When a river, stream, or lake flows over a vertical slope, its content pours down said incline forming a beautiful waterfall. Over time, the falling water erodes the river bed. This wearing down of the earth plays an important role in the formation of waterfalls. With close to a thousand waterfalls ranging from trickles to stimulating ones that drop over 200 feet, Tennessee isn’t just for country music lovers. Outdoor enthusiasts are also at home in the Bluegrass State.
Whether you’re interested in adding to your photography collection, testing your outdoor skills, or simply want to spend time near the soothing sound of flowing water, let’s travel to Tennessee where waterfalls abound. We’ll cover the most impressive ones, including physical description, seasonal impact, history, tall tales, and nearby activities.
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Spectacular Waterfalls in Tennessee: Your Guide to Locating and Enjoying 20 of the Finest
1. Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls is located in Fall Creek Falls State Park in the town of Spencer. With more than 29,800 acres (12,059.63 ha), Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s largest and most popular parks.
There is plenty to do to keep you busy here for days. Campground camping, backcountry camping, cabin lodging, an obstacle course high in the trees, crossing a suspended bridge, hiking, fishing, boating, shopping, seasonal hunting, and eating can all be enjoyed at this state park.
The National Park Service began buying the land in 1935, which is when Fall Creek Falls got its start. Its earliest residents were Native Americans until the 1800s when early white pioneers began farming, logging, and mining in the area. By 1944, the park was turned over to the Tennessee Department of Conservation.
The park is dominated by an abundance of waterscapes, including the state’s tallest waterfall, Fall Creek Falls. Let’s grab our hiking packs and get our journey started.
At an incredible height of 256 feet (78.02 m), it’s no wonder that Fall Creek Falls is visited by thousands of admirers every year. It flows year-round, making it easy to visit any time of year. To view this imposing waterfall, start from the main parking lot and follow the signs to the overlook.
As you face the waterfall, go left to begin a descent along the well-marked Base of Falls trailhead. Once you reach the bottom, you can take a dip in the pool or lounge around on the many rocks bordering the falls.
During peak season, you may experience extremely high levels of crowds and you should expect to wait in very long lines to see the falls from the bottom. You’re hiking over 260 feet (79.24 m) down, making it a challenging trek back to the top. Be prepared.
2. Piney Falls
In the roughly 818 acres (331.03 ha) of Piney Falls State Natural Area is where you will find Piney Falls. The area is located in the unincorporated community of Grandview, in Rhea County. It’s recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of Interior. Piney Falls State Natural Area is a foot-only destination that offers plenty of walking and hiking.
The area features creeks, deep gorges, waterfalls, and a forest with very tall trees that exceed 40 inches (101.6 cm) in diameter and over 100 feet (30.48 m) in height. Piney Falls State Park Natural Area’s most popular attraction is Piney Falls.
Piney Falls is created by the draining water from Little Piney Creek. The water from Piney Creek plunges some 80 feet (24.38 m) over Upper Piney Falls into the pool below. From there the pool then drops another 40 feet (12.19 m) over Lower Piney Falls.
There are two options to see Piney Falls from. From the top and bottom of the upper falls. The lower half of the falls is not accessible for viewing, but you can still hear it. To view Upper Piney Falls, begin at the parking lot and take the trail leading along an old dirt road to the top, which takes you back to the parking area.
To get to the base of the upper falls, stay on the dirt road you took from the parking lot and look for the smaller hiking trail on the left. It will take you through the virgin forest exposing the base of the upper falls.
3. Greeter Falls
Established in 1978, South Cumberland State Park is home to Greeter Falls. It’s located within the Grundy, Franklin, Marion, and Sequatchie counties. The park claims about 30,845 acres (12,482.53 ha) and offers some incredible hiking and backcountry camping opportunities.
Activities also include hunting, interactive educational programs, cave exploration, rock climbing, swimming, picnicking, fishing, and bird watching to name a few. This park also features a special waterfall hike.
The Greeter Falls Loop Trail is a short one-mile (1.60 km) trek. This heavily trafficked loop begins across the entrance road from the Greeter Falls parking lot.
These falls are made up of upper and lower falls. Avoid taking the Greeter Homeplace Trail as it doesn’t lead to the falls. Keep right and head down the staircase into the canyon. Be careful, the rocks can get very slippery.
