • Back and Front Caves
  • Baker Cave
  • Bartlett Pit
  • Buckner Sink
  • Clouse Cave
  • Jared Hollow Cave
  • Marble Cave
  • New Salem Cave
  • Petty Cave
  • Pipeline Cave
  • Pullman Cave
  • Railroad Cave
  • Smith Cave
  • Spencer’s Rock Cave
  • Terry Cave
  • Thunderhole
  • Wade Pit