Virgin Falls Trail :: Virgin Falls State Natural Area

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′.

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Collins Gulf Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Savage Gulf is one of the most diverse places to hike in middle-ish Tennessee and obviously one of my favorites. 

I’d been wanting to go back and do the Collins Gulf Loop for a while now. It’s an under appreciated trail in my opinion and doesn’t get nearly as much love as the other trails in Savage Gulf. I am here to attest that this loop is one of the prettiest and most unique in the area.

The beautiful, powerful Collins Creek

Collins Gulf is one of the lesser traveled trails (Stone Door and Savage Day Loop being the most popular), but has some of the most diverse trails. You make the “Collins Gulf Loop” by joining the Collins Gulf, Collins Rim, and the Stagecoach Road Historic trail. There are a few blue blazed trails that stem off of the main ones (blazed white) which can add on a few extra tenths of a mile. One of the best things about Savage Gulf is how well-marked and well-kept all the trails are.  It makes hiking so much more enjoyable when you aren’t stressing that you missed a trail turnoff or blaze.

I made a goal to backpack once a season this year. I randomly had 2 days off in the middle of the week and was searching for a backpacking partner. I asked a few friends and, not surprisingly, they couldn’t make it work for their schedule. So, I took a chance and tried to reach out in the most not awkward way to an “Instagram friend”. Before I knew it, Abby and I were speeding along I-24 towards my favorite place in Middle TN.

I returned to a semi-familiar trail for my first overnight trip in a while. But, since I hadn’t been here in 4-5 years, it felt like a whole new trail. There’s a few different options for camping, but we stayed at the Sawmill Campground, off of the Collins Gulf portion.

We clocked in just over 15 miles for the entire trip. This included a side trails to both Horsepound Falls and Schwoon Spring, which is the water source for the Sawmill Campground even though it was over a half mile away. It is one of the craziest and most amazing places I have ever filtered water from. You have to hop from boulder to boulder across little waterfalls from this spring that sprouts from a cave. It was absolutely stunning and worth the side trail even if you don’t need water. I will say, we were a little nervous the spring was going to be dry. There is no inkling that there will be water until you come upon the boulders. One of the things I get most stressed about in backpacking trips is water sources, so we were both a little nervous we’d have to backtrack to Collins Creek to get water. But, I believe this spring is wet most of the year. 

So, to sum up, this loop gives you multiple falls, HUGE boulders, the stunning Collins Creek, a few gulf views, amazing history in the Stagecoach Road (be sure to read the info signs!), and multiple varied suspension bridges. While it’s a bit of a challenge to complete in one day (yes, I’ve done it), it is a great way to spend an overnight. It’s not kill-yourself challenging, but keeps you on your toes, especially with a pack on. If you decide to do it in a day, be sure to give yourself a good 7-8 hours, especially if you plan on doing the side trails for Horsepound Falls and Schwoon Spring, which in my opinion are not optional because they are both stunning.

Put this one on your list, kids!

Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 45 min

Trailhead: Off of 55th Ave near Gruetli-Laager, TN 

Trail: Loop formed by Collins Gulf to Stagecoach Road Historic to Collins Gulf (see route below)

Link to trial map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area (center of map)

Length of trail: ~15 miles, including side trails to Horsepound Falls and Schwoon Spring

Campsites: Collins West Campground, Collins East Campground (both near trailhead) and Sawmill Campground (about 5 miles from trailhead), both are backcountry sites

Overview: Suspension bridges, waterfalls, stunning spring and views of the gulf. A fabulous, challenging hike great for a semi-challenging overnight hike

Stinging Fork Falls State Natural Area

Stinging Fork Falls is a wonderful hike to a beautiful waterfall on the Cumberland Plateau In the Stinging Fork gorge. It’s located in Caryville, TN, east of Crossville and is part of the Cumberland Trail State Park, where you can connect these falls to the Cumberland Trail. (When finished this trail will be over 300 miles across the entire Cumberland Plateau. I’ve done a few sections of this trail.)

While a hike to a waterfall is usually reward enough, it’s always great when the hike to the waterfall is just a beautiful and scenic. That’s what you get with the hike to Stinging Fork Falls, which is reminiscent of parts of Fiery Gizzard. You’ll find a mix of an oak and pine forest as you descend in the the gorge of Little Soak Creek.