The upper part of Greeter Falls flows into a shallow pool, which can be deep with fast-moving water. The base of lower Greeter Falls provides the chance for a swim or a hike behind the falls.
4. Laurel Falls
Covering a stunning 522,427 acres (211,418.7 ha) between North Carolina and Tennessee is the Great Smoky Mountains and the location of Laurel Falls. It took thousands of people a great deal of money and a lot of work to make the Great Smoky Mountains a national park.
The Smokies were owned by farmers and a handful of large timber and paper companies. The farmers didn’t want to leave their homesteads, and the corporations didn’t want to lose huge forests of timber, miles of railroad track, logging equipment, and whole villages.
After years of whether or not the area should be a national forest or a national park, in 1940, President Roosevelt dedicated it as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home of Laurel Falls.
The 80-foot (24.38 m) high Laurel Falls are named after an evergreen shrub, mountain laurel, blooming only in May along the trail and near the falls. The waterfall consists of upper and lower falls. The two sections are divided by a walkway that crosses the stream at the base of the upper falls.
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the park. The area is busy year-round, especially on weekends. Get there early as parking at the trailhead is limited. The trip to the waterfalls is 2.6 miles (4.18 km) total. Most people average about two hours for the roundtrip hike.
Park rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encourage visitors to not climb on the rocks around the waterfall. There have been reports of people falling to their deaths and many others have suffered serious injuries from climbing on rocks near waterfalls or along the riverbanks.
5. Foster Falls
Foster Falls is found in the Foster Falls Recreation Area which is part of South Cumberland State Park, located in Sequatchie, another unincorporated community in Tennessee. This area is home to the only campground that allows campers to park a car and/or a pop-up next to the campsite. Near the 26 campsite campground is a large pavilion. Both are available all year long via reservations.
Mountain laurel, azaleas, and hemlocks grow above the falls, among other areas in the park. Foster Falls is a 60-foot (18.28 m) waterfall accessible from the Foster Falls parking lot. It’s a 2-mile (3.21 km) hike with a swinging bridge that takes you across the river and to the base of the falls, where many hikers stop for a dip in the pool.
You can return to the parking lot or continue on the circular path that moves up to the opposite rim of the canyon where you can view the falls from a different angle. Either rim will return you to your vehicle.
As with most parks in Tennessee, you can visit any time of year. Just be prepared for changing weather and the elements that can add obstacles to your adventures. Always wear proper attire, including shoes, and carry the necessary provisions to stay safe.
6. Machine Falls
Look for Machine Falls in the Short Springs State Natural Area in the city of Tullahoma. It’s well-known for scenic waterfalls and nature trails. Two main creeks, Bobo Creek and Machine Falls Branch run through the park. Both have trails that will take you across and along their banks.
Bobo Creek is home to the Upper and Lower Busby falls, and both can be seen from the Bobo Creek trail. Machine Falls Branch takes you to Machine Falls waterfall and ample wildflowers can be seen here during the blooming season.
Once the water supply for Tullahoma before the Normandy Dam was built, creating Normandy Lake, it’s now growing in the number of visitors each year. It wasn’t until 1994 that Short Springs State Natural Area was established.
The Machine Falls Loop is 1.6 miles (2.57 km) and takes you right to the base of this multi-tiered 60-foot (18.28 m) waterfall. What’s fascinating about this waterfall is that it’s nearly equal in length across. It’s a short hike to the falls but can feel challenging with its steep descent.
7. Busby Falls
Busby Falls is another resident of the Short Springs State Natural Area. Upper and lower Busby Falls are between 20 and 30 feet (6.09 m and 9.14 m) tall and can be seen from overlooks on the Bobo Creek trail. You can also connect this trail with the Machine Falls trail to view them all on the same hike.
8. Burgess Falls
Originally populated by the Cherokee Creek and Chickasaw tribes, Burgess Falls State Park is in Sparta and is home to rich Tennessee history. Native Americans used the land as a hunting ground until the late 19th century when a gristmill and sawmill began operating on the river.
Between 1928 and 1944, the Falling Water River was used to generate hydroelectric power for the city of Cookeville. It was in 1973 that the territory became a designated Tennessee State Natural Area.
