There is nothing more satisfying than the crunch of gravel beneath your tires. Perfect terrain, scenic views, and trails with just the right amount of mud is what North Alabama Jeep Club found on their trip to Tate’s Cove. What more could you ask for? 26 miles out from Scottsboro Alabama, in the heart of James D Martin Skyline Wildlife Management Area, lies the hilly wooded trails of Tate’s Cove Road and two secluded caves. Lush landscape filled with tall trees sporting a variety of colorful leaves that are made especially beautiful during the autumn season. The foliage isn’t the only bit of nature to observe; the wildlife in the area is abundant as well.
Tate’s Cove Road
It’s no surprise that the dirt and gravel paths of Tate’s Cove Road are so tempting. They provide a scenic ride that’s still smooth enough for a stock Jeep or 4WD vehicle. However, it’s important to know when these roads are open to traffic. Zone B is typically open to vehicular traffic from the end of September to the beginning of May. During this time, drivers have the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful three or four-hour ride through its trails. Do note that these trails are unmarked, and while it is an easy ride, true beginners should head out with someone who knows the area or who has experience driving off-road. Additionally, it’s recommended for someone in your group has a winch. Whether on Tate’s Cove Road or other, rockier paths, getting stuck is more a probability than a possibility. A good winch can get you out of a tight situation and is recommended for your first upgrade.
About Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)
Also important to be aware of is the area’s status as a WMA (Wildlife Management Area). Special rules and regulations apply when visiting these areas. One of the key reasons these trails are closed at certain times of the year is to ensure a reduction in disturbances for new wildlife nesting in the area, carrying offspring, or taking care of their young. Additionally, WMA staff will take this time to make necessary repairs on roads. Certain areas may even be closed off at certain times during hunting season to allow for controlled burnings that need to take place. While drivers are typically free to head out into these areas during certain times of the year, it is still important to check the AL. WMA Page for the James D Martin Skyline Wildlife Management Area before planning your trip to ensure it is open and review the rules for visiting these areas.
Information for all Alabama Wild Life Management: Look for James D Martin Skyline Wildlife Management Area on the AL. WMA Page for Times, Rules and a Map with park boundaries. Zone B is typically open to vehicular traffic from the end of September to the beginning of May.
Important Information About Caves
As is the case with Off-Road Clubs, the Caving Clubs or Grotto must follow certain guidelines to stay safe and ensure the protection of these beautiful caves and any wildlife they may contain. Having an experienced caver or guide with you can help to ensure you do not become trapped, which happens periodically in these caves. A proper guide can also help prevent you from entering a cave where bats are hibernating. Waking bats up from their hibernation may cause them to leave their cave and end their hibernation too early. Also, you need to beware of White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that grows on bats during hibernation which wakes the bats resulting in their death.
Organizations such as the Caving or Grottos (NSS) Club work to ensure all guidelines are met, which prevents caves from being closed due to improper usage. The following two links can give you a starting point for learning what you need prior to entering any cave, at Tate’s Cove Road or elsewhere. It’s always best to contact a local Caving or Grottos (NSS) Club for specific information about the caves in your area.
- The National Speleological Society (NSS)
- Find a Local Caving or Grottos (NSS) Club – We Explore! We Study! We Protect!
Visiting the Caves at Tate’s Cove Road
If you plan to head to these two incredible caves in the area, note that the area where you park to hike to the caves has a tight turnaround. It’s best to have someone go ahead to check it out. Upon visiting Tate’s Cove Road, you can find the first cave just a short hike away from the trail. After parking your vehicle, take your time as you make your way to the cave. This hike is rocky and can be challenging for many individuals. Items you should be sure to bring include a hiking pole and hiking boots. Additionally, be sure to wear a red shirt or hat to be more visible. You can only visit the caves during hunting season, and red will ensure better visibility so you are not accidentally injured. Additionally, be sure to stay with your group at all times.
When you visit the cave or even look at the available pictures, which were taken after sunset, you will see the cave mouth is enormous. There is a lot to see at the cave’s entrance; however, venture much further inside and you will be in complete darkness. You will need plenty of flashlights and headlamps to explore the cave safely. After entering, you will be greeted with beautifully complex formations and overhead views. However, note that there are some wet and slippery areas here. Having proper footwear such as hiking boots allow you to maintain safer footing while exploring. Most injuries in caves are from falling.
These caves are incredible. Their unique qualities and natural beauty can entice any visitor to explore deeper. However, this is not advised, as they only become more dangerous the deeper you go. Even with an experienced guide, it is possible to become trapped or injured in the cave’s depths.
Planning Your Visit
If you’re seeking an amazing ride offering an off-road adventure all Jeep owners can enjoy, whether they are stock beginners or experienced, consider Tate’s Cove Road and its caves. However, remember to plan ahead. Do your research, read up on the rules, and have the gear you’ll need for the adventure you have in mind. When that’s done, you can bring a group – or even just a few buddies – to enjoy and explore the amazing scenery. And remember, be safe and respect the caves so others can enjoy them too.
We would like to give thanks to Paul Mclain of North Alabama Jeep Club for helping us in gathering the information to write this article. We would also like to thank Milton Polsky of Jackson County Grotto in Scottsboro, AL for voicing their concerns and sharing with us the dangers of entering a cave without an experienced caver.
Tate’s Cove Rd and Caves in James D Martin Skyline Wildlife Management Area
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