Forbidden Caverns history: Moonshiners’ refuge turned tourist attraction

The trails are well-lit with handrails when necessary.

The trails are well-lit with handrails when necessary (stock photo)

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After being closed for over a year, Forbidden Caverns has officially reopened in the Smokies.

If you think the 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 to 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, a massive, mountainous forest home to tribes of Native Americans.

Those natives are the ones who originally found the cave system known as Forbidden Caverns.

It was a place of refuge where the temperature is always 58 degrees, and a 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, 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.

Read Also: Legend or lawbreaker: The real story of Popcorn Sutton

The Forbidden Caverns offer a unique view of the massive internal workings of the intricate machine we live on called Earth, enhanced with lighting and music to set the mood (stock photo)

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’ 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 head in, hoping to find an arrowhead or a dinosaur bone, I had a really big imagination.

Our caves weren’t massive underground cathedrals like they have here in Tennessee and the stories of kids getting lost in the dark were enough to keep me from going too far in, but 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.

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, enhanced with lighting 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 a 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’.

Read Also: Is Ripley’s Aquarium worth the money: A review of Gatlinburg’s aquarium

Forbidden Caverns difficulty: Is the attraction safe?

The trails are well-lit with handrails when necessary.

The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable and, in my experience, able to adjust their tour to fit the mood of the group from educational to playful. 

It’s an easy tour, and perfectly safe.

Forbidden Caverns cost, ticket prices and hours

The caverns are closed Sundays, 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, 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.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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