Hike an amazing 8.5 miles to see Big Laurel Falls, Sheep Cave Falls, Big Branch Falls and Virgin Falls as well as three caves and countless swimming holes. Make it a day trip or bring a pack and camp at one of the 5 campgrounds in the area.

This area has sink holes, caves, waterfalls and disappearing rivers as a result of the karst topography found on the Cumberland Plateau. It is a very unique area so be sure you are practicing principles of Leave No Trace to ensure this Class II Natural-Scientific State Natural Area stays natural. 

Starting at the Virgin Falls Parking area, begin the hike at the very well marked trailhead (wooden kiosk) and hike for one mile through the forest; this first mile has very little elevation change. About a mile into the hike you'll begin your decent into the river gorge. At the bottom of the hill you'll come to your first creek crossing and on the other side will be one of many campgrounds. Hike a few hundred feet further and to your left will be Big Branch Falls. 

Continue hiking down into the gorge by following the trail (in the spring the trail is lined with hundreds of beautiful wildflowers). You'll notice a lot of side trails down to many different swimming holes; during the summer I would recommend exploring a few of these and taking a dip on your hike back out of the gorge to cool off! 

At 2.3 miles into your hike you'll come across Big Laurel Falls. This waterfall falls over the edge of a cave (you can hike back down into it too!) and then disappears into an underground river. From this point, keep hiking and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains through the trees around you. At 3.4 miles you'll come to a junction where the Virgin Falls Loop begins. Take a RIGHT to go to Sheep Cave first. You can hike back into the mouth of the cave via the marked side trail or stay on the main trail and observe the waterfall falling out of the cave from afar. The water from the waterfall flows out of the mouth of the cave and surfaces for a few hundred feet only to fall back down into the ground.

Continue hiking around the loop until you come to Virgin Falls at 4.25 miles. Be careful at this waterfall, the mist makes everything very slippery; rocks, dirt, plants. Use good judgment and watch your footing. This AMAZING waterfall has no above ground water flow except for the falls itself. The water emerges from the ground only to plummet 110 feet and continues to flow back underground. 

After enjoying this waterfall, continue to follow signs for the main trail and hike until you return to the end of the Loop Junction at 4.8 miles. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot. Don't forget to stop for a second time at Big Laurel Falls and then again to dip your feet into one of the crystal clear pools off the trail. Don't forget to pack out whatever you pack in and to use principles of Leave No Trace.

* Note to campers: There are a lot of campsites throughout the Virgin Falls State Natural Area. Most can be found off of very well beaten side trails and some are clearly marked off of the trail.

* The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation has stated that this hike is considered a strenuous hike and should be treated as such. Please allow yourself 5-9 hours to complete this hike and begin hiking in the morning. Remember to bring adequate supplies of food and water and dress appropriately for the time of year. 

Pack List

  • water- and a lot of it
  • food - this hike will take you a few hours
  • bathing suit (summer time)
  • first aid kit
  • good judgment - be safe!
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RT Distance 8.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 1240 Feet
Activities Camping, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Swimming Hole


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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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