Russell Cave National Monument is located in northeastern Alabama near the Tennessee border.
Russell Cave is an archaeological site with one of the most complete records of prehistoric peoples in the Southeast United States.
Russell Cave National Monument
About Russell Cave National Monument
Russell Cave has been home to prehistoric culture in the southeast for thousands of years.
The cave was carved from geologic forces in the limestone. Russell Cave has produced one of the most comprehensive records of the human habitation of Native Americans.
Artifacts have been found in the cave that dates back 10,000 years.
The National Park Service oversees the park as a National Monument.
The park site includes a visitor center, nature trail, boardwalk to the cave shelter, and picnic area.
The park service has great ranger programs and a Junior Ranger program that is great for all guests.
Is Russell Cave National Monument worth visiting?
Yes, The park offers the visitor to tour the cave from a boardwalk overlook, learn more about prehistoric Indians, and enjoy some epic bird watching.
History of Russell Cave
Over 300 million years ago what is now Alabama was covered by the sea. Over millions of years as waters retreated, limestone gave way to thousands of caverns.
Somewhere between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago, a sinkhole exposed a tunnel beneath the ground.
Over time, falling rocks built up near the entrance to the cave, creating land and easy access inside. It was around 7,000 BC that humans began using the cave as a shelter.
This National Monument is one of the oldest places in America where evidence has shown continuous human activity.
Evidence of humans at Russell Cave come from three main time periods: the Archaic (7,000 BC-500 BC), the Woodland (500 BC-1,000 AD), and the Mississippian (1,000 AD-1,600 AD)
Russell Cave was named after Colonel Thomas Russell from North Carolina. A Revolutionary War veteran, Russell owned the land encompassing the cave during the time period when maps of the area were drawn.
Dating further back, the land was owned by Russell’s brother-in-law, Major James Doran. The surrounding land around Russell cave is named Doran’s Cove in his honor.
Excavations dating back to the Archaic Period unearthed stone points for hunting and remnants of fire pits. Several burials sites including human remains were found dating back from this time period.
The remains ranged in age from infant to 50 years old and were buried in shallow graves. The Native inhabitants of this age likely hunted deer and turkey and fished in the Tennessee River.
They are also credited as the first inhabitants to begin using an atlatl, a long carved stick with an end that held a spear. These tools were very useful for hunting and protection.
Russell Cave during the Woodland Period saw southeastern Native Americans beginning to use the bow and arrow and construct pottery. Archeologists have recovered remnants of both.
Also recovered were collections of seeds from the Chenopodium plant, otherwise known today as Goosefoot.
A small, flowering plant with edible seeds, the Chenopodium plant has traditionally been used as a blood purifier, sedative, and laxative.
Evidence at Russell Cave shows Native Americans were domesticating this planet which means this practice, outdated Natives, in Mexico domesticating maize by 1,000 years.
By the Mississippian Period, Native Americans were beginning to live together in villages near the area and utilizing agriculture to thrive.
Russell Cave was still used during this time, but likely by nomadic peoples or by hunters in the winter.
During the time of the European's appearance, it was the Cherokee Indians who lived in this area of Alabama. There is evidence of their fishing methods within Russell Cave.
Most of these excavations and discoveries took place in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1953, the Tennessee Archeological Society first recognized Russell Cave as an archeological site when they began the first dig there.
In 1956, the National Geographic Society purchased 310 acres around the cave from landowner Oscar Ridley.
Numerous excavations included digs by the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institute, and the National Park Service.
These excavations dug more than 32 feet below the cave floor. Over the years, nearly two tons of artifacts have been excavated from Russell Cave.
Russell Cave has been like a hidden time capsule giving scientists a glimpse into humans, and the animals that once lived in Alabama.
Prehistoric people hunted many of the same animals that are hunted today – raccoon, black bear, grey fox, bobcat, and river otter.
The site has also revealed that animals now nonexistent in Alabama were once hunted – cougars, armadillos, and a species of giant boar called peccary.
The National Geographic Society donated Russell Cave to the U.S. government in 1961 and President John F. Kennedy dedicated it as a National Monument in May of that year.
Many of the priceless artifacts found during excavations can be seen at Russell Cave’s museum where you will also see detailed timelines of the cave’s history.
The area also offers hiking trails, in particular, a section of the North American Birding Trail meanders through the hills near the cave.
Recreational caving is no longer allowed at Russell Cave for the preservation of evidence, living species, and possible future excavations.
One such species is an extremely rare species of scorpion that is only known to exist in one other place on earth.
