Raccoon Mountain: The Crystal Palace Walking Tour
In the early 1900s, the exposed limestone rock at the base of Raccoon Mountain was a respite for local farmers, its crevices offering cool blasts of air from deep inside. In 1929, local caver Leo Lambert crawled through a small opening in the rock and found a sprawling series of beautiful caverns. Now one of the Chattanooga area’s most popular tourist destinations, Raccoon Mountain Caverns is considered to be the largest naturally preserved cavern in the southeastern United States. This means that besides minimal additions for safety, like lighting and handrails, the cave remains in its most natural state. Much of its 5.5 miles of underground passageways can be explored on Wild Cave Expedition Tours, which involve knee pads, headlamps, helmets, and crawling through small spaces. The Crystal Palace Walking Tour is a 45-55-minute guided tour through the first quarter-mile of the cave.
In addition to the stalactites, stalagmites, reflection ponds, and natural bridges, part of what makes the Crystal Palace Walking Tour so captivating is the cave’s flowstone. Also known as “drapes,” flowstone is made up of layers of calcite left behind when water moves along the walls and floor of the cave. The cavern is also home to a cave shield, a rare formation only found in 82 caves in the United States and created by water forced horizontally out of the seams in the rocks. Tour guides regularly spot Mississippian-era fossils as well as native wildlife like salamanders, cave crickets, and cave flies. In friendly banter with your guide, you’ll also be on the lookout for “Imagination Formations” shaped like a saber tooth tiger, an alligator, and Scooby-Doo getting ready to eat a giant ice cream cone.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns is open year-round, rain or shine, only closing for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Reservations are required, and guests must be age three or older and able to walk independently. Due to the need to preserve the delicate nature of the ecosystem, caves are not handicap accessible and service animals are not permitted.
The Crystal Palace Walking Tour tickets may be purchased by calling 423-821-9403. Raccoon Mountain Caverns is open daily 9:00am – 5:00pm and is located at 319 West Hills Dr. in Chattanooga.
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