Lookout Mountain Caverns

Lookout Mountain Caverns (Lookout Mountain Cave) is the second longest known cave in Hamilton County, Tennessee. Its mapped length of 2.481 miles (3.993 kilometers) places it at 361st on the United States Long Caves List.

Lookout Mountain Cave was owned by Robert Cravens during the Civil War. He contracted with the Tennessee Military and Financial Board to deliver saltpeter to the Confederate government. On June 1, 1862 he rented the cave to the Confederate Nitre and Mining Bureau, who operated the cave until 1863 when Federal forces occupied Chattanooga. At one point the saltpeter mining operation was attacked by Federal forces: "Morale suffered after forces under General Ornsby Mitchell shelled the cave on June 7, 1863." Clearly, the cave was still in Confederate hands on that date. (See Matthews, 2007)

Although Lookout Mountain Caverns has not been open to tourists for quite some time, the management of Ruby Falls did allow researchers to take the elevator (the shaft excavated in 1928-1929) down to Lookout Mountain Caverns by prior arrangement. This access resulted in the discovery of new passages since Barr's description was published in 1961. It also resulted in the discovery of prehistoric bones dating back to the last Ice Age (Pleistocene). Many old names and dates in this cave are of great interest to historians. The map of the cave in Barr's book indicates the existence of "Andy Jackson's Signature." Unfortunately, in 2005 the State of Tennessee's elevator inspectors required the Ruby Falls operators to seal the portion of the elevator shaft below Ruby Falls and the cave became totally inaccessible as of 2006.

Barr's 1961 discussion of the cave says that the cave was intersected by a railway tunnel, and thus the cave accumulated soot that led to its closing to tourists. He says that "exploring of the cave is unpleasant because of the necessity of wading, crawling, climbing, and becoming covered with soot, which coats all the upward-facing surfaces." He says the soot extends well over a mile into the cave.


Barr, Jr., Thomas C. (1961), Caves of Tennessee, State of Tennessee, Department of Conservation and Commerce, Division of Geology, Bulletin 64, pp. 249–250.

"Caves of Chattanooga" by Larry E. Matthews, 2007, Published by the National Speleological Society, ISBN 978-1-879961-27-2, Chapter 1 - Lookout Mountain Cave, pages 13–30.

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