The Caves of Sinking Cove
Franklin County, Tennessee
The Southeastern Cave Conservancy (SCCi) manages the caver access to the Sinking Cove area (also known as Compartment Four of the Carter Lands) under a lease agreement. There are 73 caves in the preserve with several well-known and many lesser known caves. Some of the more popular caves included in the lease are Sinking Cove Cave, Cave Cove Cave, and Custard Hollow Cave. The area was previously closed to cavers but in February, 2001 it was leased by a new management group, the Deep South Outdoors (DSO). By executing a sub-lease of caving rights from DSO, the SCCi re-opened the area to cavers for access outside of Tennessee deer and turkey seasons and with limited access during those seasons. Access to the preserve by SCCi members and guests is limited to the dates and periods determined and announced by SCCi and Deep South Outdoors.
During those periods, access for caving and camping is allowed as defined in the Management Plan, which can be found on the SCCi website at http://www.scci.org/preserves/sinking-cove-cave/. In order to visit the Sinking Cove Preserve you must request a permit for your trip. You can apply for a permit to visit Sinking Cove or any of the SCCi preserves by going to https://permits.scci.org/. For Sinking Cove, the SCCi lease requires that the individual named on the permit must be a current member of SCCi. After completing your permit online you will receive an email confirmation with your permit. However, if you request your permit weeks in advance you may not receive your permit until a day or two before your scheduled visit. Your permit will include the gate combination and any special rules you must follow while on the property. Also, the combination lock on the gate may be changed by the preserve managers at any time so you will need to request a new permit for each visit.
Deep South Outdoors (DSO), the primary lease holder for the area including Sinking Cove and Custard Hollow, requires that all permit holders must carry their permit with them while on the property and be prepared to show it when asked by any of the staff or other users. This policy was instituted by the DSO to control unauthorized access, poaching, and vandalism. It was designed for the hunters, but we have to abide as well.
Caver’s situation is a little different as we are allowed to take guests where the hunters are not. In our case, the caver who requests the permit must be a SCCi member and must have the permit letter. The other members of the group are regarded as guests of that member. The permit holder is responsible for knowing the rules and conditions of the permit and making sure that all members of the group abide by them. Cavers should carry a copy of their permit letter with them (one copy per group) when hiking to entrances that are remote from their parking area.
The SCCi pays a substantial annual fee for this lease. Contributions and donations to help cover the cost of the lease are very much appreciated.
NOTICE: To help prevent the spread of the deadly White Nose Syndrome (WNS) affecting bat populations, please read the SCCi Cave Visitation Policy and follow the guidelines.
For more information, contact the SCCi property manager, Buddy Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the SCCi webpage at www.scci.org.
Below are some descriptions of some of the more popular caves and a few lesser known ones that are located on the Sinking Cove Preserve.
SINKING COVE CAVE
With 9 entrances, Sinking Cove Cave is by far the most visited & popular cave in Sinking Cove. The main caver’s campsite is located just a few hundred yards from two of the entrances, one of which continually blows a stream of cool air down into the campground all year long. This makes it a very popular camping area for cavers and local grottos throughout the summer months. The mapped length of Sinking Cove Cave is 28,248’. The most popular trips are the Boulder Entrance vertical pull down and the Wolf Cove Entrance Horizontal Trip.
The Boulder Entrance, which is entrance #6 is extremely popular amongst cavers. One must do five pits (23, 37, 53, 25, and 23 feet) in 2,000 feet of passage, plus a 200 feet-long wet crawl, to connect with the lower cave. During the wet season a wet suit is suggested.
CUSTARD HOLLOW CAVE
Custard Hollow Cave has 18,300’ of mapped passage and three entrances a short distance apart. The main stream passage is 5400 feet in length and trends north-northwest. About 900 feet from the mouth the cave becomes rather low for a short distance but then opens out into an avenue which averages 15 feet high and 25 feet wide. The stream meanders over the floor, crossing and recrossing from one side to the other. The main entrance (E1) is 25 feet wide by 12 feet high.
