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Nestled deep within Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee, lies the breathtaking Ruby Falls. This natural wonder was accidentally discovered by Leo Lambert in 1928 and named after his wife Ruby. Opened to the public in 1929, this iconic attraction continues to amaze visitors from around the world with its beauty.

We recently returned from an amazing family trip to Lookout Mountain and we had Ruby Falls as one of the top things to do in the area. Here is our “official” photo from the cavern:

the author and her family in front of Ruby Falls

We will be delving into the fascinating history of Ruby Falls and exploring the tours offered within. Descending 260 feet into the historic mountain, we’ll discover America’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public.

As we walk along the paved half-mile cavern trail, prepare to be astounded by this thundering marvel and the ancient geological formations surrounding it. Throughout our journey, we will learn about the cave’s unique features, and understand why Ruby Falls remains a must-see attraction.

Ruby Falls: History and Discovery

Leo Lambert

Our story begins in the early 20th century with Leo Lambert, a cave enthusiast who aspired to reopen Lookout Mountain Cave to the public.

This area in Chattanooga, Tennessee, situated along the Tennessee River, had been closed off since 1905 due to the construction of a tunnel.

Lambert, determined to make his vision a reality, purchased the land directly above the cave and formed a company to build an elevator shaft that would descend into the depths of Lookout Mountain and provide access to the hidden caverns below.

area of Ruby Falls known as Niagra Falls
Area of the cavern known as Niagra Falls

Accidental Discovery of the Cavern

As fate would have it, during the construction of the elevator shaft, an accidental discovery changed everything. On December 28, workers drilling midway into the 400-foot shaft stumbled upon a void in the rock.

Air gushed from the cavity, which measured about 18 inches high and five feet wide. Naturally, Lambert decided to investigate this sudden turn of events.

What Lambert found was a hidden gem, quite literally. Waterfalling through the cavern was a stunning 145-foot cascade, illuminated with a brilliant red hue from naturally occurring minerals.

This discovery was soon named Ruby Falls, after Lambert’s wife, Ruby. The cavern and its mesmerizing waterfall have since become one of the must-see attractions in the southeastern United States.

During trying times like the Great Depression and the Civil War, Ruby Falls served as a beacon of hope and natural beauty for the nation. Today, we can still appreciate the breathtaking sights and marvel at the determination and accidental discovery that brought this hidden treasure to light.

the author and her family in front of Ruby Falls during the light show
Actual photo of us during the light show in front of Ruby Falls (our other pic was blue!)

Exploring Ruby Falls

Deepest Underground Waterfall

At Ruby Falls, we have the honor of showcasing the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States. Hidden within Lookout Mountain, this breathtaking waterfall demonstrates the awe-inspiring power of nature.

Cavern Trail

To reach the waterfall, we will take you on a guided tour along the cavern trail. This trail allows you to witness the captivating beauty of the ancient cave formations, which took millions of years to form. Here, we invite you to enjoy the natural wonders that have existed long before our time.

Here is some footage of our tour as we were walking to the falls:

Thundering Waterfall

As we make our way through the trail, the sound of the thundering waterfall grows louder, announcing its presence. Witnessing the water cascading down with such force is truly a magical experience and serves as a reminder of nature’s incredible abilities.

Rock Formations

While exploring Ruby Falls, take the time to marvel at the fantastic rock formations within the cavern. You will find extraordinary stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. Each of these formations offers insight into the geological processes that have taken place over countless years.

The experience of visiting Ruby Falls is enriched by the combination of the cavern trail, the thundering waterfall, and the intricate rock formations. Each element contributes to unveiling the natural beauty and ancient cave formations that make this underground gem a must-see destination.

Ruby Falls cactus rock formation
One of the many amazing rock formations you’ll see on your tour.

Visiting Ruby Falls

Guided Tour

When visiting Ruby Falls, we highly recommend taking a guided tour along the scenic cavern trail to fully appreciate the breathtaking waterfall. By joining a tour group led by a knowledgeable tour guide, we’ll descend 260 feet into Lookout Mountain by glass-front elevator and be amazed at the ancient cave formations and the beauty of the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States. Tours usually last around 1 to 1.5 hours.

