Sunday, February 8, 2015

Virgin Falls Solo Hike

Virgin Falls Solo Hike

Dana Koogler 
Saturday Feb. 7, 2015

Total hike distance 8.8 miles 

     We were supposed to go riding this weekend.   However with Kenny's work schedule I've learned to have plans A, B, C, and D.  Always have a backup plan.  He promised me we'd go the next weekend and make a LONG weekend of it.  My backup plan was a solo hike to Virgin Falls.
I invited others to go but had no takers.  It was a good backup plan because I felt reasonably comfortable going there alone. I had never hiked there alone before, but had made two previous
trips and knew the area pretty well.   It is also visited enough I knew I would not be truly alone.

        I committed myself to an early start and that this time I would make the side trip to 
the overlook.    I kept both promises. I was on the trail by eight o'clock a.m.  I parked along the road because I did not want to get blocked in. I also felt like the backpackers would be the most
logical persons to use the parking area which is rather small.   The entire hike took me eight hours.   I had plenty of time for lollygagging.   Virgin Falls State Natural Area lies in Scott's Gulf
in White County, Tennessee.   I have decided to get serious and visit all the land forms in 
Scott's Gulf.    I want to eventually put together a photo gallery of that area.  

       Today would be a good day to get the jump on that.  I will get it out of the way to say 
Yes, I am a little jaded about Virgin Falls.  Detractors from it for me are:
  • I have been a couple times before
  • It is heavily visited
  • I have found numerous other places with waterfall caves that offer solitude

  I hate it when I feel this way about a place.   I have thought of solutions and here are some
ways I think I can make this better:

  • Hike it in a different season than I ever have before. 
  • Hike it from a different direction than ever before
  • Do partial hikes into the area and focus on visiting some of the lesser noticed spots.
  • Take someone back who has never been before

 We plan to hike it from the Caney Fork River during warm months when the Caney Fork
waters go down enough to ford safely.   We'll go down to Davis Cemetery and hike in from there or Big Bottom.   The waterfalls can dry up so much during Summer that it would make it really hard for me to push myself to hike all that way to see them with a piddly flow.   A shorter hike and a swim in the river would help though. 

     Hiking down through Virgin Falls starts off flat and through open woods.
The first significant thing seen along the trail is Big Branch Falls. It is about 15 ft high.

Big Branch Falls is very scenic. 

    I continued down the trail past the Cable Crossing Campground. I had a brief moment of trail confusion.
I did not want to truck right through the campsite, but I did not see where the trail went besides there?
I finally gave up and headed through the camp site since the fellows there were breaking camp anyhow.
I stopped to ask them where the actual trail was and they pointed out to me that it was directly below the camp site, yet it was possible to just go straight through the site and merge with the trail.  The camp site is particularly desirable. It is flat, shady, plenty of water and during times of ample rainfall there are several small cascades right there at the campsite!  It is in close proximity to the overlook spur as well.
Further down the stream is a series of nearly continuous deep blue green pools, massive boulders, and 
attractive cascades.   Once you get past Big Laurel Falls there is no more stream or water until you come to Sheep Cave and falls!  

     I turned off to the spur trail for the Overlook and hiked the moderate 0.5 miles up there.
It was well worth the effort to get there.   It was not like I had imagined. I knew there were camp sites up there, but I figured you'd have to come all the way down to the stream at the main trail to obtain water.
It turned out not to be the case.  I can't speak to the entire year. Maybe the spring branch dries up, but 
it was flowing well today and it was a short distance back down the trail from where you set up tents!
The forest up there is open pine woods and quite pretty.  
View from Martha's Pretty Point

    Back down on the main trail I turned right and went on down toward Big Laurel Falls. 
It was six or seven years since my last trip here. I got past that spot where ice accumulates on the rocky slopes of the trail.  I was relieved to be beyond that.   It always makes me uneasy, but  especially today hiking alone.    I arrived at Big Laurel Falls and found that a small crowd was accumulating there.
I found it hard to get to a point where I could get photos of the falls minus the people in the photo and minus the spray.   
Big Laurel Falls spills over a ledge and its flow entirely disappears into the cave behind it.  
Below here there is no stream to flow alongside you on the hike.   BTW-- there is a SWALLET.. a small one in the stream heading down from the Overlook Spur Trail to Big Laurel Falls.
It is easy to see from the trail if you look closely.  