CUSTARDS LAST STAND CAVE
About a half mile from Custard Hollow Cave is Custards Last Stand. It is estimated to be 1,500’ long and is currently unmapped. The entrance is a large sink in gully with a large stream flowing into the cave.
This pit is located directly in a streambed. There is water flowing in, but the main pit can be rigged out of the water. The pit was named after the snow falling all the way to the bottom of the pit. The original exploration crew was G. Will Chamberlin, Rick Buice, Fran Formby, and Bob Snyder. Rigging the low side, the main pit is 98 feet deep however to see the rest of the cave one must complete a 12 foot pit and a 15 foot pit which are both wet. It is noted that on a trip on 2013 Jason Hardy and Kelly Smallwood saw not one, not two, not three but four copperheads in the bottom of this cave. About 64 feet down the main pit one can tarzan over to a ledge to see an alternate route in the cave. Snowflake was mapped by Jason Hardy and Kelly Smallwood in 2013.
The pit is divided by wedged boulders and bridges making a double pit part of the way down. A side passage leads into a large formation room with 60 feet of walking passage and a parallel 53 foot pit. The main pit is 106 feet deep divided into 2 pits, 18 and 88 feet. The cave was mapped by Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood and Sasha Shturma in 2013.
RAWHIDE HORROR HOLE
Found by Ted Wilson, Danny Dible, and Kevin Bruno on January 29, 1984. The entrance is a blowhole dug open, but not entered until July 14. The cave was pushed to its end November 3, 1984 by Indiana cavers. It was surveyed but a map has not been turned in. It is currently listed as 6,000’ long and 630’ deep. There are two pits within the cave that are over 100’ deep.
CAVE COVE CAVE
The whole cove drains into the main entrance of the cave, but normally the streambed is dry. The main entrance (E1) is 100 feet wide and 25 feet high with a major streambed draining into the entrance. The cave is generally large walking passage with minor stream flow which is over 1 mile long. This cave is the major drainage conduit for this part of the cove. Near the end is a 52-foot pit that connects with lower wet passages.
HEAP BIG HOLE IN BLUFF
An entrance well worth the hike too and visit just to see. The entrance is a huge opening about 30m wide and 20m high. The entire cave is floored by large blocks of friable breakdown and maintains the entrance dimensions for 75m, at which point the passage ends in a stone wall. The cave was mapped by Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood, and Ben Miller in 2015.
A short little cave only 50’ off the main road going into Sinking Cove. It is mapped at 557’. Although the cave has a large entrance, it is not visible from the road. There are numerous dates smoked throughout the cave, which appear to be from the 1800s. The cave was mined for saltpetre. The cave gets its name from the fact that G. Will Chamberlin from Athens, GA, broke his tibia the day after this cave was located.
Another cave not far off the main road heading into Sinking Cove. Listed at 1,700’ feet long it currently has no map. It is only 50 feet above the creek bed. The entrance is in a bluff just below the cliff. The main entrance is 7 feet wide and 2 feet high. It starts as a belly crawl and then to hands and knees.
A few lesser known caves within a short walking distance of the campground
GREEN BARREL PIT
Green Barrel Pit is very scenic for being only a 45 foot pit. The entrance is 40’ by 30’ with a small wet weather waterfall on the uphill side. It was mapped by Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood, Sarah Arpin and Stephen Collins in 2016.
COLD DAY IN WELL
If you are visiting Green Barrel and just want to say you bounced a 51’ foot pit you could do this one. It is very narrow and is blind at the bottom. It’s a one down, one up kinda pit. It was mapped by Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood and Sarah Arpin in 2016.
NICE DAY NICE PIT
This one is close to the other two mentioned above, Green Barrel and Cold Day. You could make a day out of doing these three pits with friends. The entrance is 9’ long by 6’ wide. A very nice little pit at 42’.
IT'S JUST A MUDHOLE
If you are visiting the three small pits listed above, you will pass right by this little horizontal cave getting to them. The entrance is 3’ wide and 2’ high. It slopes down into a room that is 15’ wide and 81’ long. There is a nice flowstone at the end. This cave was mapped by Ben Miller, Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood and Paul Lundberg in 2015.