Visitor Center

Before embarking on our adventure, we can check out the Visitor Center. Here, we’ll find all the information we need about the available tours, including specialty tours led by a Ruby Falls senior-level guide. Additionally, the Visitor Center offers useful tips on planning our visit so we can achieve the best availability and make the most out of our time at Ruby Falls.

Gift Shop

After our memorable experience, we won’t want to leave Ruby Falls without stopping by the Gift Shop. This charming store offers a variety of souvenirs, such as clothing, postcards, and other memorabilia that will help us remember our incredible journey for years to come.

Parking Lot

One of the best things about visiting Ruby Falls is that we don’t have to worry about parking. The attraction provides a spacious parking lot to accommodate all its visitors. We’ll find ample space to park our vehicle, ensuring a smooth arrival and departure.

Observation Deck

Once we’ve experienced the wonders of the cave and the waterfall, we’ll want to head up to the Observation Deck. This scenic spot provides a great opportunity to take in the stunning views of the Tennessee Valley and surrounding area. We can relax, snap some pictures, and marvel at the natural beauty around us.

Ruby Falls observation tower
Included in the tour is the observation tower, where you can see some amazing views of the city

Lantern Tours

For those of us seeking a more unique and intimate experience, we should consider the Lantern Tours. These special tours, held after hours, allow us to explore the cave and enjoy the cascade of the waterfall by lantern light. This one-of-a-kind experience adds an extra element of mystery and excitement to our Ruby Falls adventure.

rock formations on the ceiling on the way to Ruby Falls
If you look up during your tour, you will see lots of formations.

Geological Significance of Ruby Falls

Explanation of the geological formation of Ruby Falls

The geological formation of Ruby Falls dates back to about 240-360 million years ago during the Carboniferous period, at the end of the Paleozoic Era. Most of Lookout Mountain, where Ruby Falls is located, is made of limestone rock. This limestone formed in a shallow sea that once covered the eastern Tennessee area. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, created by the accumulation of successive layers of shale, sand, and pebbly sand.

Information on the underground stream and the height of the waterfall

At the heart of Ruby Falls is an underground stream that flows through the mountain and cascades down a stunning waterfall. The waterfall is an impressive 145 feet (44 meters) tall, making it the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States. The cave’s elevator takes visitors down into one of the deepest commercial caves in the world, giving them a truly unique experience.

Details on the stalagmites and stalactites formations inside the cave

The interior of Ruby Falls cave is adorned with a variety of intricate and awe-inspiring stalagmites and stalactites. These formations are the result of the slow and persistent dripping of mineral-rich water from the cave’s ceiling to the floor. Over time, this gradual buildup of minerals forms the stunning stalactites (hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites (rising from the ground) that we see today. The cave’s environment, including its temperature, humidity, and air circulation, contribute to the growth and formation of these unique structures.

Inside Ruby Falls, visitors can marvel at these incredible natural formations and gain a better understanding of the geological processes that have shaped the cave over the course of millions of years. We hope that this brief overview of the geological significance of Ruby Falls helps you appreciate the beauty and history of this remarkable natural wonder.

the author's sons in front of Ruby Falls
Our boy in front of Ruby Falls… in every picture one had their eyes closed lol

Tips and Best Practices for Visitors

Best time of year and day to visit Ruby Falls

In our experience, the ideal time to visit Ruby Falls is during the off-peak seasons like spring or fall. The crowds are generally smaller during these times, allowing you to enjoy the tours more fully.

Regarding the best time of day, we recommend visiting in the morning or late afternoon, as these periods often have fewer visitors and can offer an overall better experience.

If you check the ticket purchase options, you’ll see how many spots are available for each tour time. We picked one with lots of spots available and had a smaller group, which was nice.

