Tuckaleechee Caverns are a highly acclaimed cave system, home to the best rated Cavern in the entire Eastern United States. Located in the small town of Townsend, TN, and nestled deep within the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s a commonly overlooked destination.
That’s a real tragedy, considering how awesome of a cave it is. It’s got seriously amazing features (including a DOUBLE waterfall), and is a great spot for people of all ages to visit.
That being said, there are some things you need to know before visiting. I’ve put together a brief list of the most important information about the cave, and hopefully it’ll help you plan your trip.
1. About the Cave
There are countless formations within Tuckaleechee Caverns, including a river clean enough to drink from, waterfalls, and millions of different cave formations. Some are small, some are big, and some are remarkably huge. (over 20 feet tall!)
The most famous features are the renowned Big Room and Silver Falls. The Big Room is a massive cave room over 400 feet long, 300 feet across, and 150 feet deep. It’s quite spectacular, and has stalagmites up to 24 feet in height. Silver Falls is a breathtaking 210 foot double waterfall. Only the bottom section can be visited, but thanks to installed lighting, you can see part of the upper section where the upper falls is located.
Before each tour, the guides at Tuckaleechee Caverns give safety walkthroughs. Generally speaking, their level of safety is comparable to most other touristic caves. They’ve got handrails, stairs, and the standard safety precautions. That being said, proceed with caution. (Just as you should when touring ANY cave)
Although they’ve made this cave safer for humans to traverse through, it is still a cave. (which are inherently dangerous) There are several steep open ledges, drop offs, and several parts of the trail run right next to an underground river. Mix that with slippery floors and cave lighting, and you’ve got a recipe for potential danger.
Most adults can easily prevent accidents by paying attention and watching where they step. The ones who really need protection are the little ones. If you’re bringing children with you on the cave tour, hold their hands. Don’t let the run, climb, and play about. Although they may see it as their new playground, it is not.
As long as you’re attentive, and are keeping a close watch on them, everything should be fun, and even more importantly, safe.
3. What to Wear
Throughout the tour, you’ll climb lots of stairs. Steep, thin, slippery stairs. The owners of the caverns have done their best to make the pathways non-slip, but wet floors can cause even the steadiest of individuals to slip. This is why I’d 100% recommend you wear anti-slip shoes. Don’t wear flip-flops or converse – wear something with good tread.
Also, wear comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. There will be dirt and mud in the caverns, so if you wear white shoes in, don’t expect them to be that color when you come out. The trail isn’t super long, but it is long enough to cause chafing from ill fitting or stiff shoes. I’d wear hiking shoes, or tennis/running shoes.
Another thing to consider is that the cave will be chilly, with an average temperature of 58°F, so I’d bring a jacket.
4. What to Bring
The cave tour isn’t very long or strenuous, so you don’t need to take much. If you brought a full pack, you’d just be carrying things you don’t need, making it that much more difficult. Here’s a very brief list of items I’d take with me on the tour:
- Bag or backpack
- Basic first aid kit
- Camera (with flash)
- Empty water bottle (to fill with clean, fresh stream water)
5. Getting There
The caverns are located deep within the Smoky Mountains. Before you begin driving, make sure you plug the address into your navigation system. Some of the mountain roads have unreliable signal, and you’ll have a difficult time getting there without GPS.
6. Cave Tour
You can expect your tour at Tuckaleechee Caverns to be fun and relaxed. The tour guides are fantastic. They’re friendly, funny, educated, and won’t make you feel rushed at all. They do a great job of being humorous, while still being highly informative.
The trek through the cave is roughly 1.5 miles long, and typically takes around 90 minutes to complete. The very beginning (and end) are the hardest part of the tour, as you’ll have to climb roughly 100 stairs. It can be strenuous, particularly for those with impaired mobility or underlying health issues, but it is well worth it.
There is lighting throughout the cave, but none of the flashy multicolored lights that most show caves have switched to, so don’t expect a light show at the end of your tour. Instead they have basic lighting, and try to focus on the actual cave formations and fixtures. At one point during the tour, your tour guide will ask you to sit down, and will then turn off all of the lights in that section of the cave. This gives you the chance to experience darkness like you never have before.
P.S. They have a delicious fudge shop, with amazing peanut butter fudge.
P.P.S. During the tour you’ll have the chance to fill a water bottle with clear, clean underground spring water.
7. Handicap Accessibility
The caverns are not handicap accessible, due to multiple flights of stairs. There is a lot of walking involved, so the tour may be difficult for folks with impaired mobility or injuries. That being said, if you aren’t a fan of small spaces, this may be a great cave for you to visit. It’s a big, relatively open cave, that’s pretty friendly for those who suffer from claustrophobia.
8. Admissions, Fees, & Hours
There are no advanced reservations at Tuckaleechee Caverns, and tickets are only purchasable upon arrival. Tours depart approximately every 15 minutes, so you shouldn’t be waiting long. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $8 for children ages 5-11, and children under 4 get free admission.
The caverns are open 7 days a week several times of the year. These times include:
- March 15 – March 31 (10 am – 5 pm)
- April 1 – October 31 (10 am – 6 pm)
- November 1 – November 15 (10 am – 5 pm)
Tuckaleechee Caverns is home to the Earth’s most sensitive seismic station. Originally, it was installed by TVA to monitor what construction on their dam would do to the tectonic plates in the area.
After the Cuban missile crisis, the US military started upgrading it to be used to detect nuclear testing from other countries. The cave, given the name Tuckaleechee Caverns AS107 seismic station, is now monitored 24-7.
Although the cave isn’t well known for its abundance of flora and fauna, there are a few species that reside in the cave. Crawfish swim about in the underground stream and salamanders live in several parts of the cave. Artificial lighting that has been installed throughout the cave have given multiple species of algae and ferns the environment they need to flourish.
The most anticipated (and in some cases most feared) cave dwellers are the adorable, teeny-tiny pygmy bats. If you visit the cave during winter, there’s a good chance you’ll see one.
Feel free to take as many photos as you’d like during your trip to Tuckaleechee Caverns. Just remember to be respectful, and don’t photograph others without their permission. The cavern is relatively well-lit, so you’ll probably end up with some great shots!
Taking a tour at Tuckaleechee Caverns is exciting and breath-taking. (in more ways than one)
It’s a one-of-a-kind cave with much to offer, and is well worth a visit. Hopefully this list has answered some of your questions, and helped you prepare. I have no doubt you’ll have a fun, safe trip!
Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.