There are three things that everyone thinks they have to do when they come to Chattanooga: Rock City, the Incline, and Ruby Falls. I have already written about Rock City and the Incline, so today I will tell you about Ruby Falls.
Ruby Falls is an excellent thing to do on a rainy day because it is all in a cave underground. The area around Chattanooga is riddled with caves because of the eroded limestone underneath the sandstone that makes up the mountains. There was a large cave called “Lookout Mountain Cave” with an opening at the base of Lookout Mountain. During the Civil War soldiers found refuge in it and used it as a hospital for a time. When a railroad tunnel was constructed in 1905, the builders filled the cave with leftover rock and closed the cave entrance. In 1927, Leo Lambert, an ardent caver, remembered the cave and convinced a group of investors that it would be worthwhile to drill down into it, build an elevator, and develop it as a tourist attraction.
As they were excavating the elevator shaft, the drillers encountered an empty space, about 18 inches high and four feet wide, in the rock above Lookout Mountain Cave. Leo Lambert spent several days exploring this space and found a large cavern with a beautiful waterfall pouring through the ceiling. Lambert named the falls after his wife, Ruby.
Lookout Mountain Cave and Ruby Falls Cave were opened to the public in 1928 as a tourist attraction. In 1935 Lookout Mountain Cave was closed again because it was much less popular with the tourists. In 1975 a secondary exit to Ruby Falls Cave was created after the elevator broke and a group of tourists was stranded in the cave for 24 hours. Today this secondary entrance is part of the popular “Haunted Cavern” tour during September and October.
To see Ruby Falls Cave you have to join a tour. Your guide takes you and about 40 other guests down in the elevator where the tour begins. You see all the usual cave formations: stalactites, stalagmites, columns, drapery, and flowstone. The guide asks you not to touch but most people don’t pay attention. Unlike the pristine caves that are park of the National Park System, many of the stalagmites, stalactites, and drapery are damaged or broken. The tunnels are not natural: they have been excavated so you aren’t crawling through.
The most impressive part of Ruby Falls is the waterfall. Located 1,200 feet underground – one of the deepest caves open to the public – the waterfall is 145 tall. When you get to the waterfall chamber the tour guide starts a light and music show that highlights the falls. The water is pure and safe to drink but is high in magnesium from the limestone, so drinking it has consequences later.
After the tour you can climb to the top of the “castle” for a view, eat at the grille, shop in one of three gift stores, or ride a zipline. Tom really enjoyed Ruby Falls. I found it all a little kitschy and didn’t like being in a crowd of people all taking the same pictures of the same labeled “attractions.” But it is definitely one of the tourist favorites so it was worth the visit.
See Rock City! See Ruby Falls! Ride the Incline! We’ve done them all and now, when we see the signs all over the southeast, we know what they are all about. Have you seen Ruby Falls?