Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville
The ‘coolest’ place in Sevierville this summer for family fun is Forbidden Caverns. Hot temperatures and rainy weather present ‘nary’ a problem for the folks discovering the caverns under English Mountain.
Ancient tribes used the caverns for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. The caverns provided shelter, underground stream water and a ceremonial place for the Eastern Woodland Indians.
A Cherokee legend is credited for the name ‘Forbidden Caverns.’ Indian legend says that Princess Nutah was lost in the streams of the hollow mountain and the caverns were declared ‘forbidden.’
Forest undergrowth hides the small natural entrance to the caverns and the narrow 200-foot steep incline would make descending into the caverns difficult. During Prohibition, the secret caverns were used to produce moonshine using the 98% pure stream water. The remnants of the old still remain today.
In 1967 the privately owned caverns were opened to the public using a new, easily accessible entrance. Tour guides take visitors through the caverns explaining the development of caves over time and the difference between stalactites and stalagmites.
Forbidden Caverns is an “active” limestone cave, which means water and time are still carving its walls and features. Sandy Highem, our very knowledgeable guide, pointed out interesting formations and showed us a live taproot hanging from the ceiling.
As we descended farther inside the mountain, she pointed out features such as the Reflection Pond, the Valley of the Moon, the Onyx Wall and of course the legendary underground stream. Her flashlight beam highlighted the strange figures to be found in the deeps, such as an outstretched alligator, Harry Potter’s wizard hat, an ice cream mountain, a giant corncob, and a stone “fried egg.” She flipped the switches on special lighting effects and stereophonic sound presentations that truly enhanced the cave experience. All of the trails are well lighted, and handrails are placed at necessary points. She got lots of “Ah!”s when she turned all the lights out and everyone experienced the complete absence of light that can only be experienced in such a place…that would be “dark dark!”
Sandy has been working at Forbidden Caverns for almost five years; she and her husband are originally from Florida. She is well acquainted with cave-lore and enjoys telling people about the caverns. When six-year-old Tanner Stephens from Florida asked about bats and other cave creatures, Sandy assured him that the only bats inhibiting the cave were very small and would probably not come out to greet us. We might see a salamander or a lost frog but most other wildlife preferred to stay in the forest.
General Manager Bob Hounshell has been at Forbidden Caverns since 1991. He mentioned, “Forbidden Caverns is a member of the National Caves Association; an organization created to protect and preserve caves.” The Association stresses the importance of protecting our cave systems for future generations.
Forbidden Caverns is opened daily from April to November from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The guided tour takes about one hour, and tours leave every 25 minutes. The cost of admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. For more information call 865-453-5972 or www.forbiddencaverns.com.
Faye Greenwood is retired from the UT Extension Service and her features have been published in Sevier County for more than 30 years. She and her husband, ‘Moe,’ operate MoeFaye Travel Inc.