Today, Burgess Falls State Park continues to be a 350-acre ( 141.64 ha) recreational sanctuary, with protected forests and waterscapes, and offers nature lovers a wealth of outdoor activities. It houses a beautiful waterfall by the same name.
Burgess Falls, a 136-foot (41.45 m) tall waterfall awaits at the end of a 2.7-mile (4.34 km) journey. To start this hike, you’ll find the well-signed trailhead on the west side of the parking lot. If you are remotely obsessed with waterfalls, this just might be the hike for you.
On your way to Burgess Falls, you’ll pass by the 20-foot (6.09 m) Falling Water Cascades, the 30-foot (9.14 m) Little Falls, and the 80-foot (24.38 m) Middle Falls. With plenty of spots allowing for swimming, it’s a good idea to bring your swim gear on warm days. This trail has been rated difficult to strenuous.
9. Cummins Falls
The main attraction in Cummins Falls State Park is its waterfall. Cummins Falls State Park is a 282-acre (114.12 ha) day-use park located on the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River in Cookeville.
It has been the ideal swimming hole for over 100 years. Native Americans used the area to track buffalo that wallowed in the river. In the 1790s, the area was awarded to Sergeant Blackburn, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. The year was 2011 when it was finally established as one of Tennessee’s state parks.
Cummins Falls is Tennessee’s eighth largest waterfall, in water volume, and is 75 feet high. One drop is 25 feet, with a second drop plunging 50 feet ending in a shallow pool. The 2.79-mile roundtrip trail begins just a few yards from the parking area. It’s important to know that the waterfall is only accessible weather permitting.
Steep steps at the beginning of your descent to the river gorge are a taste of what the rest of the trail offers you. A large part of the route is in the Blackburn Fork Scenic River, which requires wading and some scrambling over large rocks. Bushwacking is also required on the path. The view of Cummins Falls and a dip in the pool are well-worth the adventurous hike.
10. Virgin Falls
Virgin Falls is located in the 1,157-acre (468.22 ha) Virgin Falls Class II Natural-Scientific State Natural Area, between Sparta, and Crossville. The strenuous hike to Virgin Falls is a total of nine miles, in and out. The trail descends along a path that in many areas is rocky with uneven footing.
For 40 years, the Virgin Falls area was managed as a natural area by the state. When the lease expired, the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation reached out to local government officials and individuals to help raise money to purchase the land from the owners. Towards the end of 2012, the state acquired the land for $1.8 million.
This unique waterfall is formed by an underground stream that emerges from a cave, dropping over a 110-foot (33.52 m) high cliff before disappearing into another cave at the bottom. Rainbows have been seen forming over these magical waters.
11. Great Falls
This 30-foot (9.14 m) tall waterfall is located inside Rock Island Park, an 883-acre (357.33 ha) park also housing a 19th-century cotton textile mill. This wilderness became a state park in 1969. A small village, Rock Island, located upstream from the park’s boundaries was the county’s first permanent settlement.
Campsites, picnic grounds, trails, boat launches, and informative center, and numerous waterfalls all contribute to Rock Island Park’s intrigue. To reach Great Falls is possibly the easiest hike in the state. Taking a few dozen steps from your vehicle will take you right to its overlook.
12. Twin Falls
Twin Falls is one of the two largest waterfalls in Rock Island Park. At 80-feet (24.38 m) tall, this one is also visible from the parking overlook. Unlike a lot of waterfalls, Twin Falls pours out of the walls of a gorge instead of over walls. It was accidentally created when the Caney Fork River was dammed.
13. Benton Fall
Located in the Chilhowee Recreation Area of the Cherokee National Forest is the 65-foot (19.81 m) Benton Falls, which you can find yourself enjoying a very short and easy 3-mile (4.82 km)hike.
Approach the trailhead by walking along the path to the left of the facilities.
Stay to the left of the lake. Pass the lake and get to a fork in the trail with a sign that points left to Benton Falls. Follow the signs and the path as it descends to the falls. Stay a while or head back to enjoy the many other activities you can find in the forest.
Chilhowee Campground offers more than 70 campsites with bathhouses. The campground is typically open from April to October. The seven-acre McKamy Lake offers a swim area with a sand beach and fishing from the bank. Bring your boat, but only if it’s a non-gasoline motor. You can also enjoy approximately 25 miles (40.23 km) of hiking and biking trails.
