Caves hold a special place in my heart. From listening to my dad share endless stories about his spelunking experiences, to the wild caving trips I took with friends during college and meeting Daniel on one of those caving trips, to getting to pass on our love of caves as we introduce our boys to the underground world, it feels like life is coming full circle.
I have always felt a calling to wild places. When life gets too hectic, I have a need to retreat from all things chaotic and bask in the presence of things that are bigger than myself. Majestic mountain tops, deep forests, vast oceans, trickling creeks, endless night skies, and dark caves, are among the places in this world that remind me that there is a creator and that I am but a small thread in the much larger tapestry of life.
So when a friend reached out to see if we were interested in joining his family on an outing to The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tennessee, about an hour north of us, we felt inclined to say yes.
Just seeing our old friend was worth the trip (Daniel has been friends with Nick since birth and I met Nick in college, possibly before I met Daniel), but we were also excited about the the prospect of taking the boys to a cave (I had the chance to take them to a cave in Florida last year but Daniel missed that experience).
The Lost Sea Adventure actually takes place at Craighead Caverns. There is also a nature trail and pioneer village on the campus to fill your time on a busy weekend (we had an hour wait before a tour was available).
Our kid's had a blast "mining" for gemstones. You purchase a bag of dirt and rocks and the kids use water and mesh boxes to clean the dirt and find their treasures. Our kids enjoyed this, but more than that they enjoyed racing the mesh boxes through the wooden trough (see video above).
They thought this was hilarious and could have done it all day. We finally made them stop and went to get dry clothes before our cave tour.
We took a short walk on the nature trail, then grabbed a snack and some water before heading into the cave on our adventure.
The Lost Sea is at the bottom of the cave, after you make your way through a maze of wide paths. The cave is not extremely wet, so there is not a huge abundance of formations like many other caves we have visited over the years, but there is plenty to see and some exciting and colorful history connected to the cave.
I was actually surprised by how big the cave was, and the paths made it great for kids – there was only one time I was really concerned about Isaac because he seemed determined to climb down the Devil's Hole that was lit up with a red light and a 13 foot drop to the bottom...
To enter the cave, you walk down into a big yellow pipe that takes you into the side of the cave. We started out crossing a bridge that felt a bit wobbly and made Jack nervous. From the bridge and platform we had a chance to see some cave bacon (a type of formation) before retracing our steps to a path that was firmer.
The path zigzagged through the cave and we stopped at various points of interest. Most notable were the "cave flowers" that grow on the ceiling – a large collection of rare anthodites.
The cave is recognized by the U.S. Department of the interior as a Registered National Natural Landmark due to the natural phenomenon of the lake and the abundance of the cave flowers.
Among the colorful history included a mill (I think that is what it was) to convert bat guano to gun powder, a distillery, and also a saloon that was once located deep in the cave. Our guide shared some funny stories related to these historic markers.
When you reach the lake at the bottom of the cave, you get to go out on a boat. The lake covers about 4 acres and is 70 feet at the deepest part. Nothing lives in the water but it is stocked with Rainbow Trout. In the 60s, they had hopes of learning if the lake exited the cave anywhere, but none of the fish were ever found outside the cave. So the fish are fed on the tours and are part of the attraction of the cave.
We saw one waterfall on our 3/4 mile walk and Jack says he is ready to go on one of the wild cave tours. I can't wait to do that with him.
My favorite moment in the cave was when I pulled Jack out of the group to take a quick family photo and he pouted and said, "I'm going to miss something!" and hurried to get back in the front of the group as soon as I snapped my photo.
This was a fun cave to visit with our kids. The cave is open daily, be sure to check their website for times they are open (it varies day-to-day and month-to-month). The cost for a regular tour is: