7 Best Caves In The Smoky Mountains You’ll Want to Explore

If you are looking to engage in some adventurous activity during the summer when it is unbearably hot outside, you should consider exploring caves in the Smoky Mountains!

Caves in Gatlinburg are famous all over America because sightseer companies conduct thorough tours of the cave, providing exploration opportunities to the visitors.

The most renowned caves are present deep within the Smoky Mountains and are a sanctuary for a variety of plants and animals. Since the caves in the Smoky Mountains are one of the natural preserves in Tennessee, the government takes great care to protect them and keep them clean. 

Caves in Gatlinburg offer an ideal opportunity for inquisitive tourists to explore mountains and analyze gorgeous cave formations formed millions of years ago. These caves are a respite for locals and tourists alike. You can even create extraordinary videos for your social media or Youtube and share your experience online.

Although some people worry that caves in the Smoky Mountains are unsafe for human exploration, many others prefer to spend time here to break the monotony of their daily routines.

Read the article below to learn more about the best caves in the Smoky Mountains that you will want to visit on your next trip.

Most Famous Caves in the Smoky Mountains

alum cave trail
Image: Patrick Mueller

Alum Cave Trail

The Alum Cave Trail is perhaps the most famous trail for hiking in the Smoky Mountains because it offers an impeccable view of stunning landscapes and natural geological identifications.

It also provides good physical exertion because it features a well-maintained trail. People claim that while visiting the Smokies if you only have time to undertake one hiking journey, you should consider this trail!

What to Expect?

The trail features a journey of 2.5 miles to Alum Cave Bluffs. It then continues for another 2.5 miles to reach the summit of Mount LeConte.

During this beautiful yet competitive hike, you experience a variation of 1200 feet in elevation, which makes the journey both formidable and rewarding. The trail spans over an area with dense natural vegetation while crossing through bridges and streams.

During the initial one mile, the slope is gradual, providing an easy warm-up for the upcoming steeper sections.

The first natural landmark you witness is Arch Rock, a gigantic accumulation of black slate that created a stunning natural arch with time. The next milestone in this hike is Inspiration Point, offering sensational views from an altitude of 4,700 feet.

Ultimately you arrive at Alum Cave Bluff before reaching the midway point on the trail.

Forbidden Caverns

forbidden caverns
Image: Forbidden Caverns

One of the most intriguing caves in Smoky Mountain that you will wish to see is Forbidden Caverns. This cave may not be a part of the national park, but it is a fascinating natural cave, and you are free to explore inside.

The entire tour requires only 55 minutes and you have access to free parking, so you do not have to worry about your transport. There is a souvenir shop where you can buy gifts for people back home.

Refreshments are also available abundantly, so you can nibble on snacks along the way. There is also a picnic area where you can relax once the tour concludes.

What to Expect?

Forbidden Caverns offer a guided tour to all visitors, so they know exactly where to go to make the most of their journey. A guide leads you through the caverns and teaches you about the history of the Smoky Mountains.

The caverns feature a lake inside and plenty of rock formations and props. Forbidden Caverns are teeming with many stalactites, which project from the ceiling, and stalagmites, which grow from the ground. The process of formation of these projections is very gradual.

Each inch of the rocks requires at least 100 or 150 years to develop. Bear this in mind when you visit Forbidden Caverns, so you can admire the fact that the stalagmites and stalactites date back thousands of years.

The caverns also have special lighting effects, which make the rock formations sparkle and gleam. They also feature stereophonic sound systems to provide you with a memorable and enjoyable experience.

The trails have proper lighting and sturdy handrails at all essential points to guarantee the safety of all tourists. Tall natural chimneys blowing smoke and grottos are also present at various intervals to add to your fascination.

The Bear Cave

the bear cave

People consider the natural formation of the Bear Cave as one of the most exquisite features of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is present on the outer border of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and has an abundance of Bear droppings inside, earning it the name Bear Cave!

However, efforts are constantly underway to keep the cave spic and span because the cave is a haven for several new species, which scientists are discovering and adding to the world’s knowledge. Scientists have made incredible discoveries in the Bear Cave. 

Recently, scientists stumbled across a new life form in this cave that provided an insight into how life first evolved underwater and then adjusted to survive on land.

This creature resembles a hydra-like anemone and obtains nutrients by feeding on green algae.

What to Expect?

While scouring through the Bear Cave, tourists have access to luxurious cabins which they can rent to ensure they have proper rest and comfort after they finish exploring for the day.

This provides an opportunity to get close to nature without forgoing the convenience of a warm, comfortable, and modern retreat. Each cabin is a spacious 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom rental property tucked between trees and adjacent to a clear mountain creek.

The cabin has a big deck featuring a hot tub where you can quietly relax after a long day of skiing or hiking. There is also a gas grill where you can conveniently cook dinner.

The cabin also has an outdoor fire pit where the entire family can gather as night approaches and roast marshmallows while observing the beauty and solitude of the wilderness. Hence the Bear Cave is an ideal option for those who value their comfort and want to enjoy being close to nature.