14. Bald River Falls
Talk about stunning! The Bald River Falls is Benton Falls’ roommate, also located within the Cherokee National Forest. It’s a beauty at 90 feet high (27.43 m) and is recognized as one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region. Parking is limited, and expect large crowds on weekends and holidays.
The Cherokee National Forest’s origins date back to the Weeks Act of 1911. It wasn’t until 1936, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt combined the Tennessee sections of the Unaka, Cherokee, and Pisgah National Forests, that the Cherokee National Forest was established.
15. Margarette Falls
A third waterfall in the Cherokee wilderness is Margarette Falls, displaying a fan-shaped, 60-foot (18.28 m) drop. It’s one of the most popular waterfall trails in the area. It’s named after local celebrity Margaret Doak who thoroughly enjoyed the hike in the early 1920s.
The first .5-miles (0.80 km) of this trail is extremely easy and is on a closed Forest Service road. When the trail forks, bear left, traveling along Dry Creek for .7 miles (1.12 km) until you reach the waterfall. Don’t forget the camera.
16. Ruby Falls
The name alone says a lot, but it’s not until you see it with your very eyes that you will experience its grandeur. To find it you must head on over to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga.
The mountain’s historical connection to the Civil War is extensive and part of the reason why it’s one of the most visited attractions in Tennessee. In November of 1863 union troops swept the northern slopes of Lookout Mountain in what is known as the “Battle Above the Clouds.”
For the remainder of the Civil War, Lookout Mountain was a tourist destination for Union soldiers and civilians. This explains why areas of Lookout Mountain are part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Ruby Falls is a succession of underground cascading waterfalls that total 145 feet (44.19 m). Another fascinating fact about this magical waterfall is that you need to travel 1,120 feet (341.37 m) underground to view it.
17. Jackson Falls
Another multi-tiered waterfall is Jackson Falls located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 404.7 along the 284-mile (457.05 m) Duck River. It will take you roughly 0.4 miles (0.64 km) on a steep concrete trail to reach the clear pool at the base of these falls.
18. Spruce Flats Falls
We’re back in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for number 18 on our list. The 2-mile (3.21 km) long out and back trail isn’t easy to find on the official park map, but you can get to the Lumber Ridge Trailhead on Tremont Road.
Spruce Flats Falls is a 30-foot (9.14 m) tall waterfall with four tiers that pours down into the Middle Prong of the Little River. This one is another extremely popular site. If you want to avoid crowds, proper planning is encouraged.
19. Cane Creek Cascades
So many waterfalls, so little time. Number 19 takes us back towards the Fall Creek Falls State Park. To find Cane Creek Cascades walk behind the Nature Center and there you can admire another gem in this park. It tumbles 45 feet (13.71 m) down into a shallow rocky pool and is surrounded by pristine greenery.
20. Ozone Falls
Let’s trek into Ozone Falls State Natural Area in Cumberland County, established in 1973. Originally, it consisted of 14 acres (5.66 ha) until, In 1996, it was expanded to 43 acres. Throughout the 19th century, the waterfall was known as McNair Falls, named after a local miller who operated a grist mill at the site in the 1860s.
Both the top and bottom of this 110-foot (33.52 m) high waterfall are accessible via the Cumberland Trail. As it pours over a sandstone cap rock into a deep, rock-strewn pool, it disappears underground, re-emerging several yards downstream. The striking amphitheater background is the creation of centuries of wind, water, freezing, and thawing cycles.
Its picturesque beauty and simple access made it the perfect location for filming scenes for the movie Jungle Book.
Things to Know About Tennessee Waterfalls
Most waterfalls in Tennessee are open year-round but have opening and closing hours. Since most or all are located in protected zones, a fee may be required to enter and use the areas. Available activities depend on their location, hours, amenities, and weather.
Always be prepared for last-minute changes in fees, weather, crowds, construction, and/or natural disasters that may interfere with your ability to visit these incredible falls. It’s never a bad idea to always carry a hiking backpack full of essential gear such as a first-aid kit, GPS tracking device, water, food, and a change of clothes in case you get soaked. Waterproof, comfortable hiking shoes are also a good idea.
It’s undeniable that the sound of cascading water sparks something in us that makes us feel rejuvenated. They heighten our senses and even inspire us to be in a better mood.