Hiking Virgin Falls (Sparta, TN)

Virgin Falls is a wonderful hike in middle Tennessee and is rated strenuous. There are more difficult hikes out there, but if you are out of shape this may not be the one for you. It’s a little under 9 miles round trip and the way back might test you a little bit if you haven’t been hiking in a while.

There are 2 main waterfalls, Big Laurel Falls at about the halfway point, and the main falls (Virgin Falls) after about 4.3 miles. The terrain is rocky and bumpy and you may have to do a bit of climbing, but nothing major. I took my 3 young kids to the halfway point and back and everyone did fine.

If you hike all the way to Virgin Falls and aren’t in a big rush, you can expect it to be around 4-5 hours round trip.

Can I camp at Virgin Falls?

Absolutely you can. I never have but I believe it’s about $3.00 to do so. Every time I go I pass numerous campsites. The coolest spot I saw people camping was at the very end near the main falls. I hiked up to the top of the falls, going up the trail on the right. I walked around past the cave and as I was coming back down on the other side there was a very discreet little campsite set up. That looked like the best place to camp at Virgin Falls to me.

So look for that spot if you are new to Virgin Falls and wanting to camp there. Basically as you are approaching the main falls, if you were to climb or hike up the steep trail on your left.

Can I swim at Virgin Falls?

Not really, unless there is a secret swimming hole I missed somewhere. You are following alongside a creek for most of the hike but it’s small and there’s nowhere to swim that I saw. I’ve been told the cave underneath the first falls you come to has been known to fill up with water, but I say it definitely wouldn’t be safe.

Big Laurel Falls is the half-way point

Now if you just want to get wet and cool off then you are in the right place. You can hike over near the falls and get misted by a bunch of cool water. At the main falls you will have to hike down a little trail to get to the bottom from the viewing area. Or take a short hike up above the falls and see the source, a dark cave plenty big for you to walk into if you wanted.

source cave for the main falls

I’ll also mention that the temperature drop near this cave is drastic. The last time I was there it was 90 degrees out easily. I walked up to the top cave for the first time and the temperature dropped 20-30 degrees easy in and around the cave. You know those room air conditioners that older hotel rooms have by the window? Imagine cranking one of those up and letting the air hit your face. It wasn’t quite like that, but it was close.

If you are looking for a good swimming hole in the area with a waterfall, then checkout Cummins Falls State Park. Cummins has become wildly popular in recent years and is usually very crowded on nice days, especially on the weekends. There has been much controversy around Cummins recently as well due to several deaths that have occurred. Checkout the post on Cummins Falls I made if you want to learn more about this once hidden gem. Cummins Falls is maybe 1.5 hours or so from Virgin Falls.

Is this hike suitable for kids or elderly?

Just keep an eye on everyone and don’t let your kids run too far ahead. Now if you are considering bringing 3-4 year olds, then maybe leave them with grandma and grandpa unless Dad wants to be carrying someone half the time. Older kids closer to 9-10 should be fine. Elderly can make this hike but be prepared to go slower and let them go at their own pace.. the terrain is very bumpy in some places and there are many natural steps. The last time I hiked Virgin Falls there was an older guy in our group with bad knees and he was struggling a little bit. He made it though and had a nice rest at the falls.

A hiking stroller will not make it on this hike. If you have very small kids a carrier backpack for hiking might work for you though.

Where is Virgin Falls located?

Virgin Falls is near Sparta, Tennessee which is just south of Cookeville. It’s close to an hour and a half drive from Cookeville. There are many awesome waterfall hikes in this region of Tennessee including Virgin Falls, Cummins Falls, Fall Creek Falls, Burgess Falls, among others. Below is a map from Cookeville to Virgin Falls, it’s relatively easy to find and Google Maps can get you there.

What you might want to pack for a hike at Virgin Falls

You should treat this as half a day hike, assuming you are going to take your time and enjoy yourself rather than speed through it. And on a half day hike, the following items are essential:

  • A good backpack, preferably a hydration pack. I use this Osprey hydration pack. It’s awesome and holds 2.5 liters of water, I’ve used it all over Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.
  • Good shoes. You can go with hiking boots or trail shoes. I have been exclusively wearing trail shoes like these Merrells from Amazon. I don’t actually own these but have a friend that swears by them. The ones I have from Adidas are worn out and I will purchase Merrill next time.
  • Water and plenty of it, if you have a hydration pack then you have this covered. Otherwise bring a Nalgene water bottle or something that can hold extra water.
  • Food and snacks. This is a fairly long hike and you should pack a lunch and some snacks. I like bringing beef jerky, trail mix, and an apple.
  • First aid, there’s always a chance someone will scrape their knee or their hand.. so take some band aids and Neosporin just in case.
  • Light, comfortable clothes. Jeans or shorts and a T-shirt is perfect when the weather is nice.
  • Hiking socks. This one is optional but I went with some wool hiking socks a while back and I can’t believe I ever lived without them. Darn Tough Socks, you can get them on Amazon. You really only need one pair.
  • Maybe some bug spray

Virgin Falls is a must do hike for middle Tennessee. It’s one of my personal favorites and you really get some good exercise on this one. The scenery is beautiful and you are in the shade almost the whole hike. Just refer to the list above and take the essentials for hiking.

Here are some other great hikes in the middle Tennessee area

Written by OutdoorMotives

At outdoormotives.com we talk about all types of outdoor activities. We answer common questions and recommend the best products to help you enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.


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