Virgin Falls is one of the places Nate had mentioned time and time again that we needed to check out. So on this sunny, 70 degree Sunday, we headed to East Tennessee.
At over 90 miles outside of Nashville and a hike that took us nearly 4 hours to complete, Virgin Falls is definitely a day-long trek, but worth every mile of the drive… and hike.
- Scenery: 3.5
- Difficulty: 4.0
- Length: 8 miles
- Dog Friendliness: 2.0
- Convenience: 1
- Bonus Funtimes: 2.5
Trailhead: 35.854153 -85.282166
Scenery (3.5 out of 5.0): Fully shaded with tall, slender trees, the hike down to Virgin Falls was lush with bright green flowers and all sorts of vegetation that was finally in bloom from a long, cold winter. For the first part of the trail, the path stayed pretty true to the following the creek that leads to Big Laurel Cave. Small falls dropped into quiet pools of water that made for a nice chance to rest (especially on the return hike) on one of the big boulders that populate the landscape and creekside.
While Virgin Falls may be the titled attraction, there were a couple of other impressive falls that we encountered. My favorite by far was the first one at Big Laurel Falls. Here, the creek tumbles probably 20 – 30′ into Big Laurel Cave, which was beautiful with so many different layers of rock. At Big Laurel Falls, the creek disappears into a small hole at the back of the cave funneling itself to a mystery location in the cave system.
We were fortunate to hike on a day when Virgin Falls was running with plenty of water. The water rushes out from underground at the top of a bluff and plunges into a 110 foot drop into a small, boulder-strewn cove. The cove is lined with the bluff, rocks and trees that blend together into a beautiful scene that is matched with the rumble of the falls.
Difficulty (4.0 out of 5.0): As the sign at the beginning of the hike points out, the hike to Virgin Falls is strenuous. Correction… the hike to Virgin Falls is a little tiring, the 4 mile hike BACK to the trail head is pretty strenuous. The dirt path is strewn with rocks and tree root systems throughout, which requires keeping a keen eye on your footing. I learned this the hard way when I took a minor tumble on the return hike which left my ankle a little sore, but certainly encouraged me to keep an eye on my steps.
Length: 8 miles
Dog Friendliness (2.0 out of 5.0): Unsure of how well he’d handle the warmth of the day and the length of the hike, we left Ezra at home on this hike, which we both agreed was a good idea after completing the trail. The path can frequently be narrow and winding. When the creek disappears at Big Laurel Falls, there aren’t any other natural water options for drinking or cooling off until you reach Virgin Falls, and even then the water disappears into another cave so there’s just the spray of the falls for a pup to cool down in. We saw a few dogs on the trail that seemed just fine, but if we return to Virgin Falls, we’ll likely still keep the pooch at home.
Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0): Over 90 miles away and poorly marked from the highway out of Sparta, Virgin Falls is not the easiest place to find, but certainly worth making a few wrong turns while heading out there.
Bonus Funtimes (2.5 out of 5.0): If you’re ready to put on your explorer’s hat, this area is the place for you. With several spots to camp, including at the base of Big Laurel Falls and Virgin Falls, this area is perfect for anyone wanting to backpack in for a night or two.
If you’re to camp for a day or two, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore Big Laurel Cave and Sheep Cave (I think that’s what it’s called). There are also hikes out the a scenic overview (which we didn’t take) as well as a hike to Polly Branch Falls nearby.
For more images from Virgin Falls, check out the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness group on Flickr.