This waterfall is also a unique shape, which doesn’t really remind me of any other waterfalls. The water cascades over a fan-shaped rock and then flows into a beautiful rock filled gorge. Oftentimes, I don’t find it very relaxing to sit by a waterfall because the water is typically way too loud and violent for it to be relaxing to me. But, this waterfall is a gentle cascade that lends itself to a peaceful setting to sit and stay awhile. (Bring your hammock!) Plus, it feels a bit tucked away and more private, which I absolutely love in a waterfall hike.

There’s a short side trail to an “overlook” called Indian Head Point. In the fall, many of the trees were blocking any view that there may have been. Perhaps in the winter, you can get a more sweeping view. It’s not a very long trail, so why not just check it out.

Like I mentioned above, the Cumberland Trail can also be accessed from the Stinging Fork Falls trail and you can make this a point-to-point hike from Stinging Fork Falls to Piney Falls! See more info here.

It’s a bit far to drive (about 2.5 hours from Nashville) for a just over-2-mile hike, but pairing it with other trails in the area makes for a wonderful day. Or it would be a great stop on your way to Knoxville or the Smokies.

This forest is being restored with native plants. First, you gotta get those invasive species out and start anew.
Beginning of trail foliage
Trail starting to follow Little Soak Creek
Happy hiking pup
Downstream from the falls
All I could see from Indian Head Point Overlook
Cumberland Trail marker
Sunshine on the falls

Distance from Nashville: 2.5 hours

Trailhead: Shut-In Gap Road, about 5 miles east of Spring City, TN

Link to trail map: Stinging Fork Fall State Natural Area

Length of hike: 2.2 miles

Brief overview: A scenic walk through an oak and pine forest that follows Little Soak Creek and leads to a unique and beautiful waterfall

Piney Falls State Natural Area

Piney Falls is one of the many waterfalls on the Cumberland Plateau. It is near both Ozone Falls and Stinging Fork Falls east of Crossville. It’s a nice waterfall to visit because it combines a free falling waterfall with a mini cascade as it spills into a small pool.

Piney Falls is designated as a National Natural Landmark by the Department of the Interior. This recognition means that it is one of the “best remaining examples in the US of major biotic communities and geologic features.” (Source: TN Dept of Environment and Conservation)

Piney Falls lies within Piney Falls State Natural Area, which is a little off the beaten path. I only saw 1 other small group of people hiking. (But, it has been reported this has been much busier lately.) Contained within this natural area, there is Upper and Lower Piney Falls. I only made it to Upper Piney Falls because of the getting slightly lost. So, maybe you’ll make it to both parts of this fall!

The trail is relatively flat for most of the way (especially if you don’t lose the trail and have to haul it straight up the side of a steep hill bushwhacking the whole way…). The trail also leads up up to the top of the falls, where you cross the small creek that feeds the waterfall and see the water plunging below. There’s an area at the base of the falls where you can walk behind the falls to continue on the trail or go swimming when it’s warmer.

I may have a slightly negative view of these trails because, somehow, I got lost on the less than 3 miles of trails. (See my route at the bottom of this post.) This hike is a balloon loop, so I think I would suggest going left at the fork. It may be easier to follow from that way. From the maps I saw/had, there’s 2 loops that almost make a figure 8. I didn’t really see how this worked out, but again, I did lose the trail. It did seem to be better marked from the clockwise way (going left at the fork). But, I suggest keeping your eyes up and looking for the blazes.

Overall, it’s a nice waterfall with a slightly boring hike to get there. Is it my favorite waterfall and hike? No. But, if you are in the area, why not check it out!

I suggest going left at this sign
Trail next to a vertical rock face
From the top of the upper falls
Piney is surrounding by steep rock faces
From behind the falls
The small cascades

Distance from Nashville: 2 hours

Trailhead: Piney Falls Trailhead on Firetower Rd in Grandview, TN

Link to trail map: Piney Falls State Natural Area

Length of hike: approx 3 miles if you do the entire trail system

Brief overview: Shorter and relatively easy hike to a nice waterfall through old growth hemlock forests

See where I lost the trail?? Lol

Stillhouse Hollow Falls State Natural Area :: Summertown, TN

It’s not often that I find a hike I haven’t done within an hour of Nashville. Usually, even if it’s a short hike like this one, I make the short trek to explore new places.

