Virgin Falls

Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness

Useful Information

Location: On Scott Gulf Rd. From Sparta 18km east on Hwy. 70. Turn right on Eastland Road in Derosset, after 9,5km turn right on Scott's Gulf Road. Parking after 3km.
Open: no restrictions [2004]
Fee: Free [2004]
Classification: KarstKarst spring
Light: n/a
Address: Department of Environment & Conservation, Division of Natural Areas, 401 Church Street, 7th Floor L&C Tower Annex, Nashville, TN 37243, Tel: +1-615-532-0431.
Sparta-White Co. Chamber of Commerce, Tel: +1-615-336-7424, +1-615-836-3552.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1970 first pocket wilderness established by Bowater corporation.
1996 Pocket Wilderness Area acquired by the state and converted into a State Natural Area.


Virgin Falls is is an exceptional ensemble of karst features which consists of an underground stream that emerges from a cave entrance, flows some 50m on the ground, drops over a 33m high cliff and goes back into a cave at the bottom of the drop. So we have a river cave, a resurgence or karst spring, a doline, and a loosing stream on an extremely small area. Virgin Falls Cave is almost 1,000m long and ends in a massive breakdown. The huge passage is 10m wide and 14m high, and rather easy to visit. The river is only a trickle in dry season, late summer and early fall. In the wet season, winter and early spring, it becomes a raging torrent and the cave ist not accessible. The lower cave is called Virgin Falls Pit, the entrance is only 4m from the base of the waterfall. The water flows through this cave to a spring at the base of the Cumberland Escapment.

The 128ha Virgin Falls State Natural Area has outlooks, streams, caves and a primitive backpack camping area. Virgin Falls is reached on a trail which includes numerous other karst features. Starting at the Virgin Falls parking lot, the trail stays on top of the plateau for about two kilometers. Then it goes down into the gorge, eroded by Big Laurel Creek. The climate and the vegetation in the gorge is different from the plateau, the valley is more humid and cooler, so oaks and hickory trees are replaced by hemlocks, mountain laurel and magnolias. Big Laurel Creek is crossed on a furt, the river ist often dry, but for times of higher water there is a wire cable to help hikers. Big Laurel Falls is a 13m high waterfall at the base of the gorge, halfway to Virgin Falls. Almost two kilometer after this waterfall is a fork. The right trail is a cul-de-sac leading to Sheep Cave, only a few meters from the trail. It is an ensemble of a cave entrance, a waterfall and a deep doline called Sheep Cave Sink. The other trail ends after one kilometer at Virgin Falls. Allow 6-8 hours for the complete 13km hike.

Virgin Falls was the first pocket wilderness established by Bowater corporation. Bowater was an American pulp and paper company based in Greenville, South Carolina. They started in 1970 to set aside several tracts of their private land for preservation in its natural state, which they called pocket wilderness. This was done in cooperation with the State of Tennessee and many of those areas were later purchased by the state and converted into National Park Service sites.