The Lost Sea: Tennessee’s Stunning Subterranean Cave Lake

An expansive cave lake of unknown proportions rests between Sweetwater and Madisonville, Tennessee. Aptly called the Lost Sea—the clean, clear waters of Tennessee’s magnificent hidden cave lake remain largely uncharted. Visitors routinely peer into the mysterious waters of the Lost Sea as they cruise around on a boat. The occasional splash of a large trout is the only ripple the average visitor experiences as they gaze into the placid Lost Sea.

Lost Sea

The Lost Sea is part of a cave system known as Craighead Caverns. In 1905, a thirteen-year-old boy named Ben Sands was quite fond of exploring Craighead Caverns. One day, Ben Sands happened upon a small opening that led to a large cavern. Ben’s lantern failed to illuminate the enormous room, so he did what little boys do best and decided to pelt the room with clods of mud. Ben heard several loud splashes as he propelled mud as far as he could in all directions. Ben raced back home to tell his family that he had discovered a large lake inside of his favorite cave. Sadly, the water level changed dramatically before any adult found the will to verify Ben’s claim. The Lost Sea that Ben had detected by pitching handfuls of mud in all directions would not be officially discovered by grown-ups for several more years.

During the Prohibition era, the Lost Sea served as a speakeasy that allowed revelers to keep their booze lightly chilled underground and avoid detection by the authorities. Speakeasy operators soon realized that patrons of the Lost Sea speakeasy tended to get so blindingly drunk they they could not crawl out of the cave’s narrow entrance without injuring themselves. The Lost Sea speakeasy was short-lived thanks to one too many drunken injuries.

In addition to the Lost Sea, Craighead Caverns is known for its exquisite anthodites. An anthodite—otherwise known as a cave flower— is a collection of thin crystals that look like delicate thistles. Craighead Caverns is one of the few caves on Earth to house a large number of cave flowers. Visitors flock to the Lost Sea to bask in the gloomy beauty of a lofty cave that houses one of the largest sea lakes in the world. The most claustrophobic among us need not worry. Craighead Caverns has a narrow entrance, but the bulk of the area where the Lost Sea is visible to the public is as tall as a two story house.


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