You don’t often visit one natural wonder and discover another hidden inside it, but Lookout Mountain is one such tourism twofer.
The soaring peak in Chattanooga, Tennessee, houses the country’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall some 1,120 feet below the surface. Ruby Falls opened to the public in 1929 but has continued to evolve with new experiences and facilities.
The historic landmark, which welcomes more than half a million guests annually, offers a range of tours to ensure you get the most out of every visit. To kick things off, a glass-front elevator will take you down some 260 feet into the heart of the striking cavern. From here, you will explore the prevalent natural beauty at a different pace depending on the type of tour.
The Cave Walk ($25) allows you to learn about the cave’s storied history as you walk the scenic path to the breathtaking, 145-foot-tall waterfall. The pre-recorded audio covers everything from the stalagmites and stalactites to the ancient drapery formations and flowstone. The journey culminates with the breathtaking waterfall light show.
The early morning Gentle Walking Tour ($40) lets you do all of the above at a slower pace and provides you with early access to the waterfall. It also includes more in-depth historical and geological content for true nature buffs.
The after-hours Lantern Tour ($40), meanwhile, enables travelers to see the falls in a different light. In fact, the cavern is illuminated only by the hand-held lanterns that the guests carry and a few other strategically placed lights. Of course, you can also arrange a private tour of the falls by appointment.
The mountain itself, which rises 2,000 feet above sea level, affords sweeping views of the Cumberland Plateau, the Tennessee River and the surrounding mountains and valleys. Thrillseekers can head to the nearby High Point ZIP Adventure to scale a 40-foot climbing tower or whoosh through the treetops on a zipline.
In addition, the Ruby Falls Castle Cafe, which opened last summer, slings seasonal fare and local craft beer to satiate travelers. To top it off, mountain goers will soon have a fancy new place to stay. Ruby Falls and Treetop Hideaways are planning to open three new luxury treehouses on Lookout Mountain this spring.
“Where else can you stay in an inspiring treehouse, visit a cave waterfall and have the top outdoor city in the country at your doorstep waiting for you to explore?” Treetop Hideaways founder Enoch Elwell said in a statement.
Perhaps the Tennessee mountain is a tourism threefer.