Virgin Falls: Part Two

At larger crossing of the creek we got to do a little rock hopping.  Notice the cable strung across for when the water is really flowing.  I mentioned to Melanie that we should have looked up geocaches for the trail before we left, but I had forgotten our GPSr anyway.  About that time eagle-eye Mel happened to spot a cache but we didn’t have a pen.  Hopefully the cache owner will accept our photographic proof. 🙂

Creek crossing. Obviously the water gets much higher sometimes.
Huge leaf! The black boot is a size 13.
The trail ran right beside Big Laurel Creek most of the time.
The trail really starts dropping
Large rocks on the sides begin to break through as the trail decends
The trail levels off somewhat before we reach the falls
The creek looked like this for a good while before making a sudden drop.

There is only one kind of crappy map that I could find for the trail, but it wasn’t an issue since the trail is well marked and maintained.  Even so, at about lunch time we heard a roaring noise up ahead and noticed that the creek disappeared.  We had been on the trail for a while but had we really been moving that quickly?  As the trail descended to a nice flat area in front of a large cave, we thought we were there.  It reminded me of something out of a movie.  There was a cave with a sheet of water dropping down the front of the entrance and disappearing into the cave itself.  I had never seen a fall with no creek in front of it.  It was really unusual and fascinating – kind of like seeing someone without eyebrows.  You know something is different but can’t place it immediately.  Before we could pat ourselves on the back, I noticed a sign saying Big Laurel Falls.  D’oh!  We were only about halfway there.  At least it was a great spot for lunch.

Trail map
Standing on the trail about 50 feet above the falls
Front view. Much larger than it appears. I'm guessing 25 feet tall.
Lots of Hulked-out mossy rocks around Big Laurel Falls

After eating we quickly picked up the trail again and continued on, passing a spur for a scenic overlook and another for Sheep Cave Falls.  We could see Sheep Cave Falls from the trail and didn’t want to spend any extra time going to explore the cave in the off chance we’d be hiking back in the dark.

Most of the trail is spend descending a gorge but somewhere around this time we reached the bottom, made a sharp u-turn and began ascending the other side.  Not too long after this we could hear a thunderous roar and out popped Virgin Falls.  It amazed us both how close we had to be to the falls to hear it.  It was so quiet on the rest of the hike that this was a dramatic contrast.

First sight of Virgin Falls. We had only heard it a few feet before this.

Let me tell you that this falls is spectacular and well worth the hike.  Even in the fall when leaves are down it is hard to get a completely open view of it but that just makes it even better.  The best landscape architects site their buildings to get glimpses and framed views of the subject matter before the big reveal.  Mother Nature had a similar thought here.  There is a little trail that goes up and behind the falls to the cave that it emerges from.  I’m sure that this is a neat place to play in the summer (if you don’t get eaten alive by bugs).

Where does the water go? Behind it into the cave. So cool!
Mel and I for scale. We are about 25 feet up from the bottom on a ledge.

Here we met up with our Ohio buddies again.  They had turned off at the scenic overlook and were just catching up with us.  Donning headlamps, they we excited to finally entire the cave after a year of waiting.  I tried to gently explain that the cave was waist deep in water right now but they could not be deterred.  NOTE:  I can’t believe that I didn’t get a picture of the creek emerging from the cave before it tumbled over the falls!

The trip back to the car was uneventful except to say this is where this trail earns its “strenuous” title.  The first 45 minutes of the last hour of the hike was a continuous uphill climb.  It made me wish that we had more money so that we could throw in a couple of gym memberships to mix the Stairmaster and inclined treadmill into our workouts.  Tough stuff, my friends.

Woodland Sarlacc or sinkhole? I wasn't going to stick my foot in to find out.
We walked under this big rock shelf. You can see the S-shape of the trail where it goes under the rocks. The light grey stone dust is the trail.
For most of the hike the sky was a steely blue-grey and the leaves were pastel pink color. This image really shows off those colors. I kept thinking about Samurai Jack.

Oh, and I almost forgot, in the last 15 minutes of the hike, when the trail had leveled off I heard a loud crash and then a heavy thump-thumping off into the woods.  I’m certain it was a deer drinking from the creek.  I wish I could have seen it.

I ended up drinking my entire 2L of water.  Melanie drank half of hers.  If I were doing it again, I’d pack more water or be prepared to filter some.

Overall, this is one of my favorite day hikes I’ve ever done.  I encourage anyone to do this hike.  If you are not in shape, let this be a goal.  Just don’t go in the summer.

