7 Tennessee Caves to Explore
With more than 8,000 documented caves, Tennessee offers plenty of spelunking opportunities for both novice and experienced cave explorers. In fact, Tennessee is home to more caves than any other state, according to the National Caves Association.
Most of Tennessee’s caves line up along the west side of the Appalachian mountain chain in East Tennessee, though caves can also be found sprinkled around Middle Tennessee. While many are located on private property and can be explored only with permission from the owner, several others are open to the public for tours.
A cool 58 degrees year round, Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville offers a welcome respite from the summer heat – that is, if you don’t mind keeping company with American brown bats, cave spiders, crickets, frogs and plenty of slippery salamanders.
Opened to the public in 1967, the limestone cave attracts nearly 70,000 visitors annually during its eight-month season, which runs from April through November.
“People are intrigued by things they haven’t seen – it creates mystery,” says Bob Hounshell, general manager of Forbidden Caverns. “Caves especially attract nature lovers and people who like the out-of-doors.”
Forbidden Caverns draws its name from an ancient Indian legend that tells of the Indian Princess Nutah, who was trapped in the cave. When the princess died, Indians believed angry gods closed the gates to the mountain forever.
A tour of Forbidden Caverns leads visitors 600 feet below the mountain and reveals striking formations. Huge stalactites hang from the cave ceiling, and giant stalagmites grow upward from the floor.
Though the formations entice visitors to touch, touching generally isn’t allowed, because oil from human fingers causes the centuries-old formations to stop growing. “Our goal is to preserve, protect and keep the cave as pristine as possible while letting people enjoy it,” Hounshell says.