If you think the Great Smoky Mountains are beautiful above ground, you should see what’s below.
Tennessee’s vast network of caves is hardly unknown. There are tourist locations all through East Tennessee promising underground adventure and sightseeing, but it is often, I think, under-appreciated.
Forbidden Caverns – located near the Sevier-Cocke County line – is one of several ways for visitors in the Smoky Mountains to gain an understanding of what’s going on under the mountain.
The history of the Forbidden Caverns
Before East Tennessee became the moonshine and pancake capital of the world, it was just a place to live. It was a massive, mountainous forest home to tribes of Native Americans, specifically the Eastern Woodland Indians.
Those natives are the ones who originally found the cave system known as the Forbidden Caverns.
It was a place of refuge and shelter where the temperature is always 58 degrees. The clear stream provided unlimited access to clean water from a lake under what is now known as English Mountain.
It must have been a paradise for those brave enough to explore the caverns and risk getting lost.
The caverns’ supply of flint was used by the natives for making tools like arrowheads, knives and scrapers.
Later, from the early 1920s to 1943, the caverns provided sanctuary to moonshiners looking to avoid the prying eyes of revenuers.
In 1964, the cavern was converted to its current form, a tourist destination offering a glimpse at the world under the East Tennessee mountains.
Is the Forbidden Caverns worth it?
Although I’ve never been brave enough to become a full-fledged spelunker, I’ve always loved the romantic idea of caves.
A voracious reader, I could imagine Bilbo Baggins’s dwarves toiling away just further down the path or “Journeying to the Center of the Earth” like Jules Verne imagined.
Growing up in limestone-rich Southern Indiana, there were always little caves for kids like me to duck their heads in. I had a really big imagination and was always hoping to find an arrowhead or a dinosaur bone.
Our caves weren’t massive underground cathedrals like they have here in Tennessee. However, the stories of kids getting lost in the dark were enough to keep me from going too far in.
In truth, the idea of exploring a cave and its unique wonders and rock formations remains appealing to me all these years later.
If you’re like me, then the idea of a completely safe and guided cave tour is appealing.
There are many options in East Tennessee and Forbidden Caverns is among the best.
How long does it take to tour Forbidden Caverns?
The tour itself takes about an hour and there’s no real secret to what you’ll see; underground caverns and rock formations that have been eons in the making.
It’s a unique view of the massive internal workings of the intricate machine we live on called Earth. It offers special lighting effects and music to set the mood.
There are grottos and crystal clear mountain streams as well as towering natural chimneys and everything else you’d expect underground.
It’s the perfect change of pace for a family on a cotton-candy fueled mindless vacation of go-kart tracks and mini-golf.
This is educational and, if you’re of a certain mindset, inspirational. And as long as your tour group isn’t over-the-top rambunctious, it’s peaceful, like being in an aquarium.
So yes dear reader, it’s worth it.
Forbidden Caverns difficulty: Is the attraction safe?
The trails are well-lit with handrails at all necessary points when necessary.
The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable. And in my experience, they are able to adjust the tour to fit the mood of the group from educational to playful.
It’s an easy tour, and perfectly safe.
I suggest bringing a light jacket. The temperatures are lower in the cavern.
Forbidden Caverns cost, ticket prices and hours
The caverns are closed Sundays and Thanksgiving Day, as well as from December through March.
April through November, the caverns open at 10 am and the last tour leaves at 5 pm. The tour takes about an hour.
Ticket prices range from $12-$20, and children 4 and under are free.
The Forbidden Caverns are located at 455 Blowing Cave Rd in Sevierville, Tenn. Visit the Forbidden Caverns website for specific attraction information.