In the summer, what better place could we go than to a waterfall? With the cool, damp, restorative powers of falling water, they’re a great place to go when we just need to get out of town for the day. And check it out… I’ve even made a map HERE to make it easier for you to find them all! So, here are a few great ones within a 100 mile radius of Nashville:
1. Cummins Falls
Cummins Falls has been a scenic spot and swimming hole for local residents for more than 100 years. It’s Tennessee’s eighth largest waterfall in volume of water, with stair step cascades down into an idyllic, rugged gorge 75 feet below. Steep, uneven trails over water crossings and boulders descend more than a mile into the gorge, where you can play in the cool, sparkling water.
Cummins Falls’ rich history includes a time when Native Americans used the area to track the numerous buffalo that wallowed in the river’s shallow areas. Then in the 1790s, Sergeant Blackburn, a veteran of the Revolutionary War for whom the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River was named, was awarded the land in lieu of a pension. The land and waterfall was acquired by John Cummins in 1825, and he used the land to build the first of two mills. Because of his growing clientele, a larger, second mill was built in 1845. Local residents would visit the mills and the falls for both commerce and recreation.
The mill was washed away during the great flood of 1928, and was not rebuilt, though the land stayed with the Cummins family for more than 180 years. Fortunately for all of us, the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation purchased the land through private and public donations, and it became one of Tennessee’s beautiful state parks.
2. Burgess Falls
Burgess Falls consists of four stunning cascades dropping over 250 feet. The last of these falls is the most spectacular, plunging more than 130 feet into the gorge. The area was originally populated by Native Americans of the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw tribes, who used the land as a hunting ground until the late 19th century. At that time a gristmill and sawmill began operating on the river, and soon after, from 1928-1944, the Falling Water River was used to generate hydroelectric power for the city of Cookeville. In 1973, the territory became a designated Tennessee State Natural Area, protecting the diverse forest and aquatic habitats.
The 1.5-mile round-trip loop trail is a moderately strenuous hike, taking you past the waterfalls and into the gorge. The four waterfalls are 20’ cascades, 30’ upper falls, 80’ middle falls, and 136’ lower falls. A steep, very strenuous trail leads to the edge of the falls, and if you like, you can hike back to the parking area along the service road. The half-mile Ridge Top Trail is very scenic with views down the main canyon of Falling Water River.
A rustic, 90 year old metal stairway leading down into the gorge recently suffered extensive structural damage from a storm, so the metal staircase, trail to the base of the main falls, the main falls overlook, and the middle falls overlook are currently closed until repairs are completed. However, you’ll still be able to visit the cascades, the upper falls, and the middle falls.
Also at Burgess Falls, you can see the Native Butterfly Garden adjacent to the upper parking area. It’s easily accessed, and provides striking native wildflower displays. The annual Butterfly Garden Celebration hosted each summer is a family-friendly event featuring staff-led educational programs, hikes, butterfly identification, creek studies, landscaping with native plants, and more.
During the summer, Burgess Falls offers Junior Ranger Camps to local youth. Each week-long camp is geared toward specific age groups and led by park rangers. The camps are a fun, hands-on way for kids to learn environmental education and experience the park’s many natural resources.
3. Ozone Falls
Stunning Ozone Falls plunges 110 feet over a sandstone cap rock into a deep blue, rock-strewn pool. Then the creek disappears underground until it reemerges several feet downstream. You can even go behind the falls and look out through the falling water from an impressive rock house “amphitheater”.
Because of its picturesque beauty and easy access, Ozone Falls was selected for filming scenes for the movie “Jungle Book.”
Below the waterfall is a remnant old growth forest comprised of eastern hemlock, white pine, magnolia, yellow birch, sugar maple, tulip poplar, and red oak, and with rosebay rhododendron in the shrub layer. The stream is filled with huge boulders, some the size of houses, and small placid pools.
You can also hike along a rugged ¾ mile out-and-back trail that goes from the falls, descends into the gorge, and passes a small rock house called Gamblers Den.
4. Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls State Park, near Pikeville, is Tennessee’s largest and most visited state park, and encompasses more than 26,000 ruggedly beautiful acres on the eastern top of the rugged Cumberland Plateau. Laced with cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams and lush stands of virgin hardwood timber, the park beckons those who enjoy nature at her finest. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, is the highest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi. The park has 6 waterfalls, including Coon Creek Falls (250ft), Rockhouse Falls (125ft), Piney Creek Falls (95ft), Cane Creek Falls (85ft), and Cane Creek Cascades (45ft).
Fall Creek Falls State Park also has a large number of caves. The biggest of these is Rumbling Falls Cave, which has the second largest cave chamber in the country.