Ticket Information and Booking Tips

To ensure a smooth visit to Ruby Falls, follow these ticket booking tips:

  • Book online in advance: Purchasing tickets ahead of time guarantees your spot on a guided tour and can help you avoid long wait times. Check to see how many spots are available for each tour time.
  • Select a tour: Choose from various tour options such as the Classic Waterfall Tour, Lantern Tour, or one of the seasonal tours (Halloween or Valentine’s Day). Each tour offers a unique experience, so pick the one that suits your interests best.
  • Plan your visit duration: Allocate around 2 – 2.5 hours for your entire visit, including the tour, which usually lasts approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. We spent right at 2 hours there including the gift shop and observation tower.
  • Watch your head if you are tall: Some areas of the cave have low ceilings, so watch your head as you go through the cavern.

Suggestions on attire and equipment

To make sure you have a comfortable experience at Ruby Falls, consider packing the following items:

  • Walking shoes: Since you’ll be exploring the cave trails, make sure to wear comfortable, sturdy, and closed-toe shoes. Some areas of the cave are wet year-round, so it can also get slippery.
  • Layered clothing: The cave temperature is usually around 60°F (15.6°C) all year. Dressing in layers allows you to stay warm while exploring the cave and easily adjust to the temperature outside after the tour. We all brought a jacket and half our family chose to use theirs.
  • Cameras: Don’t forget your camera or smartphone to capture stunning photos of Ruby Falls and the surrounding unique geological formations. Just remember to keep flash photography to a minimum, as it can disrupt other visitors’ experiences.

With these tips and best practices in mind, we hope you have a fantastic time exploring the magical Ruby Falls!

Nearby Attractions

Other attractions within Lookout Mountain

While visiting Ruby Falls, be sure to explore the other attractions on Lookout Mountain. One of the must-sees is Rock City, a beautiful garden with enchanting rock formations, walking trails, and a breathtaking view of seven states.

Another activity on Lookout Mountain is The Incline Railway, one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. Riding the railway will offer you sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding scenery.

For those interested in history, Cravens House is certainly worth a visit. Located just 0.3 miles from Ruby Falls, it played a significant role during the Civil War and provides informative exhibits about Chattanooga’s past.

If you’re up for a little adventure, High Point ZIP Adventure is located within proximity, offering a fun-filled ziplining experience for all ages.

Nearby Chattanooga Local Attractions

Aside from Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga also offers a variety of local attractions. One popular spot is the Naughty Cat Cafe, where you can enjoy a unique experience of cuddling with cats while sipping on your favorite beverage. Numbering as #1 of 46 Fun & Games spots in Chattanooga according to Tripadvisor, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Additionally, there are numerous outdoor activities to explore in Chattanooga, including hiking, biking, and water sports. The city is also home to a vibrant arts scene, diverse dining venues, and entertainment options. Be sure to make time to check these out during your visit.

We hope this guide helps you make the most of your visit to Ruby Falls and the surrounding attractions. Enjoy your time in the scenic and historic city of Chattanooga.

Final Thoughts on Ruby Falls

During our visit to Ruby Falls, we had an amazing time and our tour guide, Thomas, was funny, knowledgeable and careful to keep us all together and safe.

We did the falls with our four boys ages 13 down to 5 and none of us had any issues on our journey. Our youngest did get a little scared when we got to the falls itself because it was dark at first and then he was afraid he might fall in to the pool even though there was a railing and he didn’t get that close.

We really loved the variety of formations, such as stalagmites, columns, stalactites, flowstone, and drapery, that decorated the path to the waterfall.

The Lantern Tour option would have allowed us to explore Ruby Falls in a more natural and adventurous setting, which we would highly recommend for those seeking an immersive experience, but with our youngest scared of just a few minutes of darkness we decided not to take that tour.

Nestled within Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls offers an unforgettable experience for all ages, while providing opportunities to learn about the history and geological marvels of the area.

The mountain overlook also offers stunning views of the Tennessee Valley and Cumberland Plateau, making it a must-visit destination for anyone traveling through Chattanooga, Tennessee.

To sum up, Ruby Falls has left an impression on us with its intriguing stories and astonishing natural beauty. We genuinely believe it deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list, and we cannot wait to return for another memorable journey through the captivating world beneath Lookout Mountain.

Learn more about Ruby Falls here at their official site.

Hope to see you there!

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