Final stats:
VIRGIN FALLS
N 35.83917 W 85.33083 (unverified but matches Google Maps)
Website
Sparta Chamber of Commerce 931-836-3552
Three hours from Huntsville
Six hours for the eight-mile round trip hike (four miles one-way to falls)
Trailhead located at N 35.85414 W 85.28263 (unverified but matches Google Maps)
Late fall to early spring is traditionally the heaviest water flow

PS  If you want to have some fun, drop the coordinates into Google Earth and angle down so that the hills get some elevation.  This will give you a better idea of how the trip played out.

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At larger crossing of the creek we got to do a little rock hopping.  Notice the cable strung across for when the water is really flowing.  I had been talking to Melanie that we should have looked up geocaches [ref] for the trail before we left, but I had forgotten our GPSr anyway.  About that time eagle-eye Mel happened to spot a cache but we didn’t have a pen.  Hopefully the cache owner will accept our photographic proof. J

There is only one kind of crappy map that I could find for the trail, but it wasn’t an issue since the trail is well marked and maintained.  Even so, at about lunch time we heard a roaring noise up ahead and noticed that the creek disappeared.  We had been on the trail for a while but had we really been moving that quickly?  As the trail descended to a nice flat area in front of a large cave, we thought we were there.  It reminded me of something out of a movie.  There was a cave with a sheet of water dropping down the front of the entrance and disappearing into the cave itself.  I had never seen a fall with no creek in front of it.  It was really unusual and fascinating – kind of like seeing someone without eyebrows.  You know something is different but can’t place it immediately.  Before we could pat ourselves on the back, I noticed a sign saying Big Laurel Falls.  We were only about halfway there.  At least it was a great spot for lunch.

After eating we quickly picked up the trail again and continued on passing a spur for a scenic overlook and another for Sheep Cave Falls.  We could see Sheep Cave Falls from the trail and didn’t want to spend any extra time going to explore the cave in the off chance we’d be hiking back in the dark.

Most of the trail is spend descending a gorge but somewhere around this time we reached the bottom, made a sharp u-turn and began ascending the other side.  Not too long after this we could hear a thunderous roar and out popped Virgin Falls.  It amazed us both how close we had to be to the falls to hear them.  It was so quiet on the rest of the hike that this was a dramatic contrast.

Let me tell you that this falls is spectacular and well worth the hike.  Even in the fall when leaves are down it is hard to get a completely open view of it but that just makes it even better.  The best landscape architects site their buildings to get glimpses and framed views of the subject matter before the big reveal.  Mother Nature had a similar thought here.  There is a little trail that goes up and behind the falls to the cave that it emerges from.  I’m sure that this is a neat place to play in the summer (if you don’t get eaten alive by bugs).

Here we met up with our Ohio buddies again.  They had turned off at the scenic overlook and were just catching up with us.  Donning headlamps, they we excited to finally entire the cave after a year of waiting.  I tried to gently explain that the cave was waist deep in water right now but they could not be deterred.

The trip back to the car was uneventful except to say this is where this trail earns its “strenuous” title.  The first 45 minutes of the last hour of the hike was a continuous uphill climb.  It made me wish that we had more money so that we could throw in a couple of gym memberships to mix the Stairmaster and inclined treadmill into our workouts.  Tough stuff, my friends.

Oh, and I almost forgot, in the last 15 minutes of the hike, when the trail had leveled off I heard a loud crash and then a loud thump-thumping off into the woods.  I’m certain it was a deer drinking from the creek.  I wish I could have seen it.

I ended up drinking my entire 2L of water.  Melanie drank half of hers.  If I were doing it again, I’d pack more water.

Overall, this is one of my favorite day hikes I’ve ever done.

Final stats:

VIRGIN FALLS

35.83917N 85.33083W (unverified but matches Google Maps)

Website [http://www.state.tn.us/environment/na/natareas/virgin/]

Sparta Chamber of Commerce 931-836-3552

Three hours from Huntsville

Six hours for the eight-mile round trip hike (four miles one-way to falls)

Trailhead located at 35.85414N 85.28263W (unverified but matches Google Maps)

Late fall to early spring is traditionally the heaviest water flow

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4 thoughts on “Virgin Falls: Part Two

    1. We were in an area that I thought would be good for a cache and that made me think about them. I started talking to her about it and this inspired her to look around I guess. She literally was walking along, stopped and picked it up and said “Found one.”

      It was like something out of a poorly written movie. “We need some unobtainium to stop Dr. Hairy, but it is the rarest substance in the galaxy.” “Oof! Does it look like this stuff I just tripped over?”

    2. You reminded me to attempt to log the cache and I found out that we actually did two (one is a virtual cache). In looking at the map you’ll see why we stumbled upon one. With so many along the trail it was likely to happen. http://bit.ly/4wCPRM

      Sadly, now I know what we missed at the scenic overlook. If you look at that cache you’ll see images of the view. Oh well. I guess we’ll have to go back.

      This is another one of those times when I wish I had an iPhone. The geocaching app for it would make this so easy to do.

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