Our family loves exploring the great outdoors and nature. One of our go to getaways is Chattanooga Tennessee, fun place for the whole family. On our most recent visit we discovered Raccoon Mountain Caverns. While most associate the caverns of Ruby Falls with Chattanooga, the less commercialized Raccoon Mountain Caverns offers caving as meant to be. Cave walk to full on spelunking is offered along with panning for gems, cabins and camping. Located off of I-24 just 15 minutes from Downtown Chattanooga and the popular Lookout Mountain attractions, your caving adventure awaits.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns Tours
Being claustrophobic, I admit nervousness going in. I worried in vain. The caves consist of over 5.5 miles of underground passageways and there are several types of tours to choose from: whether you want a stroll through the formations or a full on spelunking experience. All tours are guided.
Crystal Palace Tour
Our family, including my 70-year-old mother in law, opted for the guided walking Crystal Palace Tour. The tour lasts about an hour follows a lighted and pathed area of the caves. The total distance covered is about a half mile. No special equipment necessary though consider a sweater or long sleeves as the year round temperature is 58F. The tour starts at the cave’s entrance building with a brief introduction to the history of the caves. Hear about the cave dwelling creatures to look out for.
Our local guide was friendly and knowledgable, her passion for caves shined bright as led our group through the Crystal Palace. Our guide Scarlet made learning about the formations and history fun and interesting, even pointing out a few cave dwellers. The tour is easy to navigate for most as it include handrails. There are a few stairs at a time here and there. It is a cave, so it is damp and you might get dripped on. The path is narrow in spots and sometimes a little uneven, sometimes the clearance is low. This tour is not available for those in wheelchairs or strollers. Because we entered at close to the base of the mountain, getting into the cave was easy – no long elevator down or deep staircase. I did not once feel panic I can get in tight or closed quarters. The Crystal Palace Room was spacious and indeed palatial. Photographs are allowed and groups must stay together..
Wild Expedition Tours
For those feeling more adventurous, try one of of five Wild Expedition Tours which range in length from 2 to 4 hours. Known as “get muddy” tours, Wild Expeditions take guests into the undeveloped less explored areas of the caves. You will be crawling, walking, and pushing and pulling yourself with arms and legs. Required equipment for these tours is a helmet, knee pads, gloves and lights, all provided as part of the tour. Spelunkers as young as 6 years old can participate. Tours can get in tight spaces, so NOT for the claustrophobic.
I can attest to the fact “get muddy” fits. While on our Crystal Palace Walling Tour we heard voices and learned there was a Wild Expedition tour going on at the same time. We witnessed this group exiting the cave and they were filthy, a family with kids and all smiles. During our tour out guide pointed out some of the tighter areas that are explored on a Wild Expedition tour. My husband and daughter decided next trip to Chattanooga, Wild Expedition is a must do for them.
Raccoon Mountain Campground
We were staying in downtown Chattanooga, and did not experience the campgrounds which are next door to the cave. You can walk from the Campgrounds to the caves which makes it very convenient. The campground contains sites for RV’s, water and electric tent sites, and primitive sites. Cabins are available as well. The campground includes many activities such as a pool, basketball court, playground, bathhouse, ladderball, shuffleboard, and fitness room. They campground was full with RVs and tents the day we went. Looked like a great stop on an RV road trip.
Raccoon Mountain Panning for Gems
Panning for gems is available for a fee in the gift shop. As a child, I loved the thrill of searching for gemstones. Panning at Raccoon Mountain is the same method of using a screen and sluice trough of water I learned back in the day. The bags of dirt for purchase range from 2 to 10 pounds, starting at $4.95. Sure to find something as bags are preloaded with precious stones, fossils and arrowheads.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns What You Need to Know
Business hours: Open daily, 9am to 6pm EST, rain or shine.
Crystal Palace Tours
- Available daily beginning at 9. Tours depart every half hour on weekend, every hour during the week. The last tour of the day at 5pm.
- Tour Prices $15.95 for adults, $8.95 for children ages 5-12, Seniors and Students pay $13.95
- Reservations are only required for Large Groups, call to make a reservation if you have a group going.
- No strollers or wheelchairs allowed because of narrow path at times.
- Expect to see natural formations, search for cave salamanders and bats.
- Must be able to walk about a 1/2 mile and up a few stairs at a time.
- Claustrophobic like me, no problem. Education is the purpose so no tiny tight spaces. Path is lighted.
Wild Expedition Tours
- Five Tours offered lasting from 2 hours to 4.5 hours
- Reservations Required by visiting wildcaves.com or calling (423) 821 – 9403 ext. 1.
- Tour Prices range from $30 per participant to $65pp, depending on tour selected
- Explore deeper areas of the caves
- Children as young as 6 can participate.
- Must wear long sleeve shirt, long pants, sturdy shoes.
- Equipment provided: pads, gloves, helmets and lights.
- Physical in nature, some areas require pulling yourself along with legs and arms
- More information on requirements and restrictions are found here on Raccoon Mountain Checklist.
Our Family Verdict of Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Huge thumbs up from three generations. One of our favorite activities on our vacation in Chattanooga. The Crystal Palace tour was never too tight or scary for this claustrophobic mom. Hearing the process and time it takes for formations was mind-blowing. The formations were incredible and abundant – especially the rare medallion that looked like a plate with ribbon. Enjoyed hearing the stories how formations including “Headache Rock” were named. The tour exceeded our expectations in entertainment and education. We found it to be a value for the money spent. Seeing the more adventurous Wild Expedition tourists emerge from the cave all smiles I know they would agree.
I am amazed at the bravery of those cave explorers seeing a gap in a cave and boldy sliding in to see what was on the other side. With my phobias, I wonder how anyone could. Raccoon Mountain Caverns is still uncovering new spaces. I am thankful there are those who will seek them out so that those of us who are not quite so daring can enjoy the splendor of the underground.
Are there any cave tours you recommend and would you be daring enough for the Wild Expedition tours?
For more information on things to do in Chattanooga, visit Chattanoogafun.com.
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