    After a brief rest here at Big Laurel Falls I continued down the trail with a large group of hikers who were all going the same way. They were very nice people and I hiked the rest of the way in with them.   Next stop was Sheep Cave and falls.

Top-one portion of Sheep Falls
Bottom--One entrance of Sheep Cave. I went in and waded the creek, but forgot to bring a light today.  

      We motored on toward Virgin Falls taking the upper loop to get there.
It is 0.3 miles longer, but is more gradual and less rocky a trail.   I could hear Virgin Falls long before we reached it.  I could tell from the roar there would be a ton of water coming over the falls.
Sure enough there was more water and spray coming off that falls than I'd seen on previous trips.
It is impressive and very pretty.  It is a little dismaying to try to enjoy the spot with gaggles of people and there were plenty.   Especially the climbers around the rim of the falls.  It makes it hard to get a pretty photo and makes me uneasy that I'm going to watch someone fall to their death.  Cell service does not exist in Scotts Gulf and consequently help would be a long time coming. A fall from the top of those falls would mean certain death.  People have fallen from Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park and survived going over the falls.  The difference is that there
is a plunge pool at the bottom to catch you giving you slightly better odds of making it.
Virgin Falls has no plunge pool to cushion your landing.  To the dummies who stand out on the edge of the falls.. I have this to say.    Nature is supremely indifferent to whether we live or die.  And long as *I* am safe and sound... You go ahead and gamble with your life. I don't care.
Pull up the ladder, Mack. I'm on board. 

Virgin Falls is 110 ft high

     Many of the other hikers went off in other directions including those in the group I had arrived here with. I used the time to eat lunch at last. I also used the time and the opportunity to get some photos and video footage without people in it!   

    Once that was done I hiked back out. I tried the lower loop with two nice ladies who were hiking out.  I hiked as far as 1/2 mile back to the big intersection with them. Once I'd gotten there I was ready to sit down and finish my lunch.  I also came out of some more layers of clothes.  I began having problems with my left lower leg.  It felt really funky down in my ankle. It was throbbing
like a rotten tooth.   I finally took some advil when I got back to Big Laurel falls.  I knew once I got that uphill climb between Big Laurel Falls and the overlook spur done I'd have the worst over.
I sat down at the campsite and removed my boots and a charley horse hit me so bad in both legs.
Some young women were coming by and I must have looked like I was ready to die.  They did not want to leave me there. I appreciated the concern, but I did not want to talk I was hurting so bad.
I finally assured them I was going to be OK and they went ahead.    I really was ok in a little bit.
I made up my mind if I wasn't a whole lot better by Monday morning I would go to the doctor and get checked for a clot or an electrolyte imbalance.  

     The last mile out was a breeze. Mercifully flat and the woods open and cool. The evening sun shining on my shoulders.   The air fresh.   I was glad to have come today. Below the video I will see what's in my crystal ball of the future. 

In Magicmomma's Crystal Ball of the Future I see:

    Future trip up to Virgin Falls from the Caney Fork River
Hiking to Evan Falls and Gunstock Branch Falls
Hiking to all the falls and overlooks in the Polly's Branch vicinity
Hiking to Rogers Creek Falls (2) and Buzzard Roost Rock
Exploring arches, caves, and waterfalls in Fentress county.
Finding Spring wildflowers, waterfalls, sinkholes in Scotts Gulf


  1. All of those are beautiful waterfalls if you ask me!

    1. Thank you. They really are. I liked them all. :-)

  2. Thank you for the great detail. Heading there Monday morning for an overnighter.

  3. Lance, you are quite welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a great time and travel safe. Enjoy yourself! Hope the weather is perfect for you.


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