Formation Gallery 📷David McRae
Formation Gallery 📷David McRae

Myrna Attaway Nature Preserve


Grundy County, Tennessee
5,299 Feet

Located along the Highland Rim escarpment of the Cumberland Mountains, the Myrna Attaway Nature Preserve in Payne Cove contains 20 acres of mature hardwood forest, an abundance of wildflowers, and Red Trillium Cave, a vadose stream cave formed in the Bangor Limestone. The cave has decorated formation galleries and borehole passage in the upper-level paleo trunk, as well as grim crawls that will challenge even the most experienced cavers.

Want to Visit?

Access to the cave is available via permit. Please refer to the access rules below prior to applying for a permit.

Red Trillium Cave was discovered by Hal Love, NSS 30386 FE, and was named for the proliferation of trilliums that grow outside the entrance, just above a spring. The slide-in entrance leads to a calf-deep stream passage that travels upstream to a bifurcation. The right branch has deep water that alternates between walking passage and hands and knees passage before eventually becoming a lower, wide stream crawl. This branch can be traversed over 1,000 before it becomes too tight. At the end of this passage are two small side leads that are also too tight. A wetsuit is recommended to explore this section of the cave.

The left branch is where the majority of cave is located and requires negotiation through pools of water and laminar streamflow, however a wetsuit is not required for this section of the cave. The passage continues as a meandering canyon with alternating levels that require a boulder scramble to a walking passage then a 12-foot climb up. This climb up leads to a paleo trunk passage that averages dimensions of 20 feet wide and 10-15 feet in height. The north end of the trunk passage includes an area of very unstable breakdown and is not recommended for visitation as a major boulder slide occurred during the survey of the cave.

Following the paleo trunk passage to the south, the passage is mostly large walking passage with several formation galleries. A few side leads trend north and south off this passage, but quickly end. During the survey, a virgin side lead almost 1,000 feet in length was discovered branching off from this paleo trunk, only 50 feet south of the climb up. This side lead, known as Scooper’s Folly, initially starts as a tight crawlway but opens into walking passage before ending in a very muddy breakdown choke.

Continuing in the main paleo trunk, the passage eventually diminishes to hands and knees crawling and then a belly crawl where two domes are encountered. This area was named “No Place like Dome” during the survey to reference the tight squeezes that finally allowed the surveyors to sit-up. This passage becomes too tight only 50 feet past the last dome with no airflow to beckon exploration.

The cave streams in both the left and right branch passages are inhabited by blind crayfish (Cambarus australis). In addition, seasonal rain events flood the cave, particularly in the entrance area. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended to access the preserve.