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Five Cool and Crazy Geological Wonders to See in Tennessee

1. Cumberland Caverns. Located in McMinnville, in southeast Tennessee, about 70 miles northwest of Chattanooga, this national natural landmark, and the state's largest show cave, offers visitors more than 32 miles of caves and underground passageways, incredible rock formations, beautiful waterfalls, and gleaming pools -- all created by a vast network of now-gone rushing rivers. Now a commercial site open to the public (fee-based), the main cave was discovered in the early 1800s by Aaron Higgenbotham, while he was surveying nearby Chickamauga Trail on Cardwell Mountain. Besides daily walking tours, the site offers adventure trips, overnight adventure trips, and live county and bluegrass music (Bluegrass Underground) in the Volcano Room, a cavern more than 300 feet below the surface. Weddings, birthdays, and other events are held in the caverns. A portion of the Trail of Tears passes through the property, and a walking trail is open to the public. Open year round 9 to 5, except major holidays. After spelunking, check out other nearby favorites, including Fall Creek Falls State Park, Rock Island State Park, Savage Gulf Natural Area State Park, and Center Hill Lake (reservoir). Learn more: Cumberland Caverns.

2. Dunbar Cave. Located in the day-use-only 141-acre Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, in northern Tennessee, about 46 miles northwest of Nashville, this 8.1-mile cave (one of several caves and sinkholes throughout the property) has historical, commercial, natural, archeological, and geological significance. Once used for big band concerts (with golfing and hotel nearby), scientists have recently discovered prehistoric pictographs (Mississippian Tradition) that date back a thousand years. The cave is the habitat for several rare animals, including the federally threatened Northern long-eared bat. Ranger-led cave tours take place from May to August; reservations are required. The park offers a visitor center (with museum), hiking trails through oak-0hickory forests, picnic areas, and the picturesque 15-acre Swan Lake. Nearby parks include Port Royal State Historical Park (on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail) and Montgomery Bell State Park (3,850-acre park that includes an inn and conference center and restaurant, as well as offering camping, hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, and picnicking). Learn more: Dunbar Cave State Park.

3. Indian Mountain. Located in the Indian Mountain State Park in Jellico, in northern Tennessee near the Kentucky border, about 60 miles north of Knoxville, the land in and around the 203-acre park was part of a reclamation project in which abandoned strip mining pits were converted to recreational use -- this one at the base of Indian Mountain (a 1,949-foot summit that overlooks the Elk Valley in the Cumberland Mountains) was abandoned by the Saxon Coal Company in the 1950s and originally obtained by the city of Jellico. Visitors to the park can enjoy fishing (bass, blue gill, catfish, carp), boating (row and pedal boat rentals available in season), hiking (3 trails; three miles in total), picnicking (three pavilions), and camping (water and electricity). Other nearby parks include Cove Lake State Park (717 acres; 106 campsites; 6 large picnic pavilions; 11-mile section of Cumberland Trail, connects to Tank Springs) and Norris Dam State Park (4,000 acres; 800 miles of shoreline; 19 historic CCC cabins; 10 deluxe cabins; two campgrounds with 75+ sites with hook-ups). Learn more: Indian Mountain State Park.

4. Lost Sea Adventure. Located in Sweetwater, in eastern Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, about halfway between Chattanooga (70 miles) and Knoxville (52 miles), this unique natural wonder, which is listed as "America's Largest Underground Lake" in The Guinness Book of World Records and designated as a U.S. Natural Landmark, offers visitors (for a fee) the chance to walk a 3/4-mile tour around the caverns and underground lake and then board a glass-bottom boat for a trip around the lake. Open year-round (except for Christmas day). The Lost Sea is part of a vast series of caves known as Craighead Caverns. Above ground, other amenities include Old Sweetwater Village (which includes a cafe, general store, ice cream parlor, gem mine, blacksmith, and glassblower) and the Lost Sea Nature Trail (a 1/3-mile self-guided hike through a cove-hardwood forest). Nearby attractions include Fort Loudon State Historical Park (1,200-acre park; British Colonial-era fort on National Register of Historic Places) and Notchy Creek Recreation Area (great hiking and camping opportunities). Learn more: Lost Sea Adventure.

5. Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness. Located near Sparta, in central Tennessee, about 80 miles north of Chattanooga, this 1,157-acre natural area is named for Virgin Falls, a unique and must-see waterfall that is formed by an underground stream emerging from a cave, dropping the water over a 110-foot high cliff, before disappearing into another cave at the bottom of the sink. The hike out to the falls is a tough 9-mile adventure, but you'll encounter other waterfalls (Big Laurel, Sheep Cave, and Big Branch Falls) along the hike, and the Carney Fork Overlook provides an additional bonus of offering dramatic views of Scott's Gulf (900-foot forested river gorge) and the Carney Fork River. The park is also located adjacent to the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness (47,000+ acres), which has additional hiking trails. The natural area is managed by Fall Creek Falls State Park, located directly to the south, which is also a must-visit park. Learn more: Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

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