If you’re looking for a challenging and fun adventure for the family in the Chattanooga area you’ll have to visit Raccoon Mountain Caverns! With 5.5 miles of underground passageways and countless formations along the lighted, 1/2 mile walking trail in the Crystal Palace room alone, you’ll be in awe at the sights.
This tour was provided by Raccoon Mountain Caverns for the purpose of review
Raccoon Mountain Caverns has a variety of activities to offer. Their Crystal Palace Tour is a 45-55 minute guided tour through their lit portion of the cave that covers nearly half a mile that teaches you about how caves form, the history of the cave, and the wide variety of formations you’ll encounter including stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flow stone, natural bridges, as well as the life you might find like bats and salamanders. These tours are available daily from 9am to 4pm. When you’re finished, they also have a fantastic gift shop! The cost of this tour is:
Adults (13-64) $15.95
Seniors (ages 65+) $13.95
Students (with ID) $13.95
Children (5-12) $8.95
Young Children (Under 5) FREE
In addition to the Crystal Palace Tour, they offer their famous “Wild Cave Expeditions” which is what we really wanted to check out! These tours are by reservation only (book one by going to wildcave.com!). There are 5 tour choices and all involve muddy trips that are off the beaten path into the deeper, undeveloped parts of the cave. As a warning, all involve physical activity like crawling, pulling and pushing yourself, and require gear like a headlamp, helmet, gloves, and kneepads that are provided to you. Tours and cost include:
Canyon Crawl Expedition (~2 hours): $30 per participant
Fossil Craw Expedition (~2.5 hours): $38 per participant
Echo Room Expedition (~3 hours): $48 per participant
Waterfall Dome Expedition (~3.5 hours): $54 per participant – the tour this post covers
Gypsum Crawl Expedition (~4.5 hours): $65 per participant
I’ve been a caver for a little over a year now, having become a member of the national cavers organization the “National Speleological Society” and in going on various non-commercial “wild cave adventures”, my children have really taken an interest and wanted to go along. Since my littlest is 8 I figured that going to Raccoon Mountain Caverns would be a great choice since it would be a guided tour that is age appropriate with gear that is included. I told them that we were going and they were immediately psyched… easy sell. On our arrival, we immediately went to the gift shop to check in for our tour and found that they had a ton of fun caving related items as well as a gem mining activity. We met one of the managers, Taylor who was extremely friendly and helpful and introduced us to our guide, Michael Herrera who was absolutely fantastic!
After meeting our guide Michael we headed to another building and met the couple that was also part of our tour and geared up!
After gearing up we headed back into the gift shop building where the caves entrance is located and were given a brief introduction to the sites that would be seeing. Interesting, but of course the kids were anxious to get in the cave!
We used the chance walking through the Crystal Palace Tour areas that are lit familiarizing ourselves with our headlamps and gear before jumping into the dark, non-lit areas of the cave.
There are several crawls to get you started and acquainted with the overall experience as well as steep climbs where a rope might be needed to assist. With each section, our guide did a great job by moving at a comfortable pace that the kids could keep up with and even took photos with his smartphone and Go-Pro along the way that he provided to us when the tour was finished! This is NOT something that you can expect in most places, and is not a requirement of the guides at Raccoon Mountain Caverns, but I’m told that several do just to make it a more memorable experience… we greatly appreciated it!
Moving through the cave, we encountered several fossils like this great example of a Crinoid in the photo below! There were also various salamanders along the way.
About halfway to our intended destination, we reached the infamous canyon… this passage has areas with as much as a 35 foot drop. Several techniques are required to navigate safety along the passage, but our guide Michael went over each and personally assisted each person move across the dodgy areas and successfully get through the area! The great part was seeing the sense of accomplishment that the kids had on completing it!
Finally we reached out main destination, the Waterfall Dome area! The interesting part is that there are two holes, of which you must back into and lower yourself several feet blindly to access the room! See our guide Michael demonstrating below.
Entering the room, it has a massive dome and despite the dry-ish conditions outside, you could see a steadily flowing waterfall from one part near the top of the dome. It really is an impressive site and well work the journey!
After taking a brief rest, the trick is climbing back OUT of the room!
The next main landmark we encountered was the Whirlpool Room with its trademark circular patterns in it’s dome ceiling.
Next was the cavern’s Echo Room which is the main destination of another of their Wild Tours. This room was a ton of fun… the acoustics are clearly great considering it’s name, but it also has a large muddy slope that you can slide down.
Eventually the fun had to get cutoff so we could finish our journey so we made our way through a crawl and into a stream passage. The great part was that after the stream, there is another crawl with fossils!
With the tour almost complete, we made our way through a few final squeezes for fun that the kids had a great time with and we were able to capture a few fun videos of.
If you and the family are looking for a fun activity, that involves some physical exertion, I highly recommend the wild cave tours at Raccoon Mountain Caverns. The tour was honestly comparable to some of the non-commercial cave wild tours, but had the benefit of truly fantastic guides and good quality gear.
For Those Interested In Visiting Non-Commercial Caves…
Please note that caving can be a dangerous activity for the inexperienced. If you have an interest in exploring caves, check out a local grotto from the National Speleological Society website so you can connect with experienced cavers in your area who will show you the ropes. Also, remember that caves can be on either private property or government land so please always ensure that you either have permission from the landowner or the proper permits obtained before visiting a cave. While there, remember to…
Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.