In 1937, the federal government began purchasing the badly eroded land around Fall Creek Falls. The following year, the Works Project Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began restoring the forest and constructing park facilities. Then in 1944, the National Park Service transferred ownership of the park to the State of Tennessee.
More than 34 miles of trails give you the option of taking long or short routes to the various falls, and include overnight trails.
At Fall Creek Falls State Park, you also have an inn, restaurant, cabins, and campsites, including backcountry camping. The Nature Center offers hands-on environmental education through a variety of naturalist led programs, along with arts and crafts, movies, campfires, organized games, and live musical entertainment. There’s a beautiful and challenging 18-hole golf course, four playgrounds, horse stables with guided trail rides, covered picnic pavilions, an Olympic-sized pool, and zip lines with an aerial adventure course.
5. Stinging Fork Falls
Stinging Fork Falls flows over fan-shaped rock formations, then quickly slips through chutes and tumbles over cascades below the falls. The trail starts at the gravel parking area on Shut-in Gap Road. This 2 mile round trip trail is rated moderate, and goes through a managed pine plantation into the 140-acre Bowater Stinging Fork Pocket Wilderness. A future segment of the Cumberland Trail is planned to connect to Stinging Fork Falls.
The gorge contains a second growth forest community. You’ll see steep cliffs and smaller bluffs that descend into the gorge. At ½ mile, a spur trail (760 feet) leads to Indian Head Point. Be sure and take this short detour, where you can enjoy the great view of the rugged Stinging Fork Gorge and the creek 160 feet below the scenic overlook.
After your detour to the scenic overlook, the trail continues, descending into the gorge and on up the creek. The trail ends at the plungepool of the scenic 35-foot falls.
6. Upper Piney Falls
Near Grandview, Piney Falls State Natural Area contains two waterfalls, and is an easy spot to visit, with good signage and a paved road to the trailhead. The trail to the falls looks like it was an old road, and is a short, gentle descent into the gorge. The Area has been designated a National Natural Landmark for the old growth forest on the slopes of the gorge below Lower Piney Falls. The forest includes white pines that are over three feet in diameter and 100 feet tall.
Little Piney Creek plunges 80′ into an amphitheater type setting, with a hollowed-out area behind the falls. The creek gushes over the falls and is really an awesome sight after a rain upstream.
A side trail to the right leads to the rim of the falls, and a side trail to the left goes down into the gorge to the base of the falls. If you turn left there, hike less than 1/4 mile and look for a split in the trail. Keep to the right and follow the creek upstream to the waterfall. The trail comes out to the right of the falls about halfway up. The softer rock behind the falls has eroded away, and the trail continues behind the falls and around to the other side of the amphitheater.
The lower falls is gorgeous also, dropping about 40 feet into a bowl shaped area. There’s a trail going to the top of Lower Piney Falls. Instead of following the right trail at the previously mentioned split, head to the left and down. Don’t try this one unless you’re an experienced mountain hiker, as the terrain is very steep and unforgiving, with steep drop-offs next to the trail. Unfortunately, there’s no trail to the base of it.
7. Virgin Falls
Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area
Near Sparta in White County, Virgin Falls is formed by an underground stream that emerges from a cave, then drops over a 110-foot high cliff before disappearing into another cave at the bottom of the sink. The 1,157 acre Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area is noted for its unique geological features and its several other waterfalls, including Big Laurel, Sheep Cave Falls, and Big Branch Falls.
The hike into Virgin Falls, which totals around 9 miles going in and out, is strenuous and steep. The trail descends around 900 feet in elevation along rocky, uneven terrain, so you should allow 5 to 9 hours for the hike. The trail is heavily trafficked and accessible from March until October. Like most of these waterfall trails, dogs are also welcome.
There are also several notable caves in the area, including the cave above Virgin Falls, where the stream that forms the falls emerges.
The sinkholes at Virgin Falls, such as Virgin Falls Sink and Sheep Cave Sink, are characteristic of karst features found on the Cumberland Plateau. The Caney Fork River and its tributaries drain the area and contribute to the formation of the gorge. Martha’s Pretty Point provides a dramatic view of Scott’s Gulf and the Caney Fork River 900 feet below.
8. Foster Falls
Foster Falls Small Wild Area near Tracy City, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is very scenic and wild, and provides a safe and beautiful base for exploring the south end of the Cumberland Plateau. Foster Falls is a spectacular 60-foot waterfall plunging into a deep pool. Mountain laurel, azaleas and hemlocks grow above the falls, along the sandstone overlook and in the gorge below.
An easy hike takes you to the top of the falls. From there, a trail will take you over the river on a suspension bridge to the base of the falls for a delightful view and experience.
