Discover Tennesee's cave wonders at these 9 sites

Tennessee is known for many things — great barbecue in Memphis, the mecca of country music in Nashville, the stellar aquarium in Chattanooga. This state is also the champion of caves and caverns, with an estimated more than 8,000 documented. These nine caves and caverns located throughout the state — from the west, east and north — are testament to the natural wonders which often go forgotten and overlooked.

ExploreRuby Falls

In the heart of Chattanooga, Ruby Falls has long been an attraction drawing those of all ages. Meagan Jolley, public relations manager, said she understands the appeal.

"Ruby Falls is America's tallest underground waterfall and deepest cave accessible to the public — both of those facts I consider 'bucket list' items worth experiencing," she said.

Other aspects of Ruby Falls Jolley emphasized — the Lookout Mountain Tower with great views of Chattanooga, the cave formations themselves and Ruby Falls history learned on the guided tour. Ruby Falls. 170 Scenic Highway, Chattanooga. 423-821-2544. rubyfalls.com.

ExploreForbidden Caverns

The Eastern Woodland Native Americans used what is now known as Forbidden Caverns as a shelter and a source of water during the winter months. In the 1920s, the caverns were used for boozy reasons — making moonshine. Today, the caverns are known for less adventurous reasons as visitors are able to learn the cavern's history through guided tours. Lighting effects, a clear stream, a sound presentation and natural chimneys are some of the memorable highlights of the caverns. Forbidden Caverns. 455 Blowing Cave Road, Sevierville. 865-453-5972. forbiddencavern.com.

ExploreCumberland Gap National Historical Park

Gap Cave, housed in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, was formerly known as Cudjo's Cave but it still remains a place of natural wonder. Park rangers lead visitors on two-hour tours through the cave, a tour that spans 1.5 miles and 183 steps. Glimpses of the bats in their natural habitat, stalagmites and cascades are some features of the tour. In order to ensure safety, no children under five are permitted on the tour nor are any shoes other than hiking footwear. The tour is a popular one so reservations are recommended and can be made up to a month in advance. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. U.S. Highway 25 East. 606-248-2817. nps.gov.

ExploreBell Witch Cave

A supernatural, witchy past is what Bell Witch Cave is known for and plentiful stories to boot. The Legend of Bell Witch centers around John Bell, a farmer from North Carolina, that settled in the area near where the cave is today. Kate, or Bell's Witch as she is often referred to, terrorized his family home for years. Within the cave are artifacts from the family home and also a waterfall. No children under the age of 18 can tour the cave without parental consent. Bell Witch Cave. 430 Keysburg Road, Adams. 615-696-3055. bellwitchcave.com

ExploreAppalachian Caverns

If having a truly transformative experience communing with Mother Nature is on your bucket list, Appalachian Caverns is just the place to dive in. This cavern site not only features four different tours, ranging from easy to advanced levels, but a full campsite, a gem mine, gift shop and an area to host outdoor picnics. Guided tours take visitors on the granite and concrete pathways throughout the caverns and the more advanced tours involve crawling and include helmets, helmet lights and gloves to maneuver. Appalachian Caverns. 420 Cave Hill Road, Blountville. 423-323-2337. appacaverns.com

ExploreVirgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area

The name Virgin Falls is tribute to an underground stream stemming from a cave; it whooshes over a cliff that's more than 100 feet tall before dropping into yet another cave. This area is often dubbed the land of falling water and is known for its stunning waterfalls — Lost Creek, Rock Island and Burgess Falls. The Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area is also home to multiple caves — Big Laurel, Sheep Cave and Virgin Falls. Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area. Scott's Gulf Road, Sparta. 931-836-3552. spartatnchamber.com

ExploreBristol Caverns

An underground river is responsible for carving out the pathways and walkways in Bristol Caverns. The guided tours through the cavern areas will show you what has been millions of years in the making. In the past, Native Americans used the caverns as a safe space, a place of refuge away from settlers who were quickly colonizing the area. Vivid colors can be seen of the minerals present in the caverns making for an overall breathtaking experience courtesy of Mother Nature. Bristol Caverns. 1157 Bristol Caverns Highway, Bristol. 423-878-2011. bristolcaverns.com.

ExploreNickajack Cave Wildlife Refuge

This cave is perhaps one of the most vital caves biologically in the Tennessee Valley since gray female pregnant bats arrive in the spring to give birth. These gray bats are now an endangered species which influenced the Tennessee Valley Authority's decision to close the cave to the general public. Visitors can view the bats from a nearby viewing platform each evening between the months of April and September. Nickajack Cave Wildlife Refuge. 800-882-5263. tva.com

ExploreCumberland Caverns

Spanning 27.7 miles, Cumberland Caverns is 550 feet deep and bats, albino crawfish and cave crickets are native to the cave. One key feature of this cavern is the option of sleeping inside the cave in the Ten Acre Room. Look closely at the cave's ceilings and you'll see seashells and flowstone embedded. Cumberland Caverns. 1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville. 931-668-4396. cumberlandcaverns.com