Craighead Caverns: How to Explore the Lost Sea

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Approximately an hour north-northeast of Chattanooga, you’ll find Sweetwater, Tennessee, home to the Craighead Caverns. This is an extensive cave system that features something unlike any other cave in America. Here, you can go on The Lost Sea Adventure.

At this one-of-a-kind destination, you may visit the largest subterranean lake in the United States, located inside the cavern! This is also the second largest non-subglacial underground lake in the entire world.

If “boating on America’s largest underground lake” is on your list of things you’d like to experience in life, get ready to cross it off. And if not, you should probably add it to the list now that you know about it. In this article, we will cover the essentials of the Lost Sea Quest.

An image shows a line of boats resting at the dock inside the Craighead Caverns Underground lake.

Experiencing Craighead Caverns

Besides the stunning underground lake, the famous Craighead Caverns also feature other unusual formations. After entering a bright yellow tube, visitors will find themselves in massive caves below.

Open and spacious, the caverns are ideal for exploring. Although the rock formations in Craighead Caverns aren’t as massive as those at Ruby Falls or Cathedral Caverns, you’ll still find plenty of unique examples of the earth’s oldest geological processes.

The appeal is, naturally, the Lost Sea, which attracts over 150,000 tourists per year. This lake is so vast, it’s still not been fully explored. But before we focus on the lake, let’s learn a bit about the caves themselves.

The History of Craighead Caverns

A pleistocene jaguar was discovered at Craigshead Caverns, and a similar skeleton is pictured here, at a museum.

While caves are often hundreds of thousands or millions of years old, some are mostly unchartered territory when we first find them.

There’s quite a bit of history here, however. Cherokees once held meetings there, while Confederate forces mined saltpeter for explosives later during the Civil War. In 1939, investigators discovered the skeleton of a Pleistocene jaguar, which is now on display in a museum in New York.

From 1939 to 1940, a mushroom farm operated inside Craigshead Caverns, and in 1947, a wooden dance floor was erected for the Cavern Tavern nightclub.

Since it’s more challenging to become smashed at a low altitude, the nightclub didn’t continue long.

However, the alcohol will hit you on the ascent of the cave’s steep steps, so we highly recommend not trying to replicate the experience of the 40s.

Adventure Travel to the Mystery of the Lost Sea

The lake beneath the surface is the highlight of the trip. For years, locals had heard whispers about a huge lake hidden in the caves; nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1905 that the actual location of the Lost Sea was uncovered.

Ben Sands, a young child who frequently explored the tunnels, first spotted the lake in this massive area halfway submerged in water. His parents didn’t believe him when he told them the news.

When people finally decided to test the water level had risen and the cave entrance was hidden, he was free to return with his father. For a long time, nobody came across the lake again.

While the exact size of the Lost Sea remains a mystery, divers have mapped out over 13 acres of water. However, they have not yet reached the lake’s end.

A colorful image of the Lost Sea at Craighead Caverns' Lost Sea Adventure, showing a vibrant blue, green, and red in the background lighting.

Lost Sea Adventure staff even released rainbow trout into the lake to determine its outlet, but the fish have chosen to remain in the caves, where they are well nourished and unbothered.

The tour includes a ride on a boat with a glass bottom, allowing you to see aquatic life in the 4.5-acre lake. On this tour, you’ll discover the history of people looking for the Lost Sea’s end and the intricate system of underwater lakes that they uncovered.

You can learn more about the Lost Sea’s history here.

Old Sweetwater Village

Old Sweetwater Village is a wonderful place to visit before or after your cave tour. Visit the Sweet Shop and the Cavern Kitchen Restaurant, pan for gems at Red Ruby’s Gem Mine, or watch a Glass Blower or Blacksmith Shop demonstration.

The Trail to the Lost Sea

Take a stroll along the Lost Sea Nature Trail. You’ll see a wide variety of flora and fauna on this short (0.33) mile hike through a hardwood forest.

A colorful image showing the still water of the underground lake at Craighead Cavern's Lost Sea Adventure.

Activities at the Lost Sea Adventure

There’s a variety of activities that you and your group can enjoy at the Craighead Caverns.

Participate in Unique Events and Activities

In celebration of National Caves & Karst Day, The Lost Sea will host a day of live music in the spirit of Tennessee.

Wild Cave Tours are also offered for groups such as schools, camps, churches, and scouts. In addition, the Lost Sea offers discounted educational pricing for homeschool groups every Monday from August through May.

Get the Best Souvenir Ever at the General Store

Look around the General Store in Old Sweetwater Village for a one-of-a-kind souvenir to remember your journey by. Additional souvenirs and presents can be purchased at the gift shop just inside the main entrance to The Lost Sea Adventure.

Cavern Kitchen Restaurant: Where the Locals Eat

If you’re ever in Old Sweetwater Village, you can eat at the Cavern Kitchen. Sandwiches and authentic pit barbecue are both on the menu at this café. There are also many lovely places to picnic near the village.

An image of the various rock formations at Craighead Caverns.

Tips for Your Trip to the Lost Sea

Due to its location 140 feet below ground, getting to and from the Lost Sea requires some effort. The cavern tour requires a round-trip walk of 0.75 miles. Bring a light jacket and some walking shoes if you don’t mind getting dirty.

Typically, tours last around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Stop by the quaint stores in Old Sweetwater Village, take a stroll along the nearby Nature Trail, and peruse the gift shop before or after your tour.

Pricing for the Lost Sea Adventure Tour

Admission to the Lost Sea Adventure is $23.95 for adults, $13.95 for children ages 4-12, and free for children under the age of 3.

The Lost Sea Adventure is open all year round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The timing for visits are as follows:

Monday through Friday

  • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., January and February
  • 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., March and April
  • 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., July and August
  • 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., August
  • 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., September and October
  • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., November and December

In addition to Old Sweetwater Village and The Lost Sea Adventure, a free parking lot is nearby.

Craighead Caverns and the Lost Sea Adventure FAQ

Where is the Lost Sea/Craighead Caverns located exactly?

The address is 140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, Tennessee 37874.

What is the Entrance Fee to The Lost Sea?

Adult tickets to the Lost Sea Adventure cost $23.95, children 4-12 pay $11.95, and toddlers under 3 go in free.

Is Swimming Possible in “The Lost Sea”?

No one is allowed to go swimming in The Lost Sea. However, a glass-bottom boat ride across the lake is included in the package.

What is the Length of Time Spent Exploring the Lost Sea?

About an hour and fifteen minutes are allotted for the Lost Sea Adventure.

What Do I Need to Pack for a trip to The Lost Sea?

The caves average 58 degrees, so bring a jacket and good walking shoes for the 0.75-mile (1.2 km) trek. The caves can get muddy, so be prepared with shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting soiled. We highly recommend some caving boots and comfortable socks.

Just how deep is the Lost Sea?

It’s around 70 feet (21.3 meters) deep in the middle.

What are some other great caves in Tennessee, USA?

Tennessee has several great options for caving, which you can read about here!

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