Scott’s Gulf is a deep gorge cut into the Cumberland Plateau of middle Tennessee by the Caney Fork River. Elevations on the lip of the gorge average around 1700 feet, with some peaks rising as high as 2000 feet. The walls of the gorge are typically very steep and the gorge is a classic “V” shape typical of canyons of the southeastern United States.
A fair amount of the gorge is protected in various forms of wilderness designation and conservation easements, although many threats remain to the majority of the territory encompassed within Scott’s Gulf. Bowater, Inc. owns a hefty portion of the real estate and much of that will likely be logged at some time. In addition, other private landowners are at liberty to develop these lands as they wish.
The forests that clothe the slopes of Scott’s Gulf are diverse, and typical of the Appalachian ridge and valley region of the deep South. Poplar, oak, hickory, pine, and hemlock dominate. There are even pockets of old growth forests there, and much of the area has very nice stands of second-growth forests of impressive dimensions. The hemlock wooly adelgid, which has made both the Carolina and Eastern hemlock species extinct from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and south into Georgia has so far not reached these deep valleys and mountaintops.
The hemlocks in Scott’s Gulf are in perfect health and are one of the last places in the South that I have encountered where hemlocks can still be viewed in all their former glory. But hurry along if you wish to see these now-unique and beautiful forests, since the US government will not take the necessary efforts and expenditures to save them. These hemlocks groves may very well be the last in the South to be seen before their complete extinction.
There are extensive trails within Scott’s Gulf, with ample opportunity to find solitude. Many side streams cut into the gorge and the place is packed with cascades and waterfalls, some of impressive size. It is also not as popular as some other wilderness areas in the southeastern US, and much of it is still relatively isolated within a huge pocket of rural lands made up of private tree farms. So there is always a good chance to find some true peace and quiet along the ridges, falls, pools, and rivers in Scott’s Gulf.
Virgin Falls Pocket Wildeness, within Scott's Gulf, is located southeast of Sparta. The natural area is accessible via Highway 70. Go to the community of DeRossett, 11 miles east of Sparta, turn onto Eastland Road (Mourberry Road) and proceed six miles to Scott’s Gulf Road. Turn right onto Scott’s Gulf Road and proceed two miles to the parking area and trailhead on the right side of the road.
(The intersection of Highway 70 and Eastland Road is not signed. Care should be taken not to miss the turn. There are a couple of service stations in the vicinity where one can stop and ask directions--which I had to do. I found the local folk to be friendly and helpful.)
None, other than wilderness rules.
There are ample back country campsites in both the Virgin Falls Natural Area and in the Bridgestone/Firestone Wilderness Area. If building fires, please use existing fire rings.