Lost Sea

Craighead Caverns

Useful Information

Location: Between Sweetwater and Madisonville on Hwy 68. Interstate 75, 64 km south of Knoxville.
Open: JAN to FEB daily 9-17.
MAR to APR daily 9-18.
MAY to AUG daily 9-19.
JUL daily 9-20.
AUG daily 9-19.
SEP to OCT daily 9-18.
NOV to DEC daily 9-17.
Closed 25-DEC.
Fee: Adults USD 17.95, Children (5-12) USD 7.95, Children (0-4) free.
Groups (15+): Adults USD 15.95, Children (5-12) USD 7.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Speleologyriver cave.
Dimension: Lake: L=250 m, W=67 m, Ar=16,000 m².
Guided tours: L=1200 m, D=55 min, T=14,5 °C.
V=150,000/a [2006].
Address: Lost Sea, 140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, TN 37874, Tel. +1-423-337-6616.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


Natural entrance discovered by the Indian Chief Craighead, known as Craighead Caverns.
Civil War used to manufacture saltpeter for gunpowder.
1905 first exploration by Ben Sands, lake discovered.
1927 artificial entrance build, but not opended because of difficulty of access.
1939 remains of a 20,000 years old jaguar discovered.
1940 cave used as mushroom farm.
1947 Cavern Tavern created.
1963 cave reopened as Lost Sea.


The name of the Lost Sea is derived from the most impressing feature of the cave, an underground lake of 1.6 ha and between 10 and 30 m deep. It is the largest underground lake in the U.S.A. and the second largest in the world. It was the world's largest underground lake until Dragon’s Breath Cave was disovered in Namibia, Africa, several years ago. The tour includes a ride on the lake in a glass bottom boat, where one can see that the lake is stocked with rainbow trout.

The lake was discovered in 1905 by a 13-year-old boy, Ben Sands. He crawled through a muddy hole deep inside the cave and found water. He threw balls of dirt into the darkness to determine how big it was, but no matter how hard he threw, all he heard was the plop of mud into water.

The tour also shows the remains of the early salpeter workings, where salpeter for gunpowder was manufactured during the Civil War. The mushroom farm and the dance floor are visited, also a display of anthodite flowers. The cave also served as refrigerator, moonshine operation, meeting room, and tavern, but these operations left no visible tracks.

In 1939 explorers discovered the 25,000-year-old skeleton and tracks of a jaguar in the cave. The findings and plaster molds of the tracks are on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.