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Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area, Tennessee, Report.

June 2004

Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area, TN June 2004 Conditions - high 80s and humid, sunny with one small afternoon thunder storm My prior trip report from September 2003-- .

"Gone Paddling" and I decided that we had had such fun on our nude hike at Virgin Falls last fall, that we'd do a repeat this summer. Here's our report.

I pulled into the trail head parking area a little after 9:00 in the morning on a weekday and was sad to see a vehicle already there. Last time the lot was empty and we felt very safe hiking nude. Now I wasn't so sure. This vehicle appeared to have been there more than a day, due to rain grit splattered up on it and the tires.

As I began to arrange my gear, I heard the sounds of wheels on gravel and thought "Here comes Gone Paddling." Instead, ... WOOM, WOOM, WOOM, WOOM, WOOM, WOOM, as a caravan of about six or eight SUVs, pick-up trucks, and other vehicles charged into the parking area. Out hopped about three dozen Boy Scouts and their leaders. Half of them rushed to the nearest trees to answer the call of nature.

As all that was going on, Gone Paddling pulls in and sees the crowd of vehicles and hikers. He too had been hoping for an empty parking area. The Boy Scout leaders told us they wouldn't be hitting the trail for a while, so GP and I threw on our packs and headed down the trail at about 9:30.

The Virgin Falls trail is an 8 mile in-and-out. About 4 miles in and then 4 miles back out, with a loop near the middle to an overlook and a larger loop at the end to Virgin Falls and to the Caney Fork River. We knew one party was ahead of us, due to the vehicle at the trail head. However, we decided to go ahead and pull off our shorts (all that we were wearing anyway) and risk running into someone. Soon, we were hiking down a nice, level trail through the woods in the warm morning sunlight which filtered through the trees.

As we approached the descent into the gorge, the trail became rhododendron tunnels and followed a small stream and began to go down, down, down. I was in front and kept my eyes peeled and ears open for whoever might be ahead. After less than a mile, I suddenly saw bright colors and movement down by the stream ahead.

Per our plan, GP and I slipped on our shorts as we hadn't been seen yet. I called out to the folks we saw, but they couldn't hear us due to the noise of the water fall they were near. They hadn't seen us either. So, we hiked on down and chatted with them (three college-age guys and one gal) a bit. They were from Mississippi had camped at that spot for four days and were leaving that morning.

Thus, GP and I now knew no one was ahead of us for almost 4 miles. So, as soon as we began hiking again, we shucked the shorts and hiked along totally nude, enjoying the warm morning, shade, breeze, and conversation. We decided to save the bluff overlook loop for the hike out and do the same for the Virgin Falls loop. We would head straight to the Caney Fork River at the bottom of the gorge, so we could skinny dip and sun and eat our lunch nude before anyone caught up with us.

One thing I noticed different about a summer hike is the amount of poison oak. We had to be careful not to brush against it along side the trail and growing on rocks we had to walk over, around, and sometimes through. Also, the summer is a wetter season than the fall, so the ground and rocks were wetter and more slippery this time. In fact, I slipped on one downhill section and sat on my naked butt, fairly gently, but in a patch of poison oak! YIKES. I made plans to wash off thoroughly at the river and was glad that I had brought along some camp soap.

The wetter season also meant that the various falls along the trail down the gorge were fuller. Big Laurel Falls was barely a trickle last fall. (See photo in my prior trip report, link above) Now when we came to it, it was a much bigger, more "real" falls. Not as big as it must sometimes be, but bigger than it was last time. At Big Laurel Falls, the stream goes over the falls onto huge boulders below, then flows backwards under the overhang, then disappears into rocky, sandy holes in the floor of the "cave" back there. The pools of water back there were real this time, not just a dry stream bed like last time.

From Big Laurel Falls the trail starts back up for a ways as it winds along the contour of the gorge, away from that stream bed and towards Virgin Falls about a mile away and in a different side-gorge to the Caney Fork River. The trail along here is mostly easy, fairly flat, and somewhat sandy or with pine needles here and there. Very pleasant. The trees filter out most, but not every speck of direct sunlight. We sweated as we hiked along in the warm humidity, looking forward to a dip in the cool waters of the river soon.

