When you think of the Smokey Mountains, the sea doesn’t usually come to mind. But that is exactly what we found when we spent a month at the Big Meadow Family Campground, in Townsend, Tennessee. On a tip from a fellow camper, we decided to check out The Lost Sea Adventure on a rainy Saturday morning.
The Lost Sea Adventure is located near Sweetwater, Tennessee, south of Knoxville. It was a bit of a drive from Townsend, but well worth it. We had no idea what to expect, except that we would be going underground. When our friend said there was actually a boat ride on the underground lake included in the price, we thought he must be joking. Sure enough, The Lost Sea is home to “America’s Largest Underground Lake“, as advertised on their brochure.
The guided tour starts as most cave tours do, with a descent underground. The 3/4-mile roundtrip walk is steep at times, however, most definitely doable. We even saw strollers in another group. Along the way, the rock formations and amazing colors of nature underground are visible everywhere you look.
The constant 58 degree temperature was perfect for early settlers to store provisions without worrying about spoilage.
During the Civil War, the Confederate Army mined the cave for saltpeter, which was necessary to manufacture gunpowder. Throughout the cave, you can see carvings the soldiers left.
The cave was even used during prohibition. At one time there was a speakeasy in one of the large rooms. However, to access the room, patrons would have to go down a very narrow set of steep stairs. Alcohol has a different effect on a person underground than it does above ground, and people were consuming so much alcohol without knowing they were beyond their limit. As they began to ascend the steep stairs, the affects of the liquor took hold, and many were too drunk to make it to the top! The underground bar was subsequently closed.
The Discovery of the Lake
While there had been rumors of an underground lake for decades, it wasn’t until 1905 that the lake was actually discovered. Thirteen-year-old Ben Sands went exploring and wiggled through a tiny, muddy opening 300-feet underground. When he stood up, he could barely see in the dark that he was in a large room. He picked up a rock and threw it, hearing it hit the water. Ten years later, the idea of opening up the cave to the public was born. Today you can take a glass-bottom boat tour of the lake itself.
The size of the lake is still not known, however the visible part is 800 feet long by 220 feet wide. The lake is stocked with some of the largest Rainbow Trout in North America, but fishing is prohibited.
This is truly one spectacular discovery.
Once you are finished with the tour, there is also a Nature Trail, Sweet Shop, Blacksmith Shop, and Glass Blower on the grounds.
If you are ever in the Sweetwater, Tennessee area, we highly recommend visiting The Lost Sea Adventure.
Jennifer Skinnell is the author of the Hope Springs Romance Series available on Amazon. Click here for details.