Lookout Mountain was underwater 200 – 240 million years ago and inside of the mountain are formations of stalactites and stalagmites, columns, drapery, and flowstone.
The natural entrance to the Lookout Mountain Cavern is at the foot of the Tennesse River. It had been previously explored by early Native Americans, cave explorers, and Civil War Soldiers. It is said that President Andrew Jackson explored the caves in 1833 while he had been traveling through Chattanooga. His name is carved inside of the Lookout Mountain Caves, but it has yet to be proven or historically documented that it was the carving of the 7th President himself.
In 1905 the entrance was sealed off due to railroad construction.
Leo Lambert, a chemist and spelunker who had previously visited the Lookout Mountain Caves, wanted to make the cave a tourist attraction and in the 1920s he purchased the land with investors and they began excavating in 1928.
The original quest was to find the Lookout Mountain caverns, but while digging an entrance they found an 18 inch opening which Leo entered, discovering the underground waterfall. The next day Leo brought his wife Ruby and they entered the cave through the 18 inch opening. It took 17 hours to get to the newly discovered underground waterfall and back. Leo named the stunning waterfall after his wife, Ruby.
They continued to build the 1,120 foot elevator shaft to the Lookout Mountain Caves, and they opened them to the public in 1930. In 1931 the caves to Ruby Falls opened as well. Both caves were open as tourist attractions from 1930 – 1935 however the Lookout Mountain cave (the lower cave) was closed to the public due to excess amounts of soot that had seeped in from the coal powered railroad. The Ruby Falls caves continued to operate. The company website states the lower falls were closed due to it being less popular than the Ruby Falls caves. Ruby Falls management allowed access to the lower caves for historic and scientific expeditions until 2005 when the State of Tennesse Elevator Inspectors ordered Ruby Falls to seal the elevator shaft below Ruby Falls, making it completely inaccessible. During the expeditions into the the Lookout Mountain cave, scientists found prehistoric animal bones, rock formations and 13 mysterious stone carved boxes that sit on the floor. To this day no one knows who the origin or purpose of these stone boxes.
While I was on my tour, the guide mentioned they offer lantern tours and spooky stories during Halloween. I asked if anyone had died inside the Ruby Falls caves. The guide shared with me that a few unfortunate accidents had happened over the years. One accident was during the 1930s, when a janitor who was mopping the floor fell backwards down the elevator shaft. He said they didn’t know where he was until they started the elevator the next day and saw blood running down.
While I was trying to find more information on Ruby Falls, I came across some online chatter alleging that “Ruby Falls is fake”. The cave is filled with formations and the underground waterfall is 145ft. It’s impressive, and I would have gone regardless. My curiosity was aroused and I wanted to know more so I found an article by a caver, colmanconcierge.com. He believes the falls are real but during the summer (high tourist season) the waterfall only lets out a trickle and a pump was installed to push more water through year round. When you view the falls, the guide turns on a music and light display, which I personally enjoyed. I really like the multi-colored lights through the tour.
It’s a guided tour and takes just over an hour. You definitely have to go there with the “Disneyland” mindset. You wait in line, you are grouped with 20 or so other tourist, you are rushed through, you watch a video with an introduction of the caves, bottled water is $5 and you enter through a gift shop. The walk does have some low ceilings and I was happy to be 5’3” tall. Some of the pathways are narrow and surfaces are uneven. The temperature inside of the caves is 60F year round. It is a damp and humid environment and you can see the frizz in my hair in the photo below. Overall I enjoyed my experience. I thought the caves and the waterfall are beautiful and $20 is a fair admission price. At the end of the tour you can go up to the top of the castle for overlook views and access coin operated binoculars.
Cheers to another long day!
You can find more info at https://www.rubyfalls.com and https://www.lookoutmountain.com. I also liked this article written by Jerry Summers https://www.chattanoogan.com/2020/8/9/412000/Jerry-Summers-Lookout-Mountain-s-Other.aspx