Smoky Mountain Caves: 5 Caves in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Area

An underground river

An underground river at Tuckaleechee Caverns (photo by Windblown Photography/

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I thought I had the makings of a future spelunker when I was a kid.

While I’ve always been afraid of heights, I’ve never been bothered by small, dark places.

In fact, the small limestone caves in the Southern Indiana woods in which we were free to roam often served as places that fired the imagination. I pictured Native Americans or outlaws using them for shelter or a place to hide out. 

But my bravery only went so far.

I also was fairly cautious. I was never out of sight of the light. Adventure was one thing, being lost underground is something else. 

I loved the idea of the massive caves when we moved to East Tennessee, home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

From the Lost Sea in Monroe County to the Tuckaleechee Caverns, where a bunch of my friends took summer jobs, there was a magical world underneath the ground just waiting to be explored. 

While there are a lot of local attractions and fun things to choose from in the Smokies, there are few quite as breathtaking as the natural formations found in our underground caves.

Now, as I’m older, I tell people if you’re coming to see the beauty of the mountains, you haven’t really seen it all until you see what’s hidden below.

With this in mind, here are some of our favorite places to see the splendor of the world under the mountain or glimpse a world we’re not allowed to see in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.   

Read Also: Forbidden Caverns history: Moonshiners’ refuge turned tourist attraction

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5. Gregory’s Cave

In the days before the national park, a man named J.J. Gregory owned some land in Cades Cove. On that land, or perhaps more accurately under it, was a beautiful cave.

Gregory, being an enterprising businessman, charged 50 cents for cave tours and went so far as to add wooden walkways and electric lights. The cave may also have been used for saltpeter mining in the early 1800s.

But John, you might ask, how can I see this magnificent cave system under Cades Cove?

Easy. Be a scientist.

Entrance to the cave is permitted by the National Park Service and exploration is usually limited to scientific endeavors.

However, if you can find the mouth of the cave, which is in the general area of the John Oliver Cabin, you can see past the gates and down into the cave fairly well. There’s also a nice picnic area there.

Lost Mine Falls
While you can’t fully explore this cave due to safety concerns, you can take a peek inside at FoxFire Adventure Park (photo courtesy of FoxFire Adventure Park)

4. Lost Mine Falls

The lost Sweden Furnace Iron Mine is located behind a waterfall on the Foxfire Family Adventure Park property in Sevierville. You can’t get into that one either.

However, in addition to offering ziplining, Foxfire – for a fee – allows you to hike around Prosperity Mountain. One of the trails includes a look down into the abandoned mine. It’s not exploring a massive underground cavern, but it’s still pretty cool. 

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website.

Read Also: The lost iron mine hidden behind a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains

Alum cave trail
The ascent to Alum Cave Bluff (photo by Theron Stripling III/

3. Alum Cave

Located along the Alum Cave Trail on the hike up to Mt. LeConte, the Alum Cave is one of the more unique sights in the Smokies.

In truth, “cave” is probably a generous descriptor. Alum Cave is really just a giant space where the trail cuts under a humongous bluff.

The first recorded reference to the cave goes back to the 1830s when a trio of farmers tried to claim 50 acres of land that included the cave and its salt deposits.

The Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company was formed to mine the cave where alum, magnesium sulfate, saltpeter, magnesia and copperas were harvested.

The minerals, easily accessible, were depleted in less than a decade.

Today, Alum Cave serves as a destination point for hikers who don’t want to go the distance to Mt. LeConte.

The trailhead is 8.6 miles on Newfound Gap Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center or 20 miles from Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina.

A sign and two large parking areas mark the trailhead. It is 2.5 miles one way to Alum Cave Bluffs. Alum Cave Bluffs Trail continues past Alum Cave Bluffs for a total of 5.0 miles to just below the summit of Mt. LeConte, according to the National Park Service. 

There is an elevation change of 1,200 feet. The trail is steep and follows the edge of the ridge in sections.

a path inside forbidden caverns
Forbidden Caverns offer guided tours on lighted walkable paths (photo by digidreamgrafix/

2. Forbidden Caverns

The excellently named underground destination sounds like something out of Tolkien novel.

Forbidden Caverns, located in Sevierville, is a spectacular beauty worthy of the world of dwarves and hobbits and elves and goblins. Walk past dazzling rock formations and wonder at the eons it took to form the towering natural chimneys or grottos.

The tour guides offer interesting local history and insight on your nearly one-hour tour.

The trails are lighted and handrails are placed at appropriate areas. Additional special lighting effects, designed to enhance the experience, have also been added.

It is weird, but I always marvel at just how clear and cold the underground streams are there.

And speaking of a chill, it might be a good idea to bring a light jacket along for the journey – especially in the winter months.

The caverns are open April 1 to November 30 and are closed on Thursdays and Sundays.

At the time of this writing, tickets are $20 for adults 13 and up and $12 for children 5 to 12.

PS: Don’t forget to check out the gift shop before you depart.

A waterfall at tuckaleechee caverns
An underground waterfall at Tuckaleechee Caverns (photo by Nature’s Charm/

1. Tuckaleechee Caverns

Honestly, with the top two spots, it’s your personal preference.

Tuckaleechee Caverns, located in Townsend, gets the hometown first spot.

It is a place that I remember fondly.

It’s hard not to enter the Caverns and simply stand in awe. The reality of how the 20 to 30 million-year-old caverns and rock formations came to be is unfathomable.

The Big Room – an enormous room featuring 24-foot stalagmites – could nearly house a football stadium.

And Silverfalls, the tallest subterranean waterfall in the Eastern U.S., is a sight you won’t soon forget. But you should be aware, this guided tour is a 1.25-mile round trip hike.

The caverns are open from March 1 to November 30 with hours varying by the season. At the time of this writing, tickets are $20 for adults, $9 for children 5 to 11 and free for children under 5. 

Do you have a favorite underground spot in The Smokies? Are you planning a Smoky Mountain cave exploration next time you’re in town? Have you visited any of the caves mentioned in this article? Was it an enjoyable experience? Let us know in the comments.

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for LLC – the parent company of and

2 thoughts on “Smoky Mountain Caves: 5 Caves in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Area”

  1. I had the privilege of visiting the Tuckaleeche Caverns a couple of years ago and just loved it! So amazing to see, and the guide gave an outstanding tour, complete with introducing us to some little cave dwelling salamanders! So cool! I highly recommend!!!

  2. I love the “Lost Sea” is Sweetwater Tennessee. Great tour and history. Long walk but it’s worth it.

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