Explore The Lost Sea: Tennessee’s Underground Lake & Caverns

Tennessee is known for its breathtaking landscapes and rich history, but one of its most captivating attractions lies hidden beneath the earth’s surface. 

The Lost Sea, America’s largest underground lake, located in Sweetwater, Tennessee, offers an unforgettable adventure for visitors. 

Credit: Devin

With a fascinating history, unique geological features, and exciting tours, the Lost Sea is a must-visit destination. 

Whether you’re an adventurer at heart or a history enthusiast, there’s something here for everyone.

The Boat Tour: A Journey into the Depths

The main attraction at the Lost Sea is undoubtedly the boat tour on the underground lake. 

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As the tour begins, guests are guided through the Craighead Caverns, learning about the cave’s geological formations and historical significance. 

The tour starts with a walk through a yellow tube that connects the visitor center to the cave. 

Along the way, you’ll encounter various stalagmites and stalactites, and even see initials carved by Civil War soldiers who once mined saltpeter in the cave.

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The highlight of the tour is the serene boat ride on the calm waters of the underground lake. 

Split into several boats, visitors glide over the peaceful water with the ability to look through glass bottom of the boats and over the sides at the giant rainbow trout who call the lake home.

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These fish, introduced by the park, thrive without natural predators. 

The experience is both mesmerizing and educational, as the guide shares stories of the cave’s past, including its use as a tavern and dance hall during the 1930s.

Exploring the Wild Cave Tour

For those seeking a more adventurous experience, the Wild Cave Tour offers an exciting opportunity to explore the undeveloped parts of Craighead Caverns. 

Credit: Leighton Smith

This special tour is perfect for organized groups such as Scouts, schools, and churches. Participants embark on a journey through cracks, crevices, and hidden nooks, discovering rare formations like anthodites, also known as “Cave Flowers.” 

These tours also include viewing rooms where ancient jaguars roamed and moonshine was made, adding to the allure of the cave’s history.

The Fascinating History of Craighead Caverns

The history of the Lost Sea is as intriguing as its natural beauty. The caverns have been known since the days of the Cherokee Indians, who used the cave for shelter and storage. 

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Artifacts such as pottery, arrowheads, and jewelry have been found, highlighting the significance of the cave to the Cherokee people.

In the 19th century, the cave was discovered by white settlers and used for storing vegetables due to its constant 58-degree temperature. 

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During the Civil War, the Confederate Army mined the cave for saltpeter, essential for gunpowder production. 

One of the cave’s earliest visitors was a Pleistocene jaguar whose tracks and bones were discovered deep inside the cave, adding a prehistoric element to its rich history.

Ben Sands’ Discovery: Unveiling the Lost Sea

The Lost Sea itself was discovered in 1905 by a 13-year-old boy named Ben Sands. While exploring the cave, Sands stumbled upon a large room half-filled with water. 

Credit: Bryan Laue

The lake, covering over four acres, is recognized as a Registered National Natural Landmark due to its unique features and rare geological formations.

Despite modern exploration efforts, the full extent of the Lost Sea remains unknown. 

The visible portion of the lake measures 800 feet long and 220 feet wide, but divers have mapped over 13 acres of water-filled rooms with no end in sight. 

Glass-bottomed boats take visitors across the lake, offering a glimpse into the mysterious depths below.

Additional Attractions and Activities

Beyond the boat tours, the Lost Sea Adventure offers various activities to enhance your visit. 

The café, sweet shop, and general store provide snacks and souvenirs, while the gem mines allow visitors to find their own treasures. 

The Lost Sea Nature Trail offers a scenic walk, perfect for those who enjoy the outdoors.

Know Before You Go

Located in Sweetwater, Tennessee, the Lost Sea Adventure is a short drive from Asheville, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee. 

There’s ample parking available near the main building, and nearby lodging options in Sweetwater or Knoxville make planning your visit convenient.

The Lost Sea Adventure is open year-round, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Operating hours vary by season, so it’s best to check their website for the latest information. Admission for the daily tour is $25 for adults and $15 for children aged 4-12. 

For those interested in the Wild Cave Tour, daytime tours cost $37 per person, while overnight tours are $47 per person.

Just the Details

Location: The Lost Sea Adventure 140 Lost Sea Road Sweetwater, TN 37874 Phone: (423) 333-2289

Park Hours: The Lost Sea Adventure is open almost every day of the year, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Hours of operation generally are:

  • Winter: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Summer: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (extended evening hours)

Entrance Fees:

  • Daily Tour:
    • Adults: $25
    • Children (ages 4-12): $15
  • Wild Cave Tour:
    • Day Tour: $37 per person
    • Overnight Tour: $47 per person

Tour Duration:

  • Daily Tour: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, including a 0.75-mile walk and an underground lake boat ride.
  • Wild Cave Tour: Includes walking and crawling through undeveloped cave rooms, with overnight options available.

Additional Attractions:

  • Café, sweet shop, and general store for snacks and souvenirs.
  • Gem mines for finding your own treasures.
  • The Lost Sea Nature Trail for scenic walks.

Nearby Lodging:

  • Accommodations available in Sweetwater.
  • Additional lodging options in Knoxville for day trips to the Lost Sea Adventure.

Accessibility: The cave tours involve steep and uneven pathways, making them unsuitable for those with mobility or respiratory issues. Rest stops with benches are available.

For more information, visit the Lost Sea Adventure website to check current hours and book your tour.

Final Thoughts

The Lost Sea in Tennessee is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of adventure, history, and natural beauty. 

From the fascinating boat tours to the thrilling Wild Cave Tours, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. 

Whether you’re interested in the geological wonders, the rich history, or simply the thrill of exploring an underground world, the Lost Sea Adventure promises an unforgettable experience. 

Plan your visit today and uncover the mysteries of this incredible subterranean lake.