When we came to the fork in the trail that marked the big end loop, one way to VF and one way to the CFR, we headed straight to the River, which meant the trail started steeply downward again, and then along old jeep trails that were covered with smooth river rocks. Slow walking for those parts of the trail, plus some fallen trees that remained from last year. I don't think this trail gets a lot of maintenance.

After about four miles and an hour and forty-five minutes of hiking, we arrived at the nice, sandy flat area under hemlock trees along side the banks of the Caney Fork. This is were GP and I had lunched and skinny dipped last fall and where my wife and I camped overnight last summer, nude. This time, GP and I thought it safer if we went on down river, as this was the spot the Boy Scouts were headed for, so off we went, following the river, which proved interesting.

Less than a quarter mile later, we came to Davis Ford, where there were beautiful red flowers, rapids all the way across, and a completely battered and smashed old pick up truck among the trees and rocks. At first, we thought it was a car. The force of the river must be awesome, and the heights it rises too was evident over our heads in the trees, not to mention trees bent over towards the downstream direction. River gorges in this part of Tennessee often are on limestone or sandstone bases and drain hundreds of square miles, so the water only has one place to go, down the narrow river channels and gorges.

Anyway, we enjoyed exploring for a place to settle down for lunch. We didn't find quite as nice a sandy beach as where the Scouts might soon arrive, but we found a nice enough spot for two nude skinny dippers, and we dove in. Well, actually, we carefully made our way in, stepping gingerly on the slick river rocks covering the river bottom there. However, it was shallow enough, and deep enough, to walk or swim across, however we chose. So, across we went and sat on the opposite bank about an hour, just resting, enjoying the cool water, and talking about nude hiking, nude resorts, our dear wives, and lolly-gagging. We watched fish leap across the water like rocks being skipped.

We decided not to eat lunch there, but I did wash off my legs and backside three times, where I had slipped and sat down in the poison oak earlier. So far, as I write this trip report, no poison oak rash has appeared, thank goodness. I'm not on friendly terms with poison oak!

From the river, we decided to head up the other side of the loop to Virgin Falls itself. As we weren't sure where the Boy Scouts were along the trail or which side of the loop they would take, we decided to put our shorts on for the time being. About 15 minutes later, we came out at Virgin Falls to find two families there from Knoxville. They had just hiked in, straight to the Falls. We were glad to have our shorts on, though we saw them as we hiked up the trail and they were sitting and standing. We could have safely slid our shorts on anyway.

We discussed the Falls with them, as they had not been there before and were unaware another loop of the trail goes up and over the Falls. Virgin Falls is formed by another stream, which comes out of a cave, rushes along a short flat wide area, and then across the lip of the falls into the "sink" about 150 feet (?) below. There is no stream bed out of the sink. The water simply disappears in a spray at the bottom among rocks and boulders. The sink has its own micro-environment due to the constant moisture and cool temperature.

As was the case at Big Laurel Falls, the water going over Virgin Falls was much more than last fall. Plus, VF is much bigger, taller, and has much more water volume than BLF anyway. So, it was an impressive sight on this trip.

Gone Paddling and I didn't hang around, due to the textile families, so we headed back up the loop towards where it rejoins the trail. Along the way I stopped to take care of some blisters. I never get blisters on my feet with my hiking boots, but for this short trip, I had decided to wear my Tevas and see how it was, hiking in them. Well, not so good. They were more slippery than my boots AND they gave me several blisters! It took a while to dry my feet and apply enough band-aids and tape from my first aid kit, but soon we were back on the trail.

Because the trail head is on the Cumberland Plateau, and the Caney Fork River is at the bottom of the gorge, the hike in is mostly downhill and the hike out is mostly uphill. I think the total elevation change is around 600'. Not a great deal, spread out over 4 miles or so of trail. But a lot of the trail from Virgin Falls to Big Laurel Falls is flat or only undulating and smooth underfoot.

