Sweetwater, Tennessee: The Lost Sea

It's been lost in a cave. See the sea by boat. It's really a lake, not a sea, but it has hungry fish and helpful tour guides.

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Fish in the Lost Sea.

The Lost Sea

The Lost Sea is in the Craighead Caverns cave system, which was used by Cherokee, local settlers, the Confederate Army and miners in general. Unlike most cave systems, one of its geological features is anthodites (rare, spiky crystalline structures also known as cave flowers). If you're into geology those are cool.

They don't actually know how large the Lost Sea is, because the visible portion of it is connected to some completely submerged rooms that nobody's been able to fully explore. The visible portion of it is 800 feet long by 220 feet wide. We took a glass-bottomed boat with an electric motor out on it. The glass bottoms sounded really snazzy in the tourism info, but turned out to be kind of a bust since the water was really murky from all the recent rainfall. We saw quite a few of the trout the lake is stocked with, though, since our guide fed them.

I'd recommend this for anybody in good health. It's quite easy walking in, but the return trip is uphill, and fairly steep, so not a good place to take your elderly relatives.

[Joanne Merriam, 04/19/2004]
The Lost Sea

I had to put my two cents in, being a former tour guide at the Lost Sea. The tour is quite interesting, with something for everyone. Geology and cave nuts will appreciate the anthodites ('cave flowers') - rare cave formations which are in abundance here. The underground lake is the largest known in the US, and in fact it's the second largest in the world. (Some believe it may actually be the largest, but this is unconfirmed as much of the lake has never been explored or mapped.)

The fish came to be in the lake in an attempt to find the waters' outlet. It was a fruitless venture, though -- they never left. The fish are not white nor are they eyeless; they lose only a bit of color and vision in the dim artificial light. A rare species of cave salamander has been spotted there, but not in quite some time I'm sad to say.

History nuts will also enjoy the visit -- the Cherokee used this cave, as did soldiers during the Civil War. It also housed a Cavern Tavern speakeasy during prohibition, housed military supplies (still there) and served as a local bomb shelter in later years. The lighting of the caverns spawned the first attempt to bring electricty to this area. That pleistocene era cat that was found in the cave is kept at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

[lisa, 02/29/2004]
Lost Sea

America's largest underground lake, so big that the US Dept. of the Interior has designated it a Registered National Landmark. A guided walk through many interesting room (a former tavern and a bomb shelter) some of which are among the widest, highest and largest rooms of any cavern in the Southeast. Upon entering the lake room you will board large glass bottom boats and can observe some of the largest rainbow trout in the United States.

[Diane West, 09/27/2001]
Lost Sea Caverns - Vague Recollections

When I was in High School (from 1978 - 1982) my Explorer Scout trip used to take an annual trip to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. One of the many highlights of the trip was a visit to the Lost Sea Caverns located somewhere?? [Sweetwater] near Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. There we would "Sail the Lost Sea" on a little boat. The Lost Sea is apparently a huge underground lake, one of the largest in North America. (they say.) These freaky white, eyeless fish and salamanders lived there, and they had stocked the lake (I think) with trout. We actually spent the night in the "Ballroom" of the caverns. Apparently the Caverns had been a speakeasy during prohibition, and they used to have dances there. The caverns were also stocked with crackers and dry goods because it was a designated bomb shelter (as in atom bomb).

Being young and adventurous teens, we would take a guided spelunking tour of some of the hard-to-reach portions of the caverns. The highlight of the tour, (and you had to belly crawl through miles of red clay to see this) was a the footprint of a Pliocene (I think) era jaguar.

[Carlene, 06/24/1998]

The Lost Sea

The Lost Sea

140 Lost Sea Rd, Sweetwater, TN
I-75 exit 60. Turn east onto Hwy 68. Drive a little over seven miles. You'll see the Lost Sea entrance sign on the left.
Open daily 9 am, closing times vary with seasons. (Call to verify)
Adults $20.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Big Cows, Ice Cream - Dairy TourBig Cows, Ice Cream - Dairy Tour, Athens, TN - 10 mi.
Nocatula and ConnestogaNocatula and Connestoga, Athens, TN - 11 mi.
Giant CrossGiant Cross, Loudon, TN - 17 mi.
In the region:
Giant Cross, La Follette, TN - 59 mi.

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