Virgin Falls: THE hike of the Cumberland Plateau

Randy in one of the first caves

Okay, today was a day surrounded by unexpected beauty every mile of the Virgin Falls trail. I fell in love with the 8-mile hike, and the rain magnified the majesty of the streams, creeks, waterfalls and caves. So, of course I need to express that beauty and the trail in this post so here we go.

The Trail 

Virgin Falls is a 4 mile down, 4 mile back trail totaling 8 miles with a couple options for scenic overlook or river detours. As part of the Scientific State Natural Area of the Big South Fork, dogs are allowed so I brought Lemon along. The trail itself started in a thick, silent forest full of oaks, beech, and Cyprus groves (the last were farmed). We also saw remnants of an old moonshine still  as we climbed some wooden steps and had a few streams to cross.

The scenic overlook

The signs show the way.

TO NOTE: Virgin Falls Trail is rated as strenuous, and I would definitely not take it lightly. I really enjoyed the hike and did not find is as hard as many others; however, for those who may not hike very often or have a low to medium exercise ability, save this for a long stretch of day in fall and give yourself plenty of time to take it easy (besides, this is a trail to stop and soak in the sights).

Though Virgin Falls is the last and biggest, four waterfalls actually dot the trail, each a grander display than the last. Here are quick descriptions of them:

  • Big Laurel Falls: The first major one one the trail. It lands on rocks and slowly recedes back into the caves. You can actually walk well behind the cave (and build a fire there if you DON’T CARE ABOUT THE ECOSYSTEM OR RULES GOVERNING NATURAL RESERVES SO EVERYONE CAN ENJOY THEM BECAUSE MAMA TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE SUPER SPECIAL GROWING UP AND NOW YOU’RE A SELFISH GIT). Anyway, this ones pretty cool and leads to more exciting views.
  • Big Branch Falls: Not as impressive as the others, but still pretty and a great drink spot for your dogs.
  • Sheep Falls: Though I loved Virgin Falls, Sheep Falls was actually my favorite. Impressive gushes of water cascading over the edge into 70 feet of air in front of us before disappearing into another 70 or so feet of cave.
  • Virgin Falls: And of course, the grand finale is Virgin Falls, a 110 foot falls that starts from a stream leaving a cave and tumbles in dramatic gusts along dark jutting rocks before disappearing again into another cave. The roaring sound and windy spray (from 100 feet away) hit one with how impressive this waterfall is. One of the campgrounds at the base also portrays that idea with its perpetual sogginess.

    Big Laurel FallsThe stream escapes the cave to fly over Virgin Falls

    Big Branch Falls

The hike back is more difficult because of all the downhill you got to  enjoy on your way in. Slow and steady, and the trail is a fun view of constant mountain laurel, fuzzy green moss on river rocks, and sometimes even a deer. Overall, I would rate this as one of my top hikes in Tennessee. Get out there the first chance you get!

Randy walking across a stream

Carl taking a break toward the head of the trail


“Virgin Falls is located southeast of Sparta and is accessible via Highway 70. Go to the community of DeRossett, 11 miles east of Sparta, turn onto Eastland Road and proceed six miles to Scott’s Gulf Road. There, you will see a sign for the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness. Turn right onto Scott’s Gulf Road and proceed two miles to the parking area and trailhead on the right side of the road.” –Resource Management Division


3 responses to “Virgin Falls: THE hike of the Cumberland Plateau

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