Nestled in the quaint town of Sweetwater, TN, you’ll find a once in a lifetime experience on America’s largest underground lake – The Lost Sea Adventure. (To see the world’s largest underground lake, add Dragon’s Breath Cave in Namibia to your bucket list). Let me preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of caverns (“seen one, seen them all” kind of girl right here), but when I heard that Craighead Caverns had a lake you could take a boat ride on, I knew I had to see it. We made a pit stop here on the way to Chattanooga, but it’s also less than 2 hours from the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area if you’re headed to the Smoky Mountains.
Once you arrive, buy your ticket ($20.95 for adults, $11.95 for kids 4-12) and wait for the next tour to start (they run often – we only waited about 10-15 minutes). You’ll go down what looks like a huge yellow submarine into the caverns and start your adventure! The caverns stay at a constant 58 degrees, so it should be comfortable with a jacket, no matter when you visit.
Our guide led us down into the caverns and we passed signs like this, showcasing the Wild Cave Tours that they also offer here. These are not for the faint of heart – you spend the night in the cave, crawling and squeezing your way through tight spaces and camping in the caverns. You’d think I would have gone for the Plank Crawl, but due to a touch of claustrophobia, I stayed on the nice wide open paths of our tour instead.
We learned all about the history of the lake and how it was discovered, along with all the features of the cave and how it’s changed over the years. I won’t spoil it for you – it really was a worthwhile history lesson! I was particularly attached to the Bear’s Paw you’ll see below – touching it is supposed to bring you good luck, so I figured a hug couldn’t hurt!
After hiking for about 15-20 minutes, we made it down to what we really came to see, THE LAKE! As you can see, there are lights at the dock portion, but it gets much darker as you go farther out. It was definitely the quietest and darkest boat ride I’ve ever taken – it was almost like being transported to another peaceful dimension. I hope everyone gets the chance to experience its beauty. Surprisingly, there are fish in this lake (imported and not naturally occurring) – they seem to live a pretty happy life with no predators!
Once we were done exploring the lake, our guide took us to some other areas of the caverns where we got to experience total darkness when they switched off all the lighting. That was eerie and a little scary – we were very thankful to see light again. Our guide told us that if kept in total darkness, humans would go blind in a matter of a few days. I’m not sure if that’s accurate or not, but I never want to find out from experience on that one! It was quite a hike back up to the entrance, but thankfully they have some benches where you can rest on the way. We really enjoyed our tour and and learning all about this unique body of water.
While in Sweetwater, if you need a cute place to eat in their historic downtown area, check out Hunter’s Bakery and Cafe. Small town charm at its finest, and delicious food!
What do you think – have you ever been to Sweetwater? Will you be adding The Lost Sea Adventure to your summer bucket list? I’d love to hear what road trips you have planned – I’m always looking for new ideas!
The Planking Traveler