• Russell Hill

An epic wilderness hike-Virgin Falls Trail

Part two of five in a discovering Upper Cumberland series

Three things make hiking with small kids easier: 

1. Dangle tantalizing baked goods for them whenever you get to designated break spots 

2. Have the older kids encourage the younger ones by making it a game 

3. Tell stories and sing songs along the way.

We employed all of these techniques to motivate our four kids (3-10 years of age) through the Virgin Falls Wilderness area on an 8 mile hike.  We prepped them beforehand on the distance so they knew in advance that it would be challenging. But we also told them that the hike would be gorgeous and worth it. Of course we made it clear that we would be taking breaks along the way and most of these stops would include amazing snacks.  

Mentally, for the kids, the hardest part of a hike is the first mile or two.  During this section, I regaled our kids with a silly impromptu story about salamanders; flying talking thorny lizards; and an adventurous, sneaky young boy.

Once we arrived at the first waterfall, Big Branch Falls about a mile and a half into the trek, the excitement about what else we were going to discover took over and wiped out most of their complaints about the hike. Rowan (3) kept pace fueled by gum, cookies, and granola bars.

Mile 2 of the trail opens up to Big Laurel Falls with a partial cave large enough to easily hike behind the waterfall.  For those interested in a shorter trip the visit to Big Laurel Falls is easily worth the 2 miles out and back.

The next two miles are a bit more technical and lead to the impressive Virgin Falls. It is one of many waterfalls in the area that collects a small pool beneath it and then disappears underground. We stopped for lunch here and took a break for about 20 minutes to just watch the falls from different vantage points.

While taking a break, we noticed a trail that continued another 4 miles to Lost Creek Falls. We asked the kids what they wanted to do and we had a split decision. The original plan was for us all to hike back together. But given the vote count (despite several tallys!) our plan quickly changed into “dividing and conquering.”  Half our family took off on the longer hike while the other half went back to get the car and then drove 50 minutes to the far end of the trail.

Each group got just what they needed. I ran along the trail with Renn (9) and Hazel (7) and covered the next four miles in an hour and fifteen minutes.  I’m an ultra-marathoner and trail runner so these kiddos were truckin’ but kept up with me. We stopped only to watch a yellow racer snake twist down the trail in front of us and  later see a carpenter bee narrowly escape from a black widow spider web.

Rowan (3) took Kim and Bennett (10) on the slightly easier Lost Creek Trail with each of the boys taking turns carrying the backpack, encouraging each other, and gabbing away until their Mom thought her ear was going to fall off. We each arrived at the rendezvous point within minutes of each other.

We were all slightly disappointed that the cave we had hoped to explore was temporarily closed to help protect two of the local endangered bats from a pesky fungal infection.  Once we knew we were helping the bats, our disappointment became slightly easier to swallow.

The kids were incredible on our hike, even Rowan hiked 95% of the time on his own little legs. We all felt the reward of taking on a big challenge, figuring out ways to make it more fun for each other, and completing something difficult and exhausting.

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