Each year in May, the site holds a Native American festival where reenactments of Cherokee people and demonstrations of weaponry making are featured.
Things to know before your visit to Russell Cave NM
$0.00 - There is no fee to visit the park.
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
CST - Central Standard Time
Pets must remain on a leash during a visit to the park. They are allowed on the trails but are not allowed in the park visitor center.
There is no cell service while at the park.
Daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm
The park is closed on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
There is no Wi-Fi at the park.
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water.
We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
There is a nice size parking lot at the entrance to the park near the visitor center.
There are no restaurants within the park.
There are no gas stations within the park.
Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Electric Vehicle Charging
There is 1 EV Charging station within 10 miles of the park.
Details about Russell Cave National Monument
Size - 310 acres
Check out how the park compares to other National Parks by Size.
May 11, 1961, the park was established by President John F. Kennedy.
In 2021, Russell Cave NM had 22,393 park visitors.
In 2020, Russell Cave NM had 8,462 park visitors.
In 2019, Russell Cave NM had 16,642 park visitors.
Russell Cave NM Address
3729 County Road 98
Bridgeport, AL 35740
GPS Coordinates - DMS: 34°58'43.0"N 85°48'35.2"W / DD: 34.978596, -85.809771
Russel Cave NM Map
Where is Russell Cave National Monument?
Russell Cave NM is located in far northern Alabama near the border with Tennessee.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Chattanooga, TN - 41 miles
Fort Oglethorpe, GA - 48 miles
Fort Payne, AL - 49 miles
Huntsville, AL - 70 miles
Calhoun, GA - 90 miles
Atlanta, GA - 157 miles
Birmingham, AL - 143 miles
Knoxville, TN - 151 miles
Nashville, TN - 117 miles
Memphis, TN - 322 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 146 miles
Mammoth Cave National Park - 200 miles
Gateway Arch National Park - 422 miles
Congaree National Park - 387 miles
Shenandoah National Park - 506 miles
New River Gorge National Park - 410 miles
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
The visitor center is located next to the parking lot.
Getting to Russell Cave National Monument
Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA)
Huntsville International Airport (HSV)
Nashville International Airport (BNA)
Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM)
Northwest Alabama Regional Airport (MSL)
Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS)
Fort Payne, Alabama (49.6 miles, drive time: 56min):
Follow I-59 N and take exit 231 for AL-40/ AL-117 toward Hammondville/ Valley Head. Turn left onto AL-117 N/ AL-40 W and follow for 1.6 miles. Turn right onto AL-117 N and follow for 23.6 miles.
Turn right to merge on US-72 E/ John T Reid Pkwy toward Bridgeport. Turn left onto Co Rd 75 and follow for 1 mile. Turn right onto Co Rd 98 and follow for 3.7 miles. The entrance to Russell Cave National Monument will be on the left.
Huntsville, Alabama (70 miles, drive time: 1h 10min):
Follow US-72 E/ Hwy 72 E from Huntsville to Bridgeport. Turn left onto Co Rd 75 and follow for 1 mile.
Turn right onto Co Rd 98 and follow for 3.7 miles. The entrance to Russell Cave National Monument will be on the left.
Chattanooga, Tennessee (42.7 miles, drive time: 47min):
Follow I-24 W toward Nashville/ Birmingham for 27 miles, following signs for Nashville. Take exit 152A for US-64/ US-72 W toward US-41/ Kimball/ South Pittsburg.
Follow US-72 W for 8.4 miles into Alabama. Turn right onto Co Rd 75 and follow for 1 mile. Turn right onto Co Rd 98 and follow for 3.7 miles. The entrance to Russell Cave National Monument will be on the left.
Nashville, Tennessee (119 miles, drive time: 1h 48min):
Use I-40 E to merge onto I-24 E/ Knoxville/ Chattanooga. Stay on I-24 E, following signs for Chattanooga, for 100 miles.
Take exit 152 for US-64/ US-72 toward US-41/ Kimball/ South Pittsburg.
Turn right to merge onto US-72 W. Follow US-72 W for 8.4 miles into Alabama.
Turn right onto Co Rd 75 and follow for 1 mile. Turn right onto Co Rd 98 and follow for 3.7 miles. The entrance to Russell Cave National Monument will be on the left.
Best time to visit Russell Cave NM
The best time to visit Russell Cave NM is in Spring and Fall when the weather should be comfortable and not that hot.
Weather and Seasons
Bridgeport, Alabama experiences hot and muggy summers with cold and wet winters most years.
The hottest months of the year are from May 26 to September 20th when the average temperature is above 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
The coldest months of the year are from November 28 to February 25th when the average temperature is below 57 degrees.
