If exploring caves is the way you like to spend your downtime, head south to Tennessee. The state is home to more caverns and more caves than anywhere else in the US. Unless you have an incredible amount of free time on your hands, you'll be hard pushed to visit all 8350 caves that have been registered so far. Fortunately, you don't have to. If you want to visit the best of the best, these are the 10 most awesome caves in Tennessee.
10. Dunbar Cave
Back in the 1940s, Dunbar Cave was the site of regular music concerts and festivals. It's not anymore, but it's still an intriguing place to visit. Set in the picturesque Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, the cave ranks as the 280th largest cave complex in the world, with an interior that stretches an impressive 8.067 miles inward. The primary reason to visit is the 30 drawings and etchings that decorate its walls. According to historians, they were created between 700 to 1300 CE during the Mississippian era. Watch out for the incredibly detailed petroglyph of a Mississippian supernatural warrior in particular.
9. Forbidden Caverns
As your-rv-lifestyle.com writes, Tennessee might be blessed with more caves and caverns than it knows what to do with, but Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville is unique in its luminosity. Its history as a home to Eastern Woodland Indians and later, to moonshiners trying to evade the teetotal tyranny of prohibition is a decent enough story, and its natural wonders (including a stunning wall of rare cave onyx) are things of beauty, but it's the breathtaking half mile light show that really brings it to life.
8. Tuckaleechee Caverns
How does the thought of exploring the world's oldest mountain chain strike you? If you answered " a lot," pop on your sturdiest boots and head for Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend. According to historians, the caverns (which are affectionately known as the “Greatest Site Under the Smokies") date back between twenty and thirty million years. The passing of time doesn't seem to have diminished their charm though, and today, they offer an incredibly exciting experience that encompasses rock formations, cavernous subterranean rooms, and one of the tallest underground waterfalls in the U.S.
7. Appalachian Caverns
if history floats your boat, don't miss a visit to Appalachian Caverns. According to archaeologists, Appalachian Caverns were first used by Early Woodland Native Americans over 1300 years ago. Excavations have turned up pottery fragments, arrowheads, and burnt firewood dating back to 675 A.D. In later years, it served as a hideout for troops and a makeshift hospital during wars, and a moonshine distillery during prohibition. Tours are available, but be warned - some of them can be challenging.
6. Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Parade magazine once called Raccoon Mountain Caverns one of the best caves in the United States. They had a point. Famous for its fossils, its resident wildlife (keep your eyes peeled for salamander and a unique breed of spider known as the Crystal Caverns Cave Spider, which so far, has only ever been found inside the cave), and its astonishing collection of stalactites and stalagmites, it's an incredible place to visit. Tours are available, but be prepared to suit up in helmets, pads, and gloves before you head off - the cave is many things, but possessed of lighting and properly maintained trails it isn't. If you want to turn your visit into an overnighter, you'll find a very decent campground with water and electric sites just a short walk from the cave.
5. Tuckaleechee Caverns
Tuckaleechee Caverns is an immensely impressive series of caverns set near the town of Townsend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its chief highlight is the Big Room, a cavern that, as its name suggests, is absolutely huge, spanning 300 feet in width and 150 feet in height. The display of stalagmites and stalactites is particularly memorable. Other attractions to watch out for include the Elephant Rock, a majestic lump of stone created by a towering 200 foot cascading waterfall.
4. Lost Sea
Lost Sea promises an adventure of a very different kind. Named as one of Tennessee's most unmissable caves by USA Today, visitors will be treated to a tour of one of the largest underground lakes in the country. Once you arrive, a guide will escort you through the caverns to the lake. From there, you'll hop aboard a glass-bottomed boat to enjoy fascinating glimpses of the underwater animals that call the lake home.
3. Ruby Falls Cave
Ruby Falls was discovered by fluke rather than design. An engineer by the name of Leo Lambert stumbled on a cave opening while working on Lookout Mountain. When he ventured inside, he found a hitherto undiscovered cavern complete with a dramatic subterranean waterfall. He promptly named the cave after his wife and set about turning it into a major attraction. Today, it's one of Chattanooga's biggest tourist draws, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
2. Bell Witch Cave
Fancy a fright? Then take the advice of Only in Your State and head for Bell Witch Cave. It might not be the biggest cave in Tennessee, but its haunted history might well be the creepiest. According to legend, it's named after the Bell Witch, a nasty piece of work with a penchant for torturing kiddies. Some say she's the spirit of Kaite Batts, a mean old woman who swore on her deathbed to haunt her neighbor John Bell after he cheated her in a land purchase. She's now said to hang out at the Bell Witch Cave, a gloomy little cavern that features a host of artifacts taken from the Bell's original home. If you're a fan of the paranormal, it's a must-visit.
1. Cumberland Cavern
Named as one of the top Tennessee caves to visit by Williamson Source, Cumberland Cavern is a huge network of caves and underground passages that promise a thrilling few hours of subterranean adventure. With scores of underground waterfalls, glistening pools, and awe-inspiring rock formations, it's a true feast for the eyes. Daily walking tours and caving tours are available, or you could even try one of the slightly eerie overnight adventures if you prefer.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson