Best Waterfall Day Trips

 

Tennessee’s gorgeous natural beauty includes some of the highest waterfalls in the eastern US, and our favorites are only an hour or two from Nashville! We’ve chosen eight breathtaking waterfalls that will make perfect day trips for your spring and summer staycation adventures. Whether you’re a solo rock climber or a family of eight with three dogs, read on: we’ve got the perfect waterfall day trip for you.


Ruby Falls
1720 South Scenic Highway
Chattanooga, TN
Height: 145 ft | Hike: 0.2 miles
Distance from Nashville: 2hr 3 min

Ruby Falls is unique on our list because this enormous waterfall is located deep within Ruby Caverns. To reach the falls, you’ll join a tour that will take you down into the caves. An elevator will do most of the descent, lowering you hundreds of feet into the cave systems. You’ll emerge 1,120 feet below the mountain’s peak and continue your guided walking tour of the caverns.

At the end of your tour, you’ll finally encounter the majestic Ruby Falls. The owners have chosen to enhance the experience with an ambient light and music display, perhaps hoping to spark the same awe and joy the original cave explorers may have felt as they first encountered the 145-ft falls.

Know Before You Go:

This tour involves risk. The road to Ruby Caverns passes along steep, high cliff faces. There are bottomless crevices within the caves, the walkway is damp and slick, and there are the usual sharp rock formations found in subterranean caves.

Anyone approaching average male height must be prepared to duck for the duration of the 1.5-hour tour, and anyone small enough to slip into a crevice (6 and under) may not wish to attempt this tour.

This hike is perfect for athletic adults and teenagers who are not taller than 6’3”. Prepare for close conditions, some danger, crowds, standing, and walking.

You will be given about 5 minutes at the falls themselves before your tour group will move along. You will not be permitted to stay behind your group.

Purchase tickets online here.


Fall Creek Falls
10821 Park Road
Pikeville, TN
Height: 256 ft | Hike: 2.2 miles
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 5 min

Fall Creek Falls is a massive plunge waterfall located in the eponymous 26,000-acre Fall Creek Falls State Park. Easily reached by following a short trail from the parking lot to the base of the falls, this waterfall’s swimming pool is one of the reasons this is the most-visited state park in Tennessee.

Know Before You Go:

Be sure to visit the brand-new Nature Center to begin your hike to the suspension bridge and out to the overlook. You’ll pass right by the waterfall as you cross the bridge, so non-slip athletic shoes are a must. The trail to the overlook is accessible, so wheelchair users and those with other mobility challenges will be able to enjoy the views.

Hikers and climbers, you will likewise be able to find the trail that presents the challenge you crave; there are steep, rocky trails and a few boulders to help you work up a sweat on the way down to the icy pool below.


Burgess Falls
4000 Burgess Falls Drive
Sparta, TN
Height: 135 ft | Hike: 1.1 miles
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 23 min

Burgess Falls holds a special place in the hearts of the people in Middle Tennessee. This quadruple falls bursts from the Falling Water River and the 1.5-mile loop leading to it offers hikers jaw-dropping views all along the way. Of course, the final, huge waterfall, Burgess Falls, is the most spectacular sight in the park thanks to its odd shape and plunge into the famous swimming hole.

If you fish, join the anglers below the dam, along the banks of the falls, and at the pier. If you’re in the mood for a picnic, you can set up under the covered pavilion; grill up a fish if you’ve been lucky! All public amenities are first-come, first-served, so set up early if you can.

Know Before You Go:

The main waterfall hike is challenging. The trail leading from the main overlook down the basin of the falls is considered to be very strenuous and will give you an intense workout. If you reach the base of the falls and are looking for an easier route back, take the path along the service road back to your car. Those with small children, dogs, and mobility challenges may prefer to take the service road to the falls, as well.

The gentle, scenic Ridge Top Trail is only 0.5-miles long and will give you gorgeous views of the main canyon and the falls.

Due to the severe flooding the park experienced a few years ago, the staircase down to the falls is out of service indefinitely. Park staff have stated it could take as long as five years to complete repairs.


Twin Falls
82 Beach Road
Rock Island, TN
Height: 80 ft | Hike: 1.1 miles
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 42 min

Rather than falling over a cliff, Twin Falls gushes from Rock Island State Park’s gorge walls in two main streams. These intriguing, picturesque falls were accidentally created by the pressure resulting from the Caney Fork River being dammed in 1925.

The trails leading to the waterfalls are exceptionally beautiful, often ranked as one of the most breathtaking hikes in the area. Lush forests line the rugged rock faces, and the height of the bridge and vista overlook present ideal opportunities for photography. The waterway and trails running adjacent to the falls are riddled with smaller waterfalls that can be enjoyed throughout the moderately difficult hike.

The walk to the falls is relatively gentle but also quite slick thanks to the multiple small waterfalls, so non-slip athletic shoes are a must. Once reaching the falls, surefooted hikers can venture out onto the rocks to sit or stand directly in front of the cascading Twin Falls. Swimming is encouraged, but you’ll have to brave the slippery rocks to reach sufficiently deep water.

Know Before You Go:

Bring a waterproof backpack and at least one towel, because you will get wet on this trail! The hike itself leads you beneath at least one small waterfall, so this is an excellent warm-weather destination.

Parking is available across from the falls. From there, take the staircase down to Caney Fork and follow the signs on the trail to find the single-lane bridge that spans the dam; the viewing area for the falls is just beyond.

When the water levels of the dam are too high, a spillway is released, at which point the gorge must be vacated. This doesn’t happen often, but if you’re there when water levels are high, stay alert.


Ozone Falls
24 Office Drive
Crossville, TN
Height: 110 ft | Hike: 1.3 miles
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 55 min

This beautiful, tranquil waterfall is conveniently located near the interstate and fully mapped on GPS systems. This ease of access might be why the small parking area is often full. If you go on a weekend, you’ll need to arrive early if you don’t want to wait for an open spot.

The hike to the overlook above the falls is gentle and easy, suitable for casual or younger hikers. To reach the base of the falls, hikers must brave a short span of boulders, muddy paths, and uneven terrain, so it is not recommended for very young children.


Foster Falls
498 Foster Falls Road
Sequatchie, TN
Height: 60 ft | Hike: 1.6 miles
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 43 min

Foster Falls is a small but beautiful waterfall located off the Small Wild Area loop, a moderately difficult trail in Cumberland State Park off I-41. The park’s wild beauty is well worth braving the short but rocky, uneven trail, though this ruggedness does keep the crowds in check. Hikers looking for peace and tranquility after a bit of a workout will be delighted with Foster Falls.

Head to the suspension bridge to catch a stunning view from a breathtaking height, but keep excitable dogs close to you to keep them safe.

Know Before You Go:

There’s plenty of parking, even on warm weekends, and clean restrooms are available.

Wear strong hiking shoes or boots and be on the lookout for the copperhead snakes who love this kind of rocky, wet terrain.

People and dogs are encouraged to swim.

Rock climbers looking for a challenge should take Access #2, the Climber’s Route. Ranked high-moderate, this climb involves heights and steep rock faces.


Cummins Falls
390 Cummins Falls Lane
Cookeville, TN
Height: 75 ft | Hike: 1.1 miles
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 26 min

Cummins Falls is divided into two drops; the first is a 50-foot plunge that fills a shallow pool, while the second is a short 25-foot cascade into a deep, inviting swimming hole that was named the “Tenth Best Swimming Hole in America” by Travel and Leisure Magazine in 2010.

The hike to the waterfall is challenging and covers rugged terrain, but the opportunities to interact with this waterfall—and take beautiful photographs of yourself doing so—are unique in the area. Visitors mention that this park feels like stepping into the past, so exquisite and unspoiled is its beauty. The swimming hole is beloved because of its depth and capacity to stay perfectly cold and clear thanks to the constant flow of fresh water from the pool above.

Know Before You Go:

This popular spot fills up quickly on hot summer weekends, so arrive early if you want a good spot on the banks of the pool. Bug spray and waterproof, non-slip athletic shoes are strongly recommended.

The banks of the swimming hole are steep, so bring a backpack to hold your gear. Children are required to wear life jackets and are not permitted to hike in flip-flops or swim shoes. Coolers are prohibited, so stash your snacks in your backpack. Alcohol is prohibited.

On-site security enforces the rules so all visitors can kick back and relax!


Rutledge Falls
1276 Rutledge Falls Road
Tullahoma, TN
Height: 30 ft | Hike: 0.4 miles
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 12 min

Located across from Rutledge Falls Baptist Church, these privately-owned natural falls are open to the public free of charge for hiking, picnicking, and swimming from dawn to dusk. The icy pool is fed by a mountain spring, so even on the hottest days, it remains startlingly cool.

Know Before You Go:

To reach Rutledge Falls, park at the church. The hike down to the falls is steep, so you’ll want to keep your hands free. The rocks here are unstable, so take care. Once you reach the gorgeous waterfall, you’ll see that it emerges from deep within the woods. The rocks on the banks of the pool are going to be slick, but they’re warm the summertime!


IMPORTANT TN HIKING TIPS

If you will be hiking in Tennessee this summer and plan to explore beyond the beaten path, you may encounter snakes. A complete guide to the many snakes of Tennessee (only 4 of which are venomous) can be found here. The best way to avoid snakes is to stay with other people on the main trails and make a healthy racket.

This Guide to Hiking in Tennessee State Parks is provided by the state and has detailed information about each state park. All Tennessee state parks are FREE and dog-friendly, provided your canine companion is leashed.


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