Foster Falls is known in the climbers’ world as one of the premier climbing destinations in the Southeast. Foster Falls cliff offers a difficult as well as scenic sport climb; the cliff primarily faces south giving you plenty of warm sunshine most of the day. Foster Falls is a steep, compact rock tailor-made for pumpy, technical routes. The cliff line begins at Foster Falls, and runs downstream for nearly two miles, following the curving contour of Little Gizzard Creek.
9. Rock Island Falls
Rock Island State Park is an 883 acre park located near Sparta at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers. It’s steeped in history, and has at least 10 waterfalls. The rugged beauty of the park includes the Caney Fork Gorge below Great Falls Dam. The overlooks here are some of the most scenic and significant along the Eastern Highland Rim.
The two waterfalls to see here are Great Falls and Twin Falls. Both will “wow” you from almost any vantage point. This is a Tennessee Valley Authority waterway, which makes Rock Island a rare treat because its falls run constantly due to the dam – the falls stay the same year round, they never dry up.
Great Falls is a 30 foot horseshoe-shaped cascading waterfall, located below the 19th century cotton textile mill that it powered over 100 years ago. It’s a kayaker’s dream! On the other side of the Caney Fork River, Twin Falls are 80 feet tall. The Caney Fork River Gorge contains scenic overlooks, waterfalls, deep pools, and limestone paths.
After the easy hike to the falls, you’ll need to climb down onto the rocks to get to the bottom of the falls, where you can enjoy the exhilarating spray and mist of the massive falling waters.
One of the park’s best hikes is the Collins River Trail, a three-mile loop that is good for families. Another favorite is the 1.6-mile Downstream Trail, which you can pick up at the bottom on the steps next to Twin Falls and take to follow along the river.
Plus there are eight hiking trails, ranging from a quarter mile to three miles. Water lovers also can enjoy the swim beach, boat launches, great fishing, good kayaking spots, tent and RV camping facilities, pavilions, year-round cabins, nature programs, canoe floats, led hikes, history tours, 10 cabins that each sleep as many as 10 people, and a little gift shop in the park office.
The park’s whitewater sections attract professional freestyle kayakers from around the world. There’s also a designated swim beach and nice sandbar on Center Hill Lake, and some ice-cold (60-degree) gorge swimming (they don’t call it the “Ice Hole” for nothing!) near the falls.
Because of the area’s TVA status, water is released on an irregular schedule, and may rise rapidly. Leave the gorge immediately if water begins to rise, or you hear warning sirens. Watch for slick rocks and swift currents. Swimming or wading is not allowed in all areas from TVA’s powerhouse downstream all the way to the main beach boat ramp, including by the powerhouse, Twin Falls, and Blue Hole due to hidden and deadly currents.
10. Jackson Falls
Jackson Falls, named after Andrew Jackson, is a beautifully sculptured cascade at mile marker 404 on the Natchez Trace. A steep trail (concrete sidewalk) 900 feet long takes you to a wonderfully clear pool at the base of the falls.
Although the falls seem ageless, they aren’t. For thousands of years before the falls existed, Jackson Branch flowed through the high valley, which was isolated from the Duck River below. Then, the flooding Duck River and other erosional agents wore away at the bluffs, cutting a new channel through faults in the rock.
Jackson Falls was created when the diverted stream abandoned its former course, falling into the Duck River some 300 feet below. If you want an easy trail just to see the falls (and not play in the sparkling water below), there’s a gentle ¼ mile trail that leads to an overlook 300 feet (30 stories) above the Duck River.
11. Rattlesnake Falls
Rattlesnake Falls is a little difficult to find, but fortunately you’ve got this map – HERE. Going south on Highway 43, just before you get to State Road 20, you’ll see a turnoff on the left that looks like a private gravel driveway. This is the public access road to the waterfalls, with private, posted land on both sides of the road.
Rattlesnake Falls is a beautiful double falls that slither 50 feet down an overhanging rock face into a picturesque aquamarine pool. Follow the trail to get to the top of the falls. To get to that wonderful aquamarine pool, cross the stream and climb down alongside the waterfall.
The trail is short, only .7 mile, but is steep, rocky, and difficult. Just my kind of trail!
12. Fall Hollow Falls
Just off the Natchez Trace Parkway near Hohenwald, Tennessee, is Fall Hollow, where you’ll find a short trail and a set of wooden bridges to take you across the small creeks. The trail ends at a deck where you can look down at the largest waterfall, Fall Hollow Falls.
Past the deck, the trail becomes rocky and steep, but it’s worth the extra effort to enjoy the raw beauty of Fall Hollow. There are other things you can do right in this area, too. Check out Meriwether Lewis’ grave site, the Dutchtown Alpaca Farm, wineries, historic Hohenwald, go antiquing, and see Amish farms.
This list is by no means all-inclusive. What’s your favorite waterfall within 100 mile radius of Nashville? Please tell us about it in the comments below, and thanks for reading!