Looking for something cool to do this summer when it’s hot out? Try a little cave exploring or spelunking – Tennessee has some wonderful and interesting caves – more than 8,350 caves!
In Sevierville, check out Forbidden Caverns, where visitors are entertained and educated. Walk past sparkling formations, towering natural chimneys, several grottos and a crystal-clear stream. The 30-35 minute drive from Gatlinburg is picturesque with a beautiful view of the Mt. LeConte range and English Mountain. Primitive farmhouses, a quaint grist mill-museum and a trout farm are among the many points of interest along the route.
“Special lighting effects, a stereophonic sound presentation and well-trained tour guides combine to make this a most enjoyable experience. The trails are well-lighted, with handrails at all necessary points.”
Local schools send their students here for field trips. Visitors see one of the largest walls of cave onyx – flowstone – known to exist, along with areas of stalactites and stalagmites with cool names including Valley of the Moon and Grotto of the Dead.
A stalagmite is a mound or tapering column that rises from the floor of a cave. Stalactites hang from the ceiling of a cave.
Check out these great photos!
“Hundreds of years ago, Forbidden Caverns was known to the Eastern Woodland Indians who roamed East Tennessee’s forests and mountains in search of good hunting grounds. The cave was used as a shelter in the winter and the cave river provided a constant supply of water. Scientists believe the source of the water to be an underground lake located beneath English Mountain, now famous for its spring water.”
“During the early twenties and until 1943, the cave was used to make moonshine. The constant water supply and the isolated location was ideal for Moonshiner’s to make their homemade whiskey. In 1964, a group of business and professional men began the planning and vast undertaking of opening this natural attraction to the public. After 3 years of excavation and development, Forbidden Caverns was opened in June 1967.”
The average guided tour is 55 minutes. There’s free parking, a souvenir shop, refreshments and a picnic area. Current prices are $20 for those over 13, $12 for children 5-12 and free for kids 4 and under.
Find Forbidden Caverns at 455 Blowing Cave Rd. Sevierville, (865) 453-5972.
“Carved inside the earth’s oldest mountain chain and estimated to be between twenty to thirty million years old, the Caverns are rich in history and lore.”
The “BigRoom” on one end of the 1.25 mile tour could almost fit a football stadium inside it. On the other half of the tour view Silver Falls – the tallest subterranean waterfall in the Eastern U.S. at 210 feet from top to bottom. Millions of formations are viewed along the walk.
The caverns were opened to the public for a year in 1931 and then closed because of the Depression. W.E. “Bill” Vananda and Harry Myers of Townsend played in the caves as children and later talked about opening the cave to the public while students at Maryville College in 1949.
“When Associated Press Pulitzer Prize Winning columnist Hal Boyle interviewed them about 1960, Myers recalled ‘We played Tom Sawyer in the main passage as kids. We explored it for three-quarters of a mile, sometimes wriggling on our bellies, and lighting our way with homemade lamps – pop bottles filled with kerosene.’”
How cool to be a kid at that time!
Vananda and Myers went to Alaska to work on construction jobs to raise the money to excavate and open the caves. “After four years of lonely toil – the two men had carried in hundreds of tons of sand, cement and gravel on their backs to build steps and passageways – they opened the cave in 1953.”
In 1954, the Big Room was discovered by members of the National Speleological Society. The big room is more than 400 feet long, 300 feet across, and 150 feet deep. Comparably, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky has maximum ceiling heights of only about 120 feet. The Big Room has stalagmites up to 24 feet high.
Vananda and his wife, Golden, and Myers and his wife, Nita, owned and operated the caverns until 1982. The Myers sold their interest in the Caverns to the Vanandas in 1982.
Visit Townsend and the Tuckaleechee Caverns at 825 Cavern Road, (865) 448-2274
Hours of Operation:
March 1st – March 31 10am – 5pm
April 1 – October 31 10am – 6 pm
November 1 – November 30th 10am – 5pm
Townsend is one of the three main gateways to Cades Cove, one of the most popular destinations in the Smokies. Read more about it in our blog. A 20-minute drive south of Townsend, A 20-minute drive south of Townsend, the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is worth every second spent there. The loop is closed to motor vehicle traffic each Wednesday, from June 17th through September 30th. A bike is a great way to get all the way around. If you didn’t bring one, visitors can rent one at Cades Cove Trading Co.
Wildlife, wildflowers, and wildly diverse hiking trails (for all ages and levels) are abundant here. Check out our blog post on Cades Cove. Bikes can be rented here if you didn’t bring one. There’s also horseback riding.
About Caves and caving – spelunking or potholing
When I was in middle school, I did an overnight camping/spelunking trip with a teacher and about 10 other kids. It was amazing and spooky and really fun! Some people make careers out of exploring caves – they are called speleologists and – here are some cool reasons why.
This from Easyscienceforkids.com:
Caves are dark and interesting. Caves are usually made when water runs over soft rock, such as limestone.The acid in the water slowly eats away the limestone, making a hole. The hole gets larger and larger. If the water finds a new path, the cave is left dry.
Caves can also be created when hot lava melts rocks, forming holes. Occasionally, the ceiling of a cave collapses, leaving a huge room or cavern – like The Big Rooms in the Tennessee caverns. Tidal waters along a coast also can carve out caves.
Caves provide shelter for many animals, such as bats, insects and hibernating mammals. Humans have used caves throughout history for burial grounds, shelter, and religious sites. Ancient treasures and artifacts have been found in caves all over the world. The maximum depth a cave can reach underground is about 9,800 feet – wow!
Some really cool animals live in caves.
Trogloxenes are temporary cave residents that freely move in and out of the cave. Bats (the only true flying mammal), bears, skunks, moths, and people are examples of trogloxenes.
Troglophiles can live in the dark zones of a cave, or they can also survive outside the cave. At times they will venture out in search of food. Earthworms, some beetles, cave crickets, frogs, salamanders, and some crustaceans such as crayfish fit this category.
Troglobites are the true cave dwellers and spend their entire lives in the cave. They cannot survive outside the caves. Among these are cave fish, cave crayfish, cave shrimp, isopods, amphipods, millipedes, some cave salamanders and insects.
“Most troglobites are white to pinkish in color. They lack pigment (color) because they have no need for protection from the sun’s rays or for camouflage to hide them from predators. Many have no eyes or eyes that are poorly developed. Eyes are not necessary because of the lack of light. Since eyes require food energy to maintain, and are very prone to injury, an eyeless cave fish can survive longer with less food than a fish that has eyes.” – OK, that’s just cool, right?
Ready to get caving and book a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, where there is so much to do?
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