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Eastern Tennessee: A Haven for Nature Lovers

I was not familiar with Virgin Falls when we began hatching a plan to travel there. I was certainly not familiar with Sparta, TN, the rural town, home to just over 5,000 inhabitants, that sits nearest to the falls. I was born and raised in the southeastern US, so I at least had some level of familiarity with Tennessee in general. However, my limited expertise pretty much began and ended in Memphis, so this trip was going to be something entirely new for me. IVHE has previously highlighted what a great spot Tennessee can be for nature lovers and fans of the outdoors, but I was not as yet familiar with this reputation. The area to which we traveled was a reasonable eight-hour drive from our Floridian home, being just over the boarder of North Carolina and into Tennessee. This made the actual travel portion of our journey fairly simple. My husband and I, along with another married duo, made the trip to this out-of-the way locale in White County. Thankfully for us, our friends had previously visited the area (in fact, they were the reason we found out about Virgin Falls in the first place), so they served as our guides in the mountainous regions.

We made plans to camp at the falls for a couple of days, but decided on getting a hotel room for the first night so that we could begin our hike into the mountain at first light and not risk getting stuck in the dark on a steep trail. It was the dead of winter, but we were lucky to find Tennessee having a mild time of it. There were a few patches of ice and decidedly chilly temperatures, but no snowfall to reckon with as we made our way. We pulled into Sparta quite late at night, and I'll admit that the drive through the winding mountain roads put me a bit on edge. The fog was incredibly thick and frequent signs warned of falling rocks - a phenomenon we were all too aware of as we drove over the evidence of smashed rocks already in the roadway. Thankfully, we made the "perilous" journey safely and tucked in for a few hours of anxious sleep. We were all quite eager to get on the trail, but the rest did us a world of good before our big trek.

The trails themselves were a sight to behold. I'm sure that no matter what time of the year you visit, these falls and the surrounding state park are gorgeous, but I was particularly impressed with the stillness of the woods in the wintertime. Our drive from the hotel to the park area was even remarkable. I'll admit, Sparta grew on me in the daytime, after the fog had burned away and the scenery was more visible. The fact that there were no more signs in this direction which mentioned falling rocks helped enhance my experience, I think. We had quite a bit of gear between the four of us (for the record, I told my husband he was over-packing), so it was a bit of a physical undertaking to get ourselves and our packs to camp. However, we were all at least moderately experienced hikers, so it was manageable. We took frequent rests, but were still able to make it to our camp and get set up before nightfall. We got a prime spot, in a cave directly underneath Big Laurel Falls. The rush of the water created fantastic white noise for our first night of sleep, but the trade-off was the sheer amount of bat guano coating the cavern floor all around us! If you could get around that, and didn't mind leaving your hiking boots outside of the tent, it was a killer location.

We took day hikes to the much taller Virgin Falls and explored the well-marked trails in the area. The chilly temperatures were far from a burden, making the physical exertion of the hike much more enjoyable. Going into this trip I did not have many preconceived notions of Tennessee, outside of the bigger cities, but I can assure you that the more rural part of the state is a sight to behold. We met plenty of hikers who were visiting the falls for the day, along with a couple of fellow campers. Everyone in the area seemed to know how pristine this spot is and what a great day trip it makes. 

While staying in the state park definitely constitutes a "primitive" camping experience (no toilets or potable water available), and we were all very happy to see a real restaurant at the end of our hike back to civilization, the scenery and serenity make the trip well worth it. You needn’t go so far as pitching a tent in a cave to enjoy the wilderness of the area either, with an abundance of scenic rural areas just a short drive from civilization. I would gladly sing the praises of Virgin Falls to anyone looking for an outdoorsy vacation idea. Even if you're not much of a camper, the trail lends itself well to a reasonable day hike, with lots of picture-worthy spots to stop and rest along the way. The state park educated visitors on the surrounding landscape and provides several different routes of varying difficulty to hike, so that everyone from the most advanced hikers to novice outdoorsmen will find a suitable trek. I would have easily overlooked this particular little dot on the map in East Tennessee, but if you're planning a trip to the area (including the western part of North Carolina, just across the border) I'd encourage you to put Virgin Falls on your travel itinerary! If you’re looking to go off the grid for several days, or just hoping to stretch your legs in a uniquely pristine environment, the mountainous areas of Eastern Tennessee have plenty to offer you.

IVHE will help to make your trip a little lighter on the bat guano, with lovely luxury accommodations throughout the area. Take a look at our available properties to see what might suit your tastes for potential Tennessee accommodations.

Thank you to travel blogger Emma Sledge.  


  1. I liked the personal angle of the blog entry--I was in Tennessee once, and would like to return.

  2. I liked the personal angle of the blog entry--I was in Tennessee once, and would like to return.


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