The series of underground cascading waterfalls totaling 145-foot in Lookout Mountain located near Chattanooga, Tennessee known as Ruby Falls is estimated to be 30 million years old and is the tallest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States.
For millions of years caves have been inhabited, explored and documented and played huge role in the life of humans and animals as we know them. Primitive people have made use of caves throughout history and different species of animals have and still do live their entire lives or find cover in caves. The natural void in the ground are found throughout the world, but only a small portion of them have been explored and documented by cavers.
The entrance building to Ruby Falls, The Cavern Castle, where visitors can purchase their tickets to enter the caves used to be a dinner and dance hall and a series of old photographs located in the gift shop show it as a large dance hall with a huge fireplace. Visitors can still take a peak of the fireplace tucked away behind the stairs on the back wall if they wonder long enough around the little shop.
Several caves were formed about 200 to 240 million years ago when the eastern Tennessee area was covered with a shallow sea and the sediments formed limestone rock. The area where this caves where formed got uplifted and formed Lookout Mountain and nearby ridges. Two of the caves which got developed and are known now a days are the Lookout Mountain Cave, which opened to the outside, and Ruby Falls Cave, which did not. Ruby Falls Cave is the most know cave as it contains a wider variety of more well-known types of cave formations that the Lookout Mountain Cave does not have.
There was a massive amount of work that took place into building the hallways that snake inside the cave and if you bother to count you’ll find more than 500 lights along the cave pathways that would be illuminating your journey as you make your way through the caverns to Ruby Falls. Far cry from what it looked like when the founder Leo Lambert first set to explore the caverns in 1929 with only few headlamps and lanterns in hand.
Ruby Falls Cave is the upper of the two caves and stalactites and stalagmites, columns, drapery, and flowstone can be found inside it. The cave is mostly made of limestone and is still relatively horizontal, just as it was deposited below sea level.
During the Great Depression small pieces of onyx from here were being sold from the young tour guides trying to support their families. Today it is prohibited for visitors and guides to take anything and even touch any of the formations from inside the caverns.
In 1930 public tours of the cave began as it grew in popularity and in 1954 the pathways around the basin of Ruby Falls were cut in order to allow tourists a better view of the falls. The electric lights that were installed in the cave made it one of the first commercial caves to be so outfitted and dozen of billboards were placed along Route I-75 in the 1970s and 1980s in order to attract visitors. As a reference to the barn roof advertising slogan “See Ruby Falls” ubiquitous throughout the United States in the mid 20th Century Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison co-wrote a song with the title “See Ruby Fall” in the mid to late 1960s bringing even more popularity and interest in the Tennessee most visited attraction.
Ruby Falls are located in a large vertical shaft at the at the end of the main passage of Ruby Falls Cave. A 1,120 feet underground stream is fed both by rainwater and natural springs and collected in a pool at the cave floor that than continues running through the mountain until finally joining the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout Mountain.
The perfect temperature in the caves of cool 60 degrees year round which feels like a perfect 70 degrees in a little humidity makes it a great destination during any season. It’s cool in the spring and summer and nice and pleasant in the winter mouths.
The caves are located at 1720 Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga, TN 37409 and are open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with ample parking. The Classic Waterfall Tour lasts on average of an hour and 15 minutes. Allow additional 20 – 45 minutes for the cave elevator queue. It costs 19.95 each for an adult and $11.95 for children.
Panoramic views of the Tennessee Valley and Tennessee River can be enjoyed from the top of the The Cavern Castle- the Visitor Center to the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States.