Wow, Townsend, TN was certainly an experience. I’m not sure what I was expecting — the town motto is “The peaceful side of the Smokies.” I guess I was thinking quaint, small-town. Well, it was smaller than I expected. In fact, there just isn’t much there. But what is there is worth the trip. That’s what we discovered last week.
My husband and I left the extended family in the Pigeon Forge cabin for the day and took off for Townsend and the Tuckaleechee Caverns with our CabinConnection Kid Testers. We arrived right as the Caverns opened at 10 a.m. and feeling every bit of our Yankee status, moseyed on into the Caverns building.
Now I should preface this by saying that the only cave I’ve ever toured much is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It is a national park, and everything is, well, official. The tours, the literature, the tour guides, right down to the rules of what you can and can’t take on the tours (no camera cases, for example — seriously?).
Well, Tuckaleechee Caverns is anything but official. We walked into the rickety building and were greeted with a “Y’all want to tour the Caverns?” We paid our money (about $45 for the 4 of us; $15 for adults, $7 for kids, 4 and under are free), then were told that we had about 20 minutes until the first tour left. We wandered the gift shop (some fun finds there — including the biggest supply of salt and pepper shakers I’ve seen outside the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum!), tried to keep the kids from touching things (in a paranoid way, thanks to at least 6 separate signs reminding parents not to let the kids play with the toys) and visited the bathroom, after being warned that there wasn’t one below.
After 20 minutes, a very southern voice called to us that the tour was leaving. So we filed down a hallway to the Caverns. And so the tour began.
Now, let me say right here that the tour was GREAT! We were really impressed with everything — from the things we got to see in the cave to the tour guide. So, I’m only telling you this to give you the FLAVOR of the tour — not to complain about the quality.
So, our tour guide was Arlen — a southern twenty-something boy that loved to joke and tease the members of his tour. He told story after story of people who hadn’t followed his instructions on the tour and had ended up with a broken ankle (but at least she was hot and it was part of his job to help her out of the cave…) or other malady. He made the kids giggle. He was very entertaining.
But he was also a really, really good tour guide. If you just talked to Arlen for a few minutes, you might think he was too much of a joker to really be a strong guide. But that simply wasn’t the case. Arlen told us how his father had worked at the caves for years, and he had grown up scampering around in them. He told us about changing light bulbs in the waterfall, standing on a ladder.
I guess what was so refreshing was that he told us everything! Things we wanted to know and those we didn’t. He seemed to really love that cave. It didn’t feel like a practiced, polished tour like you get at Mammoth Cave. It felt like a friend taking you down to the cave in his backyard and telling you all the impressive history of the place. For example, at one point in the tour, Arlen turned off all the cave lights to show us how black it is in a cave. We were sitting on benches about 8 feet from a cliff with a huge fall on the other side. Mind you, there wasn’t a rail or anything. Arlen was talking to us about the cave (in the dark) and walking back and forth in front of us and suddenly, he stomped hard and loud. Of course, we all screamed, thinking he’d fallen. Then he turned on his flashlight and started laughing.
The tour was fun. It took a bit under 2 hours. And that’s almost all walking time, but it’s slow walking. There are quite a few stairs. Our Kid Testers complained a bit, but I think it was mostly because of the marathon hike we’d done the day before.
The cave is striking, from the rushing underground river to “The Beach” area, where you are encouraged to sip the water from your hands (we tried it — it really did taste amazing) to the 200 foot waterfall that you can stand right beside to the various unusual formations to the “chicken nugget” bat we actually saw hanging out in a hole in the ceiling. We felt like we got an education and also an awe-inspiring trip.
Would I recommend Tuckaleechee Caverns? Definitely! Would our Kid Testers? Well, I’ll let them tell you in their own words, but also know that they’ve jabbered on and on about their experience in the cave. I really feel like they learned so much.
A few more things:
- Wear sturdy walking shoes. Several spots are wet and slippery. I wore flip-flops, and it wasn’t the best idea.
- Remember, it’s always cold in a cave (I think high 50′s). You may want a sweatshirt.
- Don’t take more little ones than you have hands to hold. We were clinging to our two the entire tour. I’m not saying it’s not safe; I’m just saying that it’s best to be able to control the kids. There are a lot of potentially hazardous spots.
- There aren’t any bathrooms for the whole 2-hour tour. If you don’t think your kids can make it, don’t go. And make sure they go right before.
- There are several spots that are very low (think under 4 feet). My 6-foot-6 husband had a time of it, walking and descending stairs bend in half. He made it, but if you’re tall and have back problems, you may want to reconsider.
- Don’t plan to text your friend right before you go into the Caverns (like I did…). Cell coverage is very spotty in all of Townsend, so be prepared with other means of communication.