We discussed taking off the shorts again, but decided to wait and see. Sure enough, within 15 minutes we ran into the first splinter group of Boy Scouts. They had stopped at Big Laurel Falls for over an hour for play and lunch. We hiked along for another 20 minutes or so until we came to the last group of the Scouts. Now we knew we had the Scouts and two families behind us, and that the four college age campers ahead of us had surely hiked out by now. Do we hike nude again? Not just yet, we decided.

Soon we were back at Big Laurel Falls. This time we decided to stop and enjoy the Falls. As we were making our way down to where the Falls lands among the rocks and boulders, we saw color and movement overhead, where the trail passes far above the top of the Falls. We went on down and stood in the water fall itself for a while, cooling off and washing away the sweat and grim. As we came back up out of the "sink" that the Falls fall into, a father and daughter from Arkansas came off of the trail. She was about ten. Oddly, they both had on long sleeves and "tights" under their hiking shorts, plus gloves. I asked and he explained covering the skin kept moisture in the body and also protected against all the poison oak. I couldn't argue with that last point! They were headed in for an overnight, so we advised them about the Boy Scouts ahead of them at the only official camp site.

From Big Laurel Falls, the trail out is the steepest part. We were soon huffing and puffing and sweating again. Our plan was to climb all the way to the "overlook" loop on top of the bluff for lunch. We headed for one of the flat rock cliff top overlooks with a little shade, stripped naked again, and spread out our lunches. My CamelBak water reservoir had leaked a bit, so I was low on water. But my crackers and cheese and summer sausage were salty, so I finished off my water, knowing it was less than an hour hike back to my vehicle and the ice chest of drinks there. I had forgotten about the orange I had packed. It sure was sweet and WET and hit the spot.

After lunching, GP and I stretched out on the rocks and I fell asleep for a while. That's how nice it felt. The view up there went on for miles and miles across the gorge. We watched a turkey buzzard soaring on warm air currents below us. We also heard and watched an afternoon thunder storm brewing. After about an hour, we packed up and started down, but decided to stay nude this time. We knew we'd be hiking in the same direction as the families and anyone behind us on the trail hiking out, and we thought the risk would be low of someone hiking in late in the afternoon, with a thunder storm brewing. Plus, with me in the front and my shorts hung over my pack belt, and my wide brimmed hat I could bring down strategically, we figured we'd be okay even if we did run into someone unexpectedly. GP could just cover up on the trail behind me, if better sense dictated at the time.

The overlook loop soon rejoined the main trail and we began up the gorge, once more alongside the stream and through the rhododendron. Sure enough, the four campers had cleaned out and were long gone. As we hiked along closer to the top of the plateau, thunder boomed gently, not too loudly and not too close. A light shower came along, but barely made it through the thick overhead of trees. I was hoping for more to cool us and to wash the new sweat off.

Soon the trail leveled out and we were back on top, with only a mile or so to go to the trail head. GP is nice to have along for the conversation with a fellow nudist. As we approached the parking area, we questioned what were the chances someone would have driven up and sat in their vehicle waiting out the little thunder storm that had passed. GP said he was going to chance it, so I agreed.

We hiked out into the parking area around 5:30 among a dozen vehicles! Last fall, there had been ZERO, except for our two. We decided nude hiking weekdays during the school year is better than on a busy summer day, perhaps. But no one was around, and no one had seen us all day, despite that we had hiked about 6 of the 8 miles nude.

We had water jugs to pour water over ourselves to wash off a bit. We enjoyed a couple of V-8s and soft drinks and orange juice. We didn't get dressed the whole time we were doing that and putting away our packs. Finally it was time to part. I decided to drive away nude. Last time I drove all the way home nude, about two hours. This time I needed to stop for gas, so before I reached the main highway, I did pull over and slip on dry shorts and a t-shirt.

Another all-day nude hike in the Bible-belt state of Tennessee. Who would've thought?!

The Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness is near Crossville, Tennessee (where Cherokee and Timberline nude resorts are) and is on private property owned by a timber company. A Google search for "Virgin Falls" will turn up many informative web sites, some with beautiful photos, about this trail.

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