At almost exactly 2 hours away from Nashville, the whole Virgin Falls out-and-back trail clocks in a just about 10 miles.
I honestly forgot how wonderful almost every mile of this hike is; something to see almost the entire time. Y’all know I love a good creek walk and, boy, Big Laurel Creek delivers. It’s such a peaceful walk where you pass by multiple waterfalls, beautiful, lush greenery that remind me of the PNW, and a sweeping add-on view of Scott’s Gulf at Martha’s Pretty Point.
Along the way, you’ll see a few small waterfalls including Big Laurel Falls, Big Branch Falls, and Sheep Cave Falls.
And of course, there is Virgin Falls, the namesake of the trail. The falls are formed by an underground stream that emerges just long enough for its 110 ft. drop, then disappears into another cave at the bottom of the sink it flows into. It’s some kind of geological phenomenon. There’s also a short trail to get to the top of the falls where you can see the cave where the stream comes from.
You should also check out Sheep Cave and the little waterfall that goes along with it. (Please note that all the caves are closed due to White Nose Syndrome. So, please don’t actually enter the caves.)
There are also plenty (four) of backcountry sites which make it a perfect trip for beginner backpackers. So, if you are looking to get in to backpacking and want a really great payoff, this is your trail. The sites range from being beside a waterfall to on top of a bluff, so there’s a lot of choose from. I’ve personally never camped here (all my hikes here have been day hikes), but I think the one atop Martha’s Pretty Point has the best views! Keep in mind that there is no water at this site, though. So, make sure to filter from Big Laurel Creek before you ascend up there.
The sneaky part about this trail is that the way in is a steady downhill, which you really don’t notice until you are on your way back and those miles are a steady uphill. Going in, I barely got my heart rate above a walk, which tricks you into forgetting that this trail goes steadily downhill a majority of the way in. But, you’ll get a nice workout on the way out. Commence much sweating on my part. I definitely felt my quads gain a few inches of muscle (and consequently my jeans fit a little tighter).
Be especially cautious of snakes in the spring and summer months. This area tends to have a lot of rattlesnakes. (It’s not like they are slithering all over everywhere or anything, but I always like to know what I’m walking into!)
On your way out, make the drive to Welch’s Point, just down the road. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset, if you’re so inclined!
Virgin Falls isn’t exactly a secret or anything, but it truly is a must-see on the Cumberland Plateau. Just be prepared for a long day hike or stay for a moderate overnight backpack.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hours
Trailhead: Virgin Falls Trail on Scott’s Gulf Road (small parking area)
Trail: Mostly an out-and-back trail with a small loop near the end accessing Virgin Falls and Sheep Cave
Link to trail map: Virgin Falls Trail Map
Length of Trail: ~10 miles including the trail to Martha’s Pretty Point, allow 5-6 hours
Camping: 4 different backcountry sites at varying points along the trail: Cable Crossing, Martha’s Pretty Point, Caney Fork and Virgin Falls. Martha’s Pretty Point and Virgin Falls are the most popular.
Overview: Multiple waterfalls, gorgeous overlook and a cumulative climb of 1100′.