CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — In the 1920s, Leo Lambert thought Lookout Mountain Cave would make a great tourist attraction. So, he set out to rediscover it.
Once used as a hideaway for outlaws, refuge for Native Americans and a hospital during the Civil War, a railroad tunnel built in the early 1900s intersected the cave’s entrance and sealed it from the public. But that didn’t deter Lambert from searching for the cave.
In 1928, he led a team of engineers and started digging an elevator shaft to access the cave. Ninety-two days later, Lambert found the cave, but not before digging through more than 400 feet of solid limestone. But when Lambert realized there might be more than just a cave buried beneath Lookout Mountain, he took off down a tight corridor, and 17 hours later, he found what today known is as Ruby Falls.
Named for Lambert’s wife, this 145-foot-tall waterfall located 1,100 feet beneath Lookout Mountain is one of the most spectacular natural wonders, as more than 300 gallons of water pour out of the waterfall every minute. Opened as a tourist attraction in 1930, Ruby Falls has remained one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Southeast.
Lookout Mountain Cave, located 140 feet below Ruby Falls, is no longer open to the public. While Lambert hoped that both Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain Cave would be popular tourist attractions, the falls turned out attracting more tourists.
In addition to its standard tours, travelers can opt for one of the Lantern Tours. Instead of the lights normally used to light the cave leading to Ruby Falls, the pathway is illuminated by lanterns, no doubt giving it a more rustic feel. It’s best to check on availability in advance, as space is limited.