Tuckaleechee Caverns

tuckaleechee caverns
Image: Matt Hecht

According to the non-profit organization National Caves Association, some of the highest-grossing natural caves in the Eastern United States are the Tuckaleechee Caverns.

These are located in the charming town of Townsend, TN, and are a part of the oldest mountain chain on earth. People speculate that they are at least twenty to thirty million years old and have a rich historical origin. A traveler hunting for gold stumbled upon the Tuckaleechee caverns in the early 1900s.

However, instead of seeing gems and gold, he noticed thousands of rock formations called stalactites and stalagmites projecting from the roof and floor. These exquisite rock formations occur over thousands of years.

What to Expect?

Tuckaleechee Caverns excite people because they provide a glimpse into the lives of prehistoric people. They still house the remains of people who lived in these caves ages ago.

An archaeologist discovered weapons, animal bones, and pottery in the Tuckaleechee Caverns proving that they were a shelter and hunting ground for people.

The caverns also offer a peek into more recent history. Cave tours are open every half hour, and one complete tour takes only 45 minutes. Each journey includes a three-dimensional movie and a live show to entertain the crowd.

From the entrance, a flight of windy stairs leads guests to the Great Hall, which is truly a wonder. It has a 25 feet high ceiling and is over 100 feet long. It conducts visitors through four chambers, one of which the Confederate soldiers used after their arrest during the American Civil War. 

The Big Room

Another remarkable feature of the Tuckaleechee Caverns is the Big Room which members of the National Speleological Society discovered in 1954.

The Big Room bests most other caves in America because of the magnitude of its size. Its length is more than 400 feet and spans 300 feet across and 150 feet deep.

In contrast, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky has a maximum height reaching only 120 feet. Likewise, the stalagmites in Big Room are also breathtaking since they are up to 24 feet high.

Gregory’s Cave

gregory's cave
Image: Giles Douglas

This is a famous underground cave located in Cades Cove. Gregory’s Cave was the first ever cave in the national park that was open for commercial use.

In 1925 the Gregory family that owned the cave, decided to allow the public to explore the region. They started conducting guided tours through the cave.

The cave entrance is unique in dimensions. It is 4 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The cave interior is a single elongated tunnel ranging from 20 to 55 feet in width and 15 feet in height. There are several side tunnels leading into the cave as well.

One of the side passageways bears pick marks along the interior wall, indicating mining activity from the early 1800s.

What to Expect?

For most of the year, the deepest parts of Gregory’s Cave have stagnant pools of water. When the water recedes you find the cave full of stalagmites and stalactites.

Moreover, at the back of the cave is an image that archaeologists view as an American Indian petroglyph depicting a wild turkey. According to a Park Service document, this image is the only visual proof of the use of caves as shelters by Native Americans in prehistoric times. 

The people also view Gregory’s cave as a biological haven housing multiple species of salamanders, frogs, and invertebrates. A type of crustacean found nowhere else in the world lives only in Gregory’s cave.

During the winter season, this cave becomes a home for more than 1000 bats, which is why it is no longer open for public use. Now you need to seek special permission to enter the cave.

Bull Cave

bull cave

Bull Cave has a depth of 924 feet, making it the deepest cave in the southeastern region of the United States. It is also one of the many exciting features of Cades Cove.

The cave derived its name from its past purpose. People used the road passing through this cave to transport cattle, and once during an accident, a bull fell into the cave, and the name stuck.

Rainbow Falls Cave

Most people are aware of the mesmerizing beauty of Rainbow Falls, or they have experienced hiking to this waterfall, but what many people do not know about is the Rainbow Falls Cave.

This small waterfall pours into a cave present underground along the Schoolhouse Gap Trail. 

What to Expect?

As you begin the hike to Rainbow Falls, about 1 mile into it, you will arrive at a junction in the trail. You will then encounter a sign saying “Schoolhouse Gap Trail” and “Turkey pen Ridge Trail”.

When you venture past these signs, you will notice an unmarked trail on the left, leading to White Oak Sinks. When you walk on this trail for another mile, you will come across another junction.

Turn right at this point to reach Rainbow Falls Cave. You will be stunned as you encounter a forty feet tall beautiful waterfall plunging into an underground cave instead of a pool.

Caves In The Smoky Mountains – Conclusion

There are numerous caves in the Smoky Mountains for you to explore. Each cave has unique characteristics differentiating it from others, so you will never be bored if you opt to spend your next vacation in Gatlinburg. There will be lots of activities for you to engage in with your whole family, making this the most memorable vacation.

Depending on the activities each cave has to offer, you can plan your stay accordingly. Forbidden Caverns and Tuckaleechee Caverns provide guided tours for those interested in adventure and exploration. Likewise, Alum Cave Trail is a short trek taking tourists to one of the most picturesque areas of the Great Smoky Mountains.

There are many exquisite sites to explore, like waterfalls and rock formations in caves in the Smoky Mountains. Therefore, next time you plan on going for a vacation, be sure to consider Gatlinburg for an unforgettable experience.