July is the wettest month with 12.4 days of rain.
The muggiest months are from May 20 to September 27th with a lot of muggy weather.
Best Things to do in Russell Cave NM
While Russell Cave NM is a pretty small park you can still enjoy multiple fun things to do while visiting the park.
Gilbert Grosvenor Visitor Center
The park visitor center is the perfect place to start your visit. There is a 7-minute park film, park store, artifacts and museum, and more.
The Gilbert Grosvenor Visitor Center was named after a former president of the National Geographic Society. The National Geographic Society bought the cave and donated it to the American people.
The visitor center has a museum displaying some of the thousands of artifacts that have been excavated from the cave. Displays include fishhooks, pottery, jewelry, and weapons.
There is a small gift shop in the visitor center with books about the park and other National Park gifts.
The 7-minute park film does a fantastic job of explaining the importance and history of Russell Cave. It is filled with information while still being enjoyable to watch.
The Russell Cave Junior Ranger program is a bit intense but filled with great information.
The number of pages that have to be completed depends on the age of the participant.
There are a few pages that took some time to find the answers and figure them out.
The ranger did check each page and answer line by line so make sure you fill them out completely with what you think is the answer.
Many of the answers came from the movie and in the park visitor center.
Boardwalk to Russel Cave
Walk the short boardwalk to the entrance of Russell Cave shelter. Ask at the visitor center about guided Ranger walks to learn more about the inhabitants of the cave.
Though the cave passages stretch for miles you can only check out the entrance to protect artifacts.
Be careful as you get closer to the cave. The walkway can be damp and muddy. The nature trail is a great way to explore more of this park. You can look for wildlife and birds migrating through the park.
Northern Alabama Birding Trail
Russell Cave NM is located along the Northern Alabama Birding Trail. More than 115 species of birds live in the area.
This area is along a migration route giving you the opportunity to see Tanagers, Warblers, and other amazing bird species.
On weekend Park Rangers present prehistoric skills such as throwing with an atlatl, fire-starting, and flint-knapping.
Rangers also present interpretive programs on wildlife, geology, medicinal plants, and more.
Hiking in Russell Cave National Monument
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
Russell Cave Nature Trail
Distance - 1.2 miles
This nature trail gives visitors the opportunity to see plants and the landscape that prehistoric people lived in.
How to beat the crowds in Russell Cave NM?
This is not a park you will need to worry about crowds in. The park is one of the least visited parks in the United States.
Where to stay when visiting Russell Cave NM
There are no National Park Lodges within the park.
The closest lodging is in Kimball, Tennessee and or in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Hampton Inn Kimball - Free full breakfast, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour gym at Hampton Inn Kimball. In addition to a 24-hour business center, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Holiday Inn Express And Suites Kimball - Free breakfast buffet, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour gym. In addition to a business center, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Best Western Kimball Inn - Free breakfast buffet, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a gym. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with a business center and a restaurant.
Westin Chattanooga - Located close to Tennessee Aquarium, The Westin Chattanooga provides a rooftop terrace, a coffee shop/café, and a garden. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with dry cleaning/laundry services and a bar.
Chattanooga Marriott Downtown - Close to Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Marriott Downtown provides a coffee shop/café, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a bar. The onsite restaurant, Table South Kitchen + Bar, features American cuisine. Free Wi-Fi in public areas is available to all guests, along with a 24-hour gym and a 24-hour business center.
Click on the map below to see current rates for hotels and vacation rentals near Bridgeport, Alabama.
There are no campgrounds within the park.
For a fun adventure check out Escape Campervans. These campervans have built in beds, kitchen area with refrigerators, and more. You can have them fully set up with kitchen supplies, bedding, and other fun extras. They are painted with epic designs you can't miss!
There are nearby campgrounds including:
Sasquatch Farm Campground - 8 miles from the park in South Pittsburg, TN
This campground offers RV and Tent Sites
Hawkins Pointe RV Park - 28 miles from the park in Rossville, GA
This campground offers RV Sites, dump station, internet, and fishing.
Greeter Falls Campground - 33 miles from the park in Altamont, TN
This campground offers RV and Tent Sites, hiking, and an outdoor theater.
Check out additional campgrounds in the area on Campspot.
Parks Near Russell Cave National Monument
Little River Canyon National Preserve - 55 miles
Chattahoochee National Recreation Area - 151 miles
Shiloh National Military Park - 197 miles
Freedom Riders National Monument - 115 miles
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park - 136 miles
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument - 144 miles
Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park - 156 miles
Check out all of the National Parks in the Southeastern United States