A vast cave system on the outskirts of Chattanooga Tennessee, Raccoon Mountain Caverns consists of more than five miles of underground passageways. Many caves have some small areas of formation growth—you remember, stalagmites and stalactites, crystals, etc.—but the Raccoon Mountain Caverns have countless formations located along a lighted walking trail.
The Raccoon Mountain Caverns are considered one of the most geologically active in the southern half of the United States and also known for being remarkably well preserved compared to other cave systems. They even still house an active ecosystem with salamanders, bats and even a rare spider that only exists there and nowhere else in the entire world. This rich ecosystem is quite a feat, considering the caverns were opened to the public way back in 1931 and have seen countless footsteps and the prying hands of many visitors.
The Caverns, at the time on the property of the Grand Hotel and used as a farm for the hotel’s restaurant, were opened by Leo Lambert. It was said that the farmers in the area would relax in front of some cracks in the ground because cold air would blow out of the cracks even on hot days. Lambert was asked to explore and figure out where the cold air was coming from. An experience cave diver, Lambert quickly realized that a large cave with a huge volume of air had to be hidden behind the limestone cover.
After exposing the caves, Lambert himself built walkways and laid lights to guide visitors through the long passageways. He knew that, sitting next to a major highway, this could be a huge tourist attraction. He was right—and it has remained a must-see destination for visitors to the south for generations.
It’s possible to take a guided walking tour through the caves, where you’ll wind through a beautiful half-mile route. There are also guided spelunking tours with a lot of crawling and fun, as well as gem panning and a great campground at the foot of the cave site so you can make a weekend trip out of your visit .
Know Before You Go
Raccoon Mountain is just seven minutes from historical downtown Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the Tennessee Aquarium, and less than five minutes away from Lookout Mountain.