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Sparta, Tennessee

Hike through Virgin Falls State Natural Area

9 Miles Total - 1100 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally added by Adam Welch

The raw power of a waterfall is one of the most elemental forces in nature and the Virgin Falls SNA offers them in bulk. If you are looking for an all-day trek or an overnight trip in an area packed with unique waterfalls, this is your hike.

Beginning at the Virgin Falls SNA parking area, the Virgin Falls trail is approximately a 9 mile round trip (excluding any side trails) which will allow you to experience three waterfalls: Big Branch Falls, Big Laurel Falls, and the namesake Virgin Falls. There is a fourth, Sheep Cave Falls, that is not included on this particular hike. The elevation gain is around 900 feet but increases to around 1,100 feet if you decide to venture to the top of Virgin Falls via a spur trail. The parking area is large but fills up quickly so get there early.

Parking Lot Coordinates: 35.85394, -85.28225

For day hikes, hit the trail early so you'll have plenty of time to explore. If you are planning on camping, use the log book located at the small pavilion at the beginning of the trail to declare your intended location and length of stay.

Hiking in, the trail is considered easy-moderate as it is generally downhill. The hike out, naturally, is virtually entirely uphill which makes for a more strenuous experience especially in rainy conditions. Overall, the path is fairly well maintained and sports numerous water crossings.

The trail roughly follows Big Branch and will take you past Big Branch Falls at approximately the 1.3 mile mark. Soon after, you will encounter another water crossing which has a cable to aid in the ford. Stay on the left side of the cable as you cross and be extremely cautious. Immediately after the cable crossing you will encounter the first camping area at the right. This is a beautifully serene spot to rest.

From here, the trail follows Big Laurel Creek and winds through hemlocks and evergreens overlooking the water. This section begins your descent towards Big Laurel Falls. At 1.65 miles the trail splits and you will need to stay to the left. The right will take you to Martha's Pretty Point Overlook.

The trail begins a steep drop in elevation from here and will bring you ultimately to a low lying valley area. This is the camping site at Big Laurel Falls(where I camped this trip) which offers space for both tent and hammock campers. These falls are among my favorite and are incredibly unique. There is an enormous cave-room with 80 feet high ceilings where the falls drain back into the cave and into the Earth. Explore the cave but as always exercise good judgment. If you camp here, I highly recommend having your breakfast while perched on a prominent boulder in front of the falls. It makes even the murkiest cup of instant coffee taste better.

From Big Laurel Falls, the trail continues until it forks again at just under the 4 mile point. The hike is easier if you stay to the left here. The right side of the loop will also take you to Virgin Falls via Sheep Cave Falls. Approaching Virgin Falls, you will pass multiple campsites with plenty of room for tents and hammocks. This is a popular area so consult the log book at the trail head to ensure it isn't full. Virgin Falls itself is approximately 4.3 miles from the trail head.

For the bold camper, there is a spot literally right next to the 110 feet waterfall. During heavy rains, high flows make the ground literally shake!

The short hike to very top of the falls is well worth the effort. Here you will be able to experience somewhat of a natural oddity. The water which forms the falls flows out from a cave and beneath a natural land bridge. In the summer, the cool air from the cave produces a geological air-conditioner. Watch your step....

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Dog Friendly
Easy Parking


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Overall rating: 

Awesome Trip

I backpacked through the entire system and camped at the Caney Fork Campsite. We visited Sheep Cave, Virgin Falls, and many other small swimming holes and waterfalls. The entire trip was incredible I will definitely be going back.

Perfect One-Nighter

We hiked in and stayed for one night at the Caney Fork site. It was an excellent short backpacking trip, not too difficult and plenty to see. It's definitely a popular weekend spot (lots of Boyscouts) but it still wasn't crowded on a perfect spring weekend. Will be going back!

Great Trail

One of my favorites to hike. Makes a good day trip. The overlook is definitely worth the extra few miles.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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