State Natural Area (SNA)
Virgin Falls State Natural Area (SNA) is among Tennessee’s most scenic natural attractions, rich both in conservation value and outdoor recreation opportunity. Its ~1,150 acres of forest land, waterfalls, caves, rock houses, and sinks are located in White County near Sparta on the Cumberland Plateau along the Mid-Cumberland Wilderness Corridor that links Fall Creek Falls to Scott’s Bluff to Bledsoe State Forest. It helps conserve four key endangered species: two species of shrub, the Indiana bat, and the bluemask darter fish. In 2012, TennGreen partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and private donors to purchase this tract of land. Hikers enjoy the 8.83-mile in-and-out trail that includes five campsites, three waterfalls, and a cave to explore.
Our Conservation Story
Virgin Falls was a “Bowater Pocket wilderness area,” set aside in 1970 for preservation. The State purchased the lease from Bowater in 2006, but the land was still owned by four different private entities. Although the 1,551-acre Virgin Falls State Natural Area was managed by the state, it was still privately owned and subject to private development pressures. When the State’s lease expired, the land was at risk to development.
TennGreen negotiated and optioned the property on the State’s behalf. The original cost of the project was $2.9 million but the landowners discounted the price by more than $800,000. Thankfully, $1.5 million was available through a state-secured federal grant and TWRA committed $300,000. Through the leadership of the Save Virgin Falls Committee and the generosity of many, TennGreen raised enough private dollars to leverage a state-secured federal grant and a commitment from TWRA to complete the purchase of the $2.1 million effort.
Exciting news for land lovers! Earlier this year, TennGreen collaborated with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), and Open Space Institute (OSI) to acquire 582 acres of land adjacent to Lost Creek State Natural Area (SNA) and Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The conservation of this natural area will not only expand the two state-owned and managed lands, but also increase hiking access to Virgin Falls SNA and protect the many plant, fish, and wildlife species that depend on its habitat to thrive.
Virgin Falls has long been recognized as a premier hiking and backpacking destination in the Mid-Cumberland region. However, following TennGreen’s assistance of TDEC’s Virgin Falls purchase in 2012, pressures on the trail increased dramatically. Worried that the trail was being “loved to death” from overuse, Parks staff set out to build more trails to help disperse the impact.
With the recent acquisition, TDEC and TWRA have coordinated a swap of land management, allowing TDEC to establish a new nine-mile trail to Virgin Falls from Lost Creek SNA. The new trail begins at Rylander Cascades and connects to the western boundary of the heavily traveled Virgin Falls trail. Along the way, hikers can experience beautiful views of the Dry Creek Headwaters property overlooking Big Bottom and the Caney Fork River, as well as across Wilson Ridge.
This success would not have been possible without the support of TennGreen Board member, Dr. Stephen Stedman, who provided a very generous gift in memory of his late wife, Barbara.
The Lost Creek Falls to Virgin Falls trail is open to the public and can be accessed from either location. Rules and regulations apply, so if you are interested in camping on-site, please contact TDEC or TWRA directly.
A Note of Caution and Awareness!
The hike into Virgin Falls, which will total around nine miles going in and out, should be considered a strenuous hike. The trail descends around 900 foot in elevation along a path that in many areas is rocky with uneven footing. Please allow 5 to 9 hours for the hike. It is recommended to start the hike early in the day, in order to give yourself plenty of daylight. At 1.5 miles there is a cable crossing at Big Laurel Creek: if the creek is flooding, please do not attempt to cross.
Scotts Gulf Lane, Sparta, TN 38583
Latitude: 35.85394, Longitude: -85.28225
From Nashville: Take I-40 E to Exit 288, go South on TN-111 to Sparta for about 24 miles, turn left onto TN-285 E and stay on TN-285 E (bearing left when necessary) for about 17 miles until you reach Flowing Well Rd. Turn left onto it and stay on it for about 2 miles until you reach the destination.
From Chattanooga: Take Hwy 27 north for about 22 miles until you reach TN-111 N. Take it to Dunlap, then turn right onto TN-127 and take it about 20 miles to Pikeville, then turn left onto TN-30 W and right onto TN-101, then stay left onto TN-285 until you reach Flowing Well Rd. Turn right onto it and stay on it for about 2 miles until you reach the destination.
From Knoxville: Take I-40 W to Exit 322 (Peavine Rd) at Crossville, then continue south on Peavine Rd to bypass the city of Crossville. Turn left onto TN-101/TN-392 and stay on it for about 20 miles, then turn right onto TN-285 W. Take it for about 6 miles until you reach Flowing Well Rd. Turn right onto it and stay on it for about 2 miles until you reach the destination.