Forbidden Caverns & Old Mill Square Near Gatlinburg | RTX Traveler Magazine

While there’s plenty to see and do in the immediate area of Gatlinburg, there are also several attractions and sights that are well worth an easy, scenic drive to the nearby towns of Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and beyond. While many people travel to the area because of the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, few realize that arguably the most interesting splendor of the ancient mountain range is only visible by venturing underground.

Cave Main WebThere are several options for visiting caverns in the area; in fact, Tennessee is home to the most caves in the entire country, with more than 8,350 registered to date. The Forbidden Caverns attraction near Sevierville is an easy jaunt from Gatlinburg with the opportunity for a pit stop in Pigeon Forge for lunch, shopping or additional sightseeing.

The guided tour of the caverns lasts about an hour, and a knowledgeable and entertaining guide will take you through large rooms adjoined by narrow passages and down 150 steep stairs to 600 feet below the surface. The formations in the caverns are illuminated by strategically placed lights and are so spectacular that you may not even hear or remember much of what the tour guide says, but the history of the cave is indeed notable.

The cave remains at a constant 58 degrees regardless of the weather above ground, and there is a steady supply of fresh water from a stream believed to come from a lake underneath nearby English Mountain.  Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used the caves for shelter as their hunting ground was nearby. The name itself comes from a Native American legend in which princess Nutah was trapped within the “hollow mountain of two streams,” and after she died, Native Americans believed the gods had closed the gates to the cave forever.

From the early 1920s until 1943 the caves were used as a moonshine still. The well-hidden space along with the constant supply of fresh water was ideal for this underground business. In 1964 excavations began and three years later the cavern was opened to the public. Today, it remains a popular attraction for all ages offering a rare glimpse into natural wonders that are often out of view.

Forbidden Caverns – Good to Know


The Forbidden Caverns are open April through November, Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are closed Sundays, Thanksgiving Day and December through March. Admission to the caverns is $14 for adults and $8 for children (ages 4 and younger are free).

Photo tip:

Using your camera’s manual settings, choose the highest ISO number (such as 1600) and turn off the flash for dramatic pictures of the illuminated rock formations.

Don’t get lost!

If you are going to the Forbidden Caverns from Bent Creek Resort or anywhere east of Gatlinburg on 321, your GPS may direct you to take 321 East from Gatlinburg to Cosby, and then 339 or Jones Cove Road before venturing off onto mountain roads. This is not recommended! Even the most up to date GPS systems will take you to an “end of state maintained road” sign. There are several ways to get to the caverns but the easiest and most direct is to take highway 71/Parkway from Gatlinburg through Pigeon Forge and to Sevierville. In Sevierville, you’ll turn right/east onto highway 411/32 that will take you directly to Blowing Cave Road where you’ll turn right, and the Forbidden Caverns attraction is just ahead on the right.

After working up an appetite in the caverns, a stop in Pigeon Forge for lunch is a necessity. The Old Mill Square area is quaint and charming with plenty of history, shopping and food to take in. The Old Mill Restaurant serves up gorgeous views of the Little Pigeon River and the giant water wheel that harnesses the power for the historic grist mill that dates back to the early 1800s and is still very much in working order today, converting grain into about 1000 pounds of product per day. Once ground into flour or other grain products, they are used in many of the items on the menu at the Old Mill Restaurant as well as the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille just across the street and adjacent to Pigeon River Pottery.

If you aren’t quite hungry yet, you will be the instant you enter the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille as the scent of fresh baked bread invades your senses and the sight of giant slices of homemade cakes and pies greets you in the entrance area. There may be a bit of a wait, but with your service buzzer in hand, you can browse the shops adjacent to the restaurant for jewelry, pottery and clothing.

The menu boasts that they not only make their own bread, but also grind their own oats and even make their own plates. On a cool winter day, the soaring raftered ceiling and crackling fireplace in the main dining room instantly make you cozy and comfortable. The varied menu indicates certain signature items that are made from scratch and can be purchased such as the fried green tomato breading and barbecue sauce. The fried green tomato BLT with avocado is perfect on the house made sourdough bread, and the peanut butter pie is rich and delectable. If you do stop in Pigeon Forge during your Gatlinburg vacation, the Old Mill area is not to be missed.

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