Merrybranch Cave is stream cave located in White County, Tennessee that was discovered back in March of 1972. It is relatively straight with minimal side passages and extends for nearly 4,000 ft… for most of it’s known history it was thought to end at a massive breakdown collapse, but a through trip was discovered (Cave Resources of Tennessee 52:41) last year.
Accessing Merrybranch Cave involves a hike up an old and overgrown service road. The road runs parallel to a channel that will be dry during times of low flow within the cave, but can become a full stream that runs down the hill during times of high flow. This stream eventually reaches the mouth and empties into another cave, Your Cave that can be found on the ascent to Merrybranch Cave.
|Entrance to Your Cave (apologies for the fuzzy photo)|
The entrance to Merrybranch Cave is relatively easy to enter for someone of average height and slopes down at approximately 45 degrees before leveling and extending into tall gravel and sand filled walking passages.
|Entrance to Merrybranch Cave|
|Initial slope leading into the recesses of Merrybranch Cave|
As you make your way down it’s relatively straight and long walking passages, several examples of fossils can be found.
|Likely crinoids stalks which can occasionally appear in a 5-pointed star shape|
|Rugose coral or Rugosa, a.k.a. horn coral|
As you continue towards the back of the cave there are several sandy areas of what feels like beach sand before reaching passages with knee to waist high water lined with solid rock walls. While walking, you need to be careful as to not harm the many crayfish, some of which are quite large.
It’s passages give an otherworldly feel with light shimmering off the water’s surface and moving along its walls…
Near the back of the cave the water gets deeper and several fish were found. Due to the size of our group and amount of sediment churned up in the water, we weren’t able to see any fish that are specifically cave adapted, but were able to catch (and release) what may have been a baby smallmouth that was likely washed into the cave.
|Possibly a baby smallmouth that was likely washed into the cave|
From there we continued through several other sandbar type areas before reaching the final breakdown at the cave’s rear.
I wasn’t able to capture many photos moving through the breakdown, because it’s an extremely tight crawl for some length. This one was taken prior to that area.
My son and I, along with the entire group thoroughly enjoyed this cave for it’s relatively pristine appearance and beautiful, yet fairly easy to navigate water filled passages and abundant life and fossils.
Please note that caving can be a dangerous activity for the inexperienced. If you have an interest in exploring caves, check out a local grotto from the National Speleological Society website so you can connect with experienced cavers in your area who will show you the ropes. Also, remember that caves can be on either private property or government land so please always ensure that you either have permission from the landowner or the proper permits obtained before visiting a cave. While there, remember to…
Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.