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Lost Cove West Trailhead/Buggytop Cave

DISTANCE: 2 miles each way 

DIFFICULTY: Strenuous

TIME: 2-4 hour hike time

The nearly 4,000 acre Lost Cove area of the park, named for the area’s most prominent natural feature, includes both the Carter and Sherwood Forest State Natural Areas, two of six designated State Natural Areas in the park.  The State Natural Area designation is reserved for areas with exceptional natural features, including plants, animals, cultural and physical features. 


At the Lost Cove West trailhead you’ll find the start of the Buggytop Trail, a two-mile-long route that leads to the “Buggytop” opening to Lost Cove Cave, so named because early settlers thought they saw the outline of a buggy (as in “horse-and-buggy”) in the rugged stone features above the cave opening.


Lost Cove got its name from a unique topographic feature.  Unlike most canyons in this region, Lost Cove has no obvious “open end”, to which water would flow.  Instead, Lost Cove is enclosed by a low ridge, called “The Saddle,” which traps water in the upper 9,000 acre watershed.  But water will always find a way out, and in this case, it descends into a large “sink,” or fissure in the limestone bedrock.  From there, water flows beneath The Saddle, and emerges at Lost Cove Cave, which actually has several openings; the “Buggytop” opening is one of the largest cave openings in Tennessee, and the only one from which water normally flows.  But nearby, and also accessible from this trail system, is the Peter Cave opening, once a home for early Native Americans.


The Buggytop Trail climbs from the Lost Cove West trailhead to the top of Spur Ridge, follows the top of the ridge for about 3/4 of a mile, then begins a descent into Lost Cove. About 1-3/4 miles from the parking area, the trail crosses the remains of the old Lost Cove-Sherwood Road, just before reaching the top of a 150-foot limestone bluff.  Here, the trail splits, with the left fork leading about a quarter-mile to the Peter Cave opening, over moderate terrain; and the right fork descending steeply, 620 vertical feet, to the Buggytop opening. Needless to say, the return climb from the Buggytop opening is challenging. 


There is no camping along this trail, or at or in Lost Cove Cave.  Lost Cove Cave is only open for exploration in its daylight regions from May thru August, unless a special caving permit is obtained. For the remainder of the year, the cave is closed to all visitors, as endangered, hibernating bat populations must be protected from White Nose Syndrome, a human-transmitted disease, affecting only bats.