Places We Protect

Unthanks Cave


A tiny, white isopod sits on the shiny surface of a wet rock.
Virginia Caves An isopod observed during a visit to Surgener Cave at Cedars Natural Area Preserve, Lee County, VA. © Angie Watland / TNC

Unthanks Cave is one of Virginia's largest caves.



One of Virginia's largest caves, Unthanks Cave has been placed on the Virginia Cave Commission's list of "significant caves" and rated as one of the state's top caves in the areas of biology, geology, hydrology, size and aesthetics.

Massive speleothems, such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns and rimstone, punctuate the bizarre, natural architecture of its seven miles of mapped passages. 

Unthanks Cave houses an unusually diverse animal community, comprised of cave-adapted species (troglodytes); among these are a number of rare invertebrate species endemic to only a handful of caves in southwestern Virginia.

There are also relatively large populations of Powell Valley planarian, the Southwest Virginia cave isopod, and a cave-adapted species of Carabid beetle. In addition, two Hydrobiid snails, which represent new species, have been collected from Unthanks Cave.

The cave was purchased by TNC in 1987 to protect the unique species that live there. Prior to the acquisition, the previous owner approved the formation of a committee to manage the cave. Several prominent biologists, such as Dr. John Holsinger of Old Dominion University and Dr. Robert Hershler of the Smithsonian Institution, initiated studies of the unusual cave fauna.

TNC transferred the the property to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in 2004, who manage the site as a Natural Area Preserve.

Unthanks Cave has been gated to protect the delicate natural communities and species which inhabit the cave passage. Access to the cave is limited to data collection and monitoring purposes. For more information contact DCR's Abingdon regional office 276-676-5673.



Access to the cave is limited to data collection and monitoring purposes.


Lee County, VA

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