I did this hike way back in February. The day we hiked it, it was snowing so beautifully. Hiking through the snow flurries was absolutely magical. Everything’s quieter and the white blanket makes the terrain feel even more peaceful.

This hike is less than two miles, but the payoff is a great waterfall: a combination of cascading and free-falling.

There’s a trail directly to the falls that the maps you will find online detail, but there’s also a ridge trail that meanders through the forests and adds a little bit more a mileage. It’s a pretty straight forward hike but definitely worth checking out since it’s pretty close to the metro Nashville area.

There’s a small parking area right off of highway marked by a brown sign denoting they state natural area. It can be kind of easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled!

Distance from Nashville: 1 hour

Trailhead: Small parking lot off of US-43 (Lawrenceburg Hwy) near Summertown, TN

Trail: Stillhouse Hollow Falls and Ridge Trails

Link to trail map: Stillhouse Hollow Falls Map

Length of hike: 1.8 miles

Brief overview: Short and quick hike to beautiful falls within an hour of Nashville.

Savage Day Long Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Back again to my favorite spot in middle-east(?) Tennessee.

The Savage Gulf Day Loop is a popular 5 mile day hike, which I was going to happily do, until I found out I could make it into a 10 mile loop. So, of course, I took the long route. But, of course, you can do the 5 miler and still complete a great hike.


One of the suspension bridges

I connected the Savage Gulf Day Loop to part of the North Plateau and Mountain Oak trails which then connected to the North Rim back to the Savage Gulf Loop. It’s kind of a wonky loop, but it works.


Overlook on the North Plateau trail

There is a big different between a hard 10 miles and an easy 10 miles. It can be the difference of an 8 hour hike and a 4 hour hike. This was an easy 10 miles and only took me about 3 1/2 hours. But, the payoff is great compared to the difficulty of the hike. The Savage Gulf map says that the North Rim trail has the most overlooks of any trail in Savage Gulf. There’s also a few suspension bridges and forest wandering.


If you are looking for a little more of challenge, but don’t want to kill yourself with a very difficult hike, try this longer loop from the Savage Gulf Station.


Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 45 minutes

Trailhead: Savage Gulf Ranger Station off of TN-399

Trail: Lollipop loop formed by Savage Day Loop, North Plateau, Mountain Oak, North Rim, Savage Day Loop (route in red)

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Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area (this loop on far right of map)

Length of trail: 5 or 10 miles, allow 2-3 or 4-5 hours

Overview: Easier, flat 5 or 10 mile hike with overlooks of the Gulf, suspension bridges, and a few waterfalls; great moderate hike.

Flat Rock Cedar Glades and Barrens State Natural Area :: Murfreesboro, TN

I’ve hiked a lot of trails in middle Tennessee. So, on New Year’s Day, I was desperate for something new. I flipped through the 60 hikes in 60 miles of Nashville book, which definitely isn’t a great guide for an avid hiker, but I found something I’d never heard of.


The book said the Flat Rock Cedar Glades had some of the oldest cedar groves in middle Tennessee. Cool I guess? Turns out old red cedars looks a lot like newer red cedars.

The just-over-3-miles path took us through what I assume are “barrens”, which just looked like huge fields of tall grass.IMG_4346

The first half of the hike was kind of circling this field and it made me weary that I had truly chosen a dud. But, thankfully, it did get a little better wandering through cedar forests and little streams


Overall this hike wasn’t super great, but it wasn’t the worst either. Do it if you are looking for something relatively close to Nashville and enjoy an easy forest jaunt.

Distance from Nashville: 45 min

Trailhead: slightly hidden right off of Factory Road. Look for that brown sign in the first picture, which it set slightly back off of the road.

Trail: There’s just the one (see route in yellow)

Link to trail map: Flat Rock Cedar Glades and Barrens Trail Map

Length of trail: about 3.5 miles, allow about an hour and half

Brief Overview: An easy, slightly boring walk through cedar glades and barrens supposedly with well preserved and rare plant life.