Is There an Underground City that Lies Beneath Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains?

the john oliver cabin next to an underground city in turkey

An article published on April Fool's Day cited the existence of an underground city in the Smoky Mountains, similar to the one pictured above in Turkey (photo by Roberto Romanin/shutterstock.com)

While there are plenty of hidden caves and caverns in the Smoky Mountains, none have thus far produced an underground city

As someone who has lived on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I’ve heard a lot of whoppers. They range from extinct animals living in the park to feral people to Bigfeet. And while I’m loathe to rule anything out entirely, in this article we will discuss the most unlikely of myths – the myth of the Underground City in Cades Cove.

No, there is not a giant Underground City in the caves below Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains. It’s just an old April Fool’s Joke that caught fire on the internet.

The John Oliver House Cades Cove
The myth indicated that there was a secret passageway that begins in the John Oliver cabin in Cades Cove (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

The myth 

A few years ago, an internet site wrote an April Fool’s joke. That joke either went incredibly wrong or incredibly right and went viral. The result? Many people – or some people who didn’t read to the end of the article – began to believe an underground city is hidden below the Cove. 

The myth itself stated the city was a massive underground metropolis built 350 years ago by the Cherokee. The story further claimed a secret passageway began from the John Oliver Cabin into the massive maze of tunnels under the Cove. 

In all honesty, it’s an article that we applaud – after all, who doesn’t love some April Fool’s Day shenanigans? We here at TheSmokies.com have a doozy planned for our readers this year!

a path inside forbidden caverns
If you want to safely explore caves in the Smoky Mountains, we highly recommend a tour of Forbidden Caverns which opens seasonally, usually beginning in April (photo by digidreamgrafix/stock.adobe.com)

The reality 

Alas, despite its relative believability, the story is made up. If you read – or scroll down – far enough, you’ll see the admission that it’s a joke. But that didn’t stop people from running with it or at least parts of it. Many people who only saw headlines bought in quickly.

But that doesn’t mean the entire story is entirely fiction. There is a cave system below the Cove and massive caves throughout the region. Several caves in East Tennessee run commercial operations today, taking tourists down to commune with stalactites and stalagmites. In Cades Cove, there is more than one significant cave. 

gregory's cave in the smoky mountains
There are caves beneath Cades Cove, like Gregory’s Cave, but they are off-limits to tourists (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

The real cave beneath the Cove

The best known is Gregory’s Cave. It was commercialized in the 1920s by the Gregory family and continued to be shown until 1935. Undoubtedly, it has served as a place for humans to seek shelter over the centuries. The Cherokee only ever used the Cove as a seasonal hunting ground, but it seems unlikely the cave never provided shelter for the native peoples. Later, it is rumored the cave was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Cove and much of upper East Tennessee sided with the Union and supported abolitionist activity.  

Moonshiners also likely found the cave useful over the years. The largest use, however, was in the Cold War when it was designated as a fallout shelter for up to 1,000 people. This is the only place where an underground city theory would hold weight with me. With Oak Ridge not that far away, it is at least plausible that some accommodations would have been carved into the rock. What’s down there today? It’s hard to say. Access is limited to scientific endeavors. But you can at least look down into the cave mouth. 

The lesser-known Bull Cave is the deepest in Tennessee but is not accessible to the public.

The real gregory's cave
Gregory’s Cave is about a 2-3 mile unmarked hike uphill from the John Oliver cabin (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

How to find Cades Cove

Cades Cove is one of the most visited spots in the Eastern United States and it’s not hard to find. Coming from Townsend on Lamar Alexander Parkway, turn right at the three-way intersection near the Townsend Wye. From Gatlinburg, take Little River Gorge Road towards Townsend. When you get to the Wye, you go straight. Stay on Laurel Creek Road until it becomes Cades Cove Loop Road.

Once you pass the parking spots at the Loop, you’re on a one-way road through the Cove. There are a couple of shortcuts and seasonal roads out of the cove but there’s no turning back. Just before Loop Road, there is a popular picnic area, the Cades Cove Campground and more. 

If you want to see the entrance to Gregory’s Cave – please DO NOT go inside – drive to just pass John Oliver’s Cabin. Park and walk along the road until you see a gated dirt lane to the right. Past the gate, you will reach a clearing with some picnic tables. A short walk along the trail and you will come to the cave entrance. Do not climb down into the cave’s mouth. It is off-limits.

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains soon? Make sure to check out our coupons page before your trip!

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