Not every couple would want to spend their wedding night in a cave, but Jordan Shivers says the accommodations were ideal for her and her husband, Daniel, when they were married in 2015.
"He's a caving enthusiast," Jordan says of Daniel. "He loves caves."
And this is no ordinary cave. It's located at the end of a slough on Lewis Smith Lake, a 21,000-acre reservoir about an hour north of Birmingham, Alabama. From the water, it appears as an outcropping of rock on a rugged, wooded hillside, with a small cabin tucked beneath a section of the massive overhanging boulder.
From the driveway, there's nothing to see but a mailbox. An obscure address with no visible dwelling often confounds delivery drivers, says the owner, who has asked not to be identified to protect the cave's location. When he scouted the property before he bought it, he couldn't find anything but a clearing with a grove of cedars until a passing mail carrier directed him to the edge of a cliff. From there, he spied the lakefront dock, a waterfall and the tip of the cabin where the chimney clears the boulder.
"If I hadn't run into the mail lady, I would have gone back to Birmingham," he says.
Until the pandemic, when he stayed there more often, he used the cabin mostly as a weekend getaway. To showcase the cave's folkloric nature, he threw fantastical parties, he says, with an assortment of musicians, comedians, tarot card readers, fire breathers and fire dancers entertaining small crowds of his friends.
He hadn't considered it as an overnight destination for others until the honeymoon request from Jordan, who wanted to surprise her spelunker husband with a cave stay before they left for a wedding trip to Italy. The owner helped Jordan's then-roommate place hundreds of candles in the cave's crevices for the newlyweds' wedding night.
He remembers the candlelight was transformative. "It looked like an elfin palace in the woods," he says.
Jordan says the scene was just as she imagined it, comparing it to the Phantom's candlelit lair in "The Phantom of the Opera."
"I wish I had a video of my husband's reaction," she says. "I'll never forget it. He was dazed for a long time."
The cave offers about 1,500 square feet of sheltered space, with ceiling heights ranging from 20 feet in the back to 35 feet at the edge. It's filled with rustic wood furniture and steel fire pits. A chandelier hangs at the cave's highest point.
"The cabin is a relatively new feature, but the cave is the original natural shelter," the owner says.
This is the second cabin to have been built on the site, he says, after the original, built in 1960, was destroyed by fire. It's outfitted with modern conveniences, including full-size kitchen appliances, a TV with Roku, a king-size bed and a queen-size pullout sofa.
Such sizable pieces aren't easy to put in place. The owner says some deliveries arrive by boat and are brought up the hill from the dock. Some are carried down by hand, and some are lowered by cables from the top of the cliff. All of the construction materials for the cabin, from the lumber for the walls to the green metal roof, would have arrived the same way for the property's previous owners, he says.
He intended to keep the property in private use, but Jordan eventually convinced him to offer it as a short-term rental on sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo. She handles the administrative duties. In its first 12 months, reached in late December, it was booked 219 nights, she says, mostly for weekend nature retreats, birthday parties and marriage proposals.
"There are so many ways to enjoy it," she says.
They recommend the property for no more than four overnight guests. There are cautions for families with young children and visitors with mobility issues who may have trouble on the stairs, which descend about 30 feet from the clifftop. One set is made of wood. The other, made of stone, "looks like it was carved into the cliff by dwarfs," the owner says.
Despite its challenges, the property is often described as "magical" in visitor reviews.
Jordan Shivers says the Cave at Smith Lake will be open for concerts and dinner theater events this year. The schedule will be posted at smithlakecave.com.