People flock to the state of Tennessee for a variety of reasons: Nashville’s music scene, Memphis barbecue, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the eastern region. It’s also home to more than 10,000 caves. Most of the caves in Tennessee are in the eastern region where limestone dominates the landscape. Caves are a major source of tourism for the state. Many of the caves are open to explorers via tours, some are protected and have no public access. Many of the caves in Tennessee host special events, including concerts, movies, or overnight expeditions.
In this article we’re going to look at 8 of Tennessee’s most popular caves for tourists, and tell you how you can learn more about them.
8 Caves in Tennessee
1. Ruby Falls
Ruby Falls is located inside Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. The breathtaking underground attraction has been open to the public since 1929. Tours begin by descending 26 stories via a glass-front elevator. While the stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave formations are wondrous, the underground waterfall is one of the site’s highlights. The waterfall is the tallest and deepest you can visit within the United States.
Ruby Falls has beautiful above-ground landscapes, as well. Visitors enjoy hiking, exploring, and sweeping views of the mountains. Outlooks include Blue Heron Overlook. Cave walks are just under 1 mile and last, on average, one hour and 20 minutes.
2. Big Bone Cave
Location: Rock Island
Big Bone Cave is a favorite for people fascinated with prehistoric creatures and American history, alike. If you’re wondering about the name, it’s from the big bones discovered there! Bones of the giant ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) were discovered in 1811. In 1971, the cave revealed bones from a pleistocene-era jaguar (Panthera once augusta).
History buffs enjoy the well-preserved artifacts left over from the 19th Century. Mining took place within the cave during the early 19th Century and during the Civil War. Water pipes, catwalks, ladders, and ore carts remain on display within the cave.
Big Bone Cave has just under 10 miles of passage. Above ground, 400 acres of woods and past agricultural land greet guests.
3. Cumberland Caverns
Cumberland Caverns isn’t a cave, per se, but a caving system. Between the 19th Century and mid-20th Century, the various caves were adjoined by artificial openings, creating a massive exploration opportunity for visitors.
Cumberland Caverns not only hosts short tours, but also overnight tours and live music. The overnight tours allow you to explore the cave, sleep inside overnight, and enjoy breakfast the next day.
Live music events in the cave, Cumberland Caverns Live, allows visitors to enjoy national touring acts from 333-feet below ground. The cave environment provides almost perfect acoustics naturally.
4. Forbidden Caverns
Forbidden Caverns is located in the tourist-centric area of Sevierville in the Smoky Mountains. This easy-to-walk cave is well-lit with many handrails, making it an ideal destination for all types of visitors. The park opened to visitors in 1967 and has remained a travel destination since.
Native Americans used this cave system as shelter during winter. The flint throughout the system served as an infinite source of material for tools, including arrowheads and knives. During the early 20th Century, moonshiners used the hidden and protected cave environment to hone their craft.
5. Worley’s Cave
Location: Bluff City (near Bristol)
Worley’s Cave is natural — you won’t find lighting or handrails while exploring. For this reason, Worley’s remains a destination for families and adventurers looking for a more rugged spelunking adventure, but still accessible.
Camping in the cave is permitted – just bring a tarp to lay your sleeping bags on! The cave remains 55-degrees Fahrenheit all year, and is open during every season. The cave offers 4,000 feet of caverns and tunnels.
6. The Caverns
Location: Grundy County
The Caverns is another cave-turned-music-venue and is the site for the Emmy-winning series Bluegrass Underground. The underground system offers visitors 8,000 feet of passages to explore. The cave is accessible for all, with gently sloped floors and plenty of space for mobility chairs.
Visitors are treated to spectacular cave formations during the guided tours. In addition to its underground concert venue, the above-ground property features an amphitheater. The cave is open year-round and maintains a temperature of 59-degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
7. Tuckaleechee Caverns
Tuckaleechee Caverns is located within the Smoky Mountains. Visitors are treated to an impressive variety of sights, including Silver Falls. Silver Falls drops 210 feet from top to bottom, making it the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States.
Tuckaleechee Caverns is a beloved destination for visitors due to its 1.25-mile round-trip exploration. The cave is open from March through the end of November and tours are available. A highlight for visitors is viewing the world’s “most sensitive seismic station.” This 24/7 station transmits across the world, including to the U.S. military, Geneva, Vienna, and the Pentagon.
8. Cherokee Caverns
Cherokee Caverns first opened to the public in 1929, but the caverns are over 300 million years old. In the 1940s, the cave was well advertised and hosted numerous visitors, with celebrities performing shows in front of spectators.
Over the years, the cave and property changed owners and went through numerous renovations. The trails and lighting system were constantly improved, leading to today’s version of the cave.
Cherokee Caverns hosts tours and, on occasion, special events. Special events include Movie in the Cave and Christmas in the Cave. Seating is provided in the media area. Like other caves, the temperature stays constant year-round. Cherokee Caverns remains 58-degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.