Off Scenic U.S. 321 between Maryville and Gatlinburg, signposted.
MAR daily 10-17.
APR to OCT daily 10-18.
NOV daily 10-17.
Adults USD 20, Children (5-11) USD 9, Children (0-4) free.
|Classification:||Karst cave river cave.|
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
|Dimension:||T=14 °C, H=100 %.|
L=1600 m, St=400, D=75 min.
|Address:||Tuckaleechee Caverns, 825 Cavern Rd., Townsend, TN 37882, Tel. +1-865-448-2274. E-mail:|
|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.
|~1850||discovered by lumbermen.|
|1931||opened to the public for a year, closed because of the Depression.|
|1953||opened to the public.|
|1954||Big Room discovered by members of the National Speleological Society.|
|1955||Big Room included into the tour, electric light installed.|
|09-APR-1958||65 members of the National Speleological Society had a dinner in the cave.|
|1978||seismic station established by the Tennessee Earthquake Information Center (TEIC) in cooperation with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).|
|1982||Bill Vananda bought out Myers and became the sole owner of Tuckaleechee Caverns.|
|1995||University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) takes over responsibility for the TVA seismic network.|
|2006||AS107 station upgraded, connected to the IMS lab, and accepted by the International Data Centre (IDC).|
Tuckaleechee Caverns was developed and opened to the public by W.E. "Bill" Vananda and Harry Myers. The two locals were playing at the cave as kids and explored the cave with homemade lamps. Myers recalled in 1960 in an interview that they played Tom Sawyers in the cave. Around 1949 while they were students at Maryville College, they had the idea of opening the cave to the public. They did not get a credit to finance this, so they went to Alaska to work in construction to earn the money. They invested the money and a lot of work into the development of the cave. It took four years and hundreds of tons of sand, cement and gravel hauled on their backs to build steps and passages. But finally they opened the cave in 1953 to the public. At this time tours were held with Coleman lanterns.
At the same time the Tennessee Geological Cave Survey explored and surveyed the cave. A group of cavers, led by Burt H. Denton Jr. of Nashville, discovered the Big Room in 1954. This huge chamber is 55 m long, 33 m wide and up to 22 m high. Immediately the trails were extended to include this chamber and at the same time electric light was installed at the cave. The new tour was opened to the public in 1955.
Exploration continued and another chamber with exceptional speleothems was discovered, but it was not possible to build a trail without destroying them. Nevertheless, the tour was extended again to include Silver Falls, a 65 m high double waterfall. The cavers and the NSS always had a strong connection to the cave and the national convention of the NSS was held at the cave in 1958. On this congress, on 09-APR-1958, 65 members of the National Speleological Society had a dinner inside the cave. John and Norma Wilson, the owners of Wilson’s Hillbilly Restaurant served the meal on white tablecloths.
The cave is famous for its speleothems, which are called "cave onyx" in the area. In the biggest hall, the stalagmites are so-called plate stack stalagmites aka palm trunk stalagmites. Locally they are called totem poles.
The natural entrance of the cave lies at the foot of Little Mountain in Dry Valley. It was discovered by sawmill workers, which watched water from a heavy rain pour into a sink hole in the area. One of the men found an opening in the rock, and they explored the entrance section using pine torches and kerosene lamps. The story of Cherokee Indians discovering the cave and using it as a hideout and shelter seems to be a sort of local legend.
Tuckaleechee Cove is one of five geological windows through overlying Precambrian rocks, which exposes the older limestone of the Knox formation. The change between soluble and insoluble rocks causes contact karst. The water flows on the surface on the insoluble rock, but immediately vanishes underground into caves where the limestone starts, at the contact between limestone and other rocks, hence the name. The main inflow is at White Oak Sinks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The rivers reappear on the other end of the limestone region and flow again on the surface. The cave has three different cave rivers, which merge in the cave and emerge about 1 km away in Dunn Spring. Tuckaleechee Caverns also has a 64 m high, two tier, underground waterfall named Silver Falls.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) constructs and operates dams throughout the Tennessee River system, the oldest are from the 1930s. Today they operate 29 power-generating dams and a pumped-storage plant near Chattanooga called Raccoon Mountain. While hydroelectric power is clean, reliable, efficient and economical, it is still a massive intervention in the landscape, and could well have geological effects. One of them are possible landslides and earthquakes. To monitor possible earth movements they installed a seismic station in the cave. During the Cuban missile crisis the US military discovered how accurate and precise the station tracks the global tectonic movement. They upgraded it to detect nuclear testing across the globe. Later the measurements were of value to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and many other institutions. Tuckaleechee Caverns AS107 seismic station is monitored 24-7 and the data is transmitted via satellite to the DOD, US military, Geneva Switzerland, Vienna Austria, CTBTO, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Since it was connected to the Global Communications Infrastructure (GCI) in June 2006 the station sent data without any interruption, in other words 100% data availability. The station is not on the guided tour, but it is possible to visit it after appointment.
The photographs on this page were made by Matt Hecht, who was so generous to place them in the public domain and provides them in full resolution on flickr. Unfortunately he did not visit any other caves, but his pictures are great and worth a look. We have linked his flickr page so you can see the original pictures.