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Trail Guides

Exploring the Majestic Lost Creek State Natural Area, Tennessee

Guide to visiting lost creek state natural area Tennessee waterfall hiking trail lost creek falls Dodson cave


As one of the most remote waterfalls to reach in Middle Tennessee, Lost Creek Falls location beside the Virgin Falls State Natural Area makes it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts looking to escape into the wilderness. Emerging from a large spring tucked into a collapsed cave, Lost Creek Falls plunges 60 feet over the side of a cliff into a hidden oasis. Part of the 57,000 acre “Mid-Cumberland Recreation Area”, the Lost Creek State Natural Area also features one of the largest caves in Tennessee, Lost Creek Cave. With five entrances and over seven miles of mapped passages, this is one of the few recreational caves open to the public. A 0.2 mile trail from the parking area leads hikers to the bottom of a sink containing the falls and cave opening downstream.

Lost Creek Falls Trail | 0.2 Miles

Lost Creek Falls Trail Map

Lost Creek Falls Location | Google Maps

With over 800 documented waterfalls throughout Tennessee, you’re never far from your next big adventure while exploring the Volunteer State. Tennessee State Route 111, stretching from the Kentucky state line to Chattanooga has access to more waterfalls per capita than any other region in the state. With giant splashers located within Cummins Falls State Park, Rock Island State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Falls Creek Falls State Park, and the Lost Creek State Natural Area just a short jaunt away from your car, theres literally no excuse to not go out and see them all. Often undertaken as a summer road trip for families and waterfall chasers alike, this exciting adventure can easily be completed over a weekends time.

 Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee

Lost Creek State Natural Area is our fifth and final stop along Middle Tennessees famed waterfall highway. After spending the day fighting the crowds while exploring the easily accessible waterfalls of Fall Creek Falls State Park, we decided to visit this off the beaten path waterfall tucked deep into the forest 10 miles north of the park. Officially administered by Fall Creek Falls State Park, the Lost Creek State Natural Area was established in 2012 after the land was gifted to the state by James Rylander. Totaling 200 acres, the preserve contains several cascading waterfalls, an ecologically rich cove forest, and includes Lost Creek Cave (aka Dodson Cave), one of Tennessees largest navigable caves open to the public.

 Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee

Lost Creek Trail (0.2 Miles)

The entrance to Lost Creek State Natural Area is situated along Whites Cave Rd, in the deep valley of Dry Creek. This backcountry road travels a short distance through the Caney Fork Canyon before entering the lush forest of the preserve. Driving parallel to the creek, you’ll enter the Lost Creek State Natural Area and follow signs directing you to the Lost Creek Falls trailhead parking lot. From the lot, it is an easy 0.2 mile descent to the bottom of the falls. Alternatively, visitors can hike the same distance to an overlook just above the waterfall. This is a Day Use Area which is open to the public from dawn to dusk. No camping is allowed. There are no services at this site so all trash brought in must be taken out.

Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee 

Walking the dirt path downhill towards the sound of rushing water, it shocks some first time visitors to discover that they are in fact descending into a massive sinkhole. White County is known for having the largest concentration of sinkholes deeper than 3 meters in the entire state of Tennessee. One of the more fascinating aspects of Lost Creek Falls is that it is a sinkhole within a sinkhole. First off, Lost Creek Falls emanates from approximately six underground springs that meet several feet above the precipice of the falls as they exit a series of caverns. As it plunges 60 feet into a natural pool at the bottom of the sinkhole we are standing in the water all but disappears. That’s because it drains directly into another sinkhole below your very feet and travels downhill into the mouth of Lost Creek Cave (Dodson Cave) before reappearing and cascading down an underground 40 foot waterfall.

 Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee

The entire process is fascinating to watch in process and the Lost Creek State Natural Area is filled with a handful of similar waterfalls within its 200 acres. The area directly below Lost Creek Falls also features a small cave that can be accessed by walking behind the waterfall. In 1993, a recreational caver working for the  Local Planning Office was asked to give a Hollywood location manager a tour of several waterfalls in Middle Tennessee that could potentially be featured in an upcoming film. Not entirely interested in visiting Lost Creek Falls or its massive cave and sinkhole, they decided to make a last minute stop in the area to salvage a day of disappointing leads. After being shockingly impressed by the beauty of the sink, cave, and waterfall, the location manager convinced the films director to turn Lost Creek Falls into a primary shooting location for what was to become Disneys 1994 film, “The Jungle Book”.

 Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee Dodson cave

Lost Creek Falls and Dodson Cave can be seen in both the beginning and ending of the film. Part of what won the location manager over was the lush and exotic look to the area. As a result of the falls and cave both opening into this large sink, with no surface drainage, cold air is trapped in the hottest and most humid times of summer, essentially wicking the water from the humid air and coating the rocks and vegetation in the immediate area with moisture. This increased moisture helps to stimulate rich ferns, flowers, and liverworts in the bottom of the sink in the late spring and summer. The cool temperatures are also responsible for encouraging colder weather Hemlocks to thrive in the cove forest within the sink. 

 Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee

With so much to see and experience in this little corner of Tennessee, it leaves little to wonder why this is the fastest growing recreation area in the state. In 2018, TennGreen collaborated with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and Open Space Institute to acquire 582 acres of land adjacent to Lost Creek State Natural Area and Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area. The conservation of this natural area not only expanded the two state-owned and managed lands, but also increased hiking access to Virgin Falls SNA by creating a new 9 mile trail to Virgin Falls. In addition, The Friends of Virgin Falls is a private organization in the works to help transform this 1,300 acre natural area into a state park. 

 Lost Creek falls State Natural Area waterfall hiking trail Tennessee

Up next, we’re jumping back across the border north into Kentucky for our quarterly trip to Red River Gorge. This time around we’ll be spending some time exploring the 12,464 acre Clifty Wilderness nestled within the perimeter of The Gorge. Filled with an array of hidden arches, waterfalls, and secret overlooks, the Osborne Bend Loop is one of the areas most popular trails and one well be exploring in depth on our next adventure. Stay tuned and as always, see y’all on the trails!


Chuck Sutherland Blog, "The Jungle Book"

Tennessee Dept of Environment and Conservation

John K Clark Blog, Dodson Cave


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