Located along the Eastern Highland Rim in the state of Tennessee is a hiker’s paradise! We recently spent our spring break road tripping this area of east-central Tennessee in search of beautiful scenery, waterfalls in particular. This waterfall leg of the road trip was just one day of our Ultimate Tennessee Road Trip.
Check out the YouTube video of our road trip!
In just one day, we stopped at 4 different state parks, hiking and photographing 6 gorgeous waterfalls. This road trip starts just an hour and a half east of Nashville (9 miles north of Cookeville, Tennessee) at Cummins Falls State Park. The route then heads south to Burgess Falls State Park, Rock Island State Park, and ends at picturesque Fall Creek Falls State Park!
Tennessee Waterfalls Road Trip
Cummins Falls State Park
Cummins Falls was the first stop in our Tennessee waterfalls road trip. It is the 8th largest waterfall in Tennessee in terms of volume of water. The height of the falls is 75 feet (23m). Cummins Falls State Park is a day-use park with an easy walk to the overlook from the parking lot. The overlook area is fairly small, but on the day of our road trip, we were the only ones there (because it was FREEZING cold!).
There are two loop trails to the bottom of the falls (1 mile and 1/2 miles). Both are steep and slippery. Wear good traction shoes that are waterproof. We didn’t hike to the bottom on our road trip because of our time constraints (plan about 45 for the hike down) and not wanting to get wet because it was so cold outside. The water was knee deep at the bottom of the trail at the time of our visit. In the summertime, the gorge at the bottom of the falls is a popular swimming hole. Due to the slippery rocks, this is not a hike for small children or those with health issues.
Address: 390 Cummins Falls Lane, Cookeville, Tennessee
Hours: 8am-6pm, gorge closes at 5pm
From Cummins State Park, you take Highway 56 south for 12 miles. Then travel south about 4 more miles on Highway 135. This leg of the road trip will take around 30 minutes. We had no cell service once we were south of Interstate 40, so I was grateful that I had printed off driving directions ahead of time!
If needing a little bite to eat, take a detour over to Cookeville, Tennessee. The town has a cute little downtown area with some good diners. We ate some delicious burgers and fried fish at Uncle Tom’s Pub!
Burgess Falls is a day-use park that showcases the water cascade along the Falling Waters River. The trail goes along the river as it falls 250 feet in elevation in a little under a mile. As you walk along the trail, on the right-hand side there are 4 separate waterfalls, each bigger than the last. The first 3 waterfalls are 20 feet, 30 feet, and 80 feet respectively. On the left-hand side are scenic rock formations and wildflowers.
The trail ends at the observation deck of the grand daddy waterfall, a full volume cascade, falling 136 feet (44m) into the gorge. There is a staircase down to the gorge, but due to flood damage, it is currently closed. This hike is designated as moderately strenuous. However, my 50 year old knees thought it was just fine. Due to the recent rains, parts were muddy and slick, so I was thankful for my hiking stick. As recommended by others, we took the service road back to the parking lot. It has a gradual incline.
Address: 4000 Burgess Falls Drive, Sparta, Tennessee
Hours: 8am-one hour before sunset
Rock Island State Park
- Great Falls & Twin Falls
The next stop on this Tennessee Waterfalls Road Trip is Rock Island State Park. It is home to 2 stunning waterfalls, Great Falls and Twin Falls. To reach Rock Island State Park from Burgess Falls is about 30 minute drive. If you start out going the wrong way like we did, add an extra 15 minutes! Even with our directions printed out, we got turned around with no GPS signal!
Make sure you start out going south towards Highway 135 N. Then you will travel 16 miles until turning right onto Highway 287 S. The state park is well marked with a big parking area. If you go down the left side of the river, you can park right next to the Great Falls Overlook, get out and take a hike, or just take a picture and get back in your car. The road to the Twin Falls Overlook is on the other side of the river on Powerhouse Road.
The falls are located at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins and Rocky Rivers. Cabins and camping are available at the state park. If hiking, wear shoes with good traction. It’s called Rock Island for a reason–lots of beautiful rocks that can get quite slippery, especially after rainfall. There is no swimming or wading downstream of the Powerhouse.
Address: 82 Beach Road, Rock Island, Tennessee
Hours: 7am-10pm, some public areas close earlier
Fall Creek Falls State Park
- Fall Creek Falls & Piney Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls State Park is Tennessee’s largest and most popular state park. It can be reached by taking Highways 287N, 30E, and 284E for a little more than 30 miles. However, it will take about an hour to reach due to the curvy roads. Because it is such a popular park, especially with church youth groups, there are lots of directional signs to keep you going the right way.
The two falls we visited on our Tennessee waterfalls road trip were both easy to access. If you have more time, there are more than 50 miles of hiking trails and additional waterfalls to explore.
At 256 feet in height, Fall Creek Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. However, the water flow is controlled by a dam. In dry months, there might not be much water output. The overlook is an easy, short walk from the parking area. To get to the base of the falls is a short, but steep .4-mile hike. Rest at the bottom, because the climb back up out of the gorge is a doozy!
A short, scenic drive from Fall Creek Falls is Piney Creek Falls. These falls drop 90 feet and the view is partially obscured by trees, even in the winter, but I liked these falls even better than Fall Creek Falls.
The observation deck is a short .12 miles from the parking area. Then travel down about another .15 miles to the suspension bridge. The hike to the bridge isn’t strenuous or long, but there are some loose rocks and drop offs with no railing. You can’t see the falls from the bridge, but it is high enough up to give this acrophobic a bit of the jitters!
Address: 10821 Park Road, Spencer, Tennessee
Hours: Open 24 hours, but the roads to the falls close at dusk
Do you love waterfalls as much as we do? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
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