If you're an outdoor enthusiast, there's no shortage of new places to explore in Tennessee's Upper Cumberland region. An hour's drive from a town called Cookeville, you'll find several state parks and waterfall hikes. If you're looking for waterfall hikes near Cookeville, I've taken the time to list 5 of my favorites within a short drive.
The Cumberland Plateau and Upper Cumberland region is a beautiful part of the state of Tennessee. Cookeville is in the heart of the action. Cookeville is also the largest city between Nashville and Knoxville. Additionally, it is home to Tennessee Tech University.
The 23rd largest city in the state, Cookeville's 2018 population is around 33,000. You'll find a bunch of beautiful state parks surrounding Cookeville, not to mention it's only a 2-3 hour drive away.Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We're going scuba diving at the falls near Cookeville.
Our 5 Favorite Waterfall Hikes Near Cookeville, TN
1. Cummins Falls State Park
Distance from Cookeville: 15-20 minutes
There is a nice reward at the end of this hike. As you can see in the photo above, there is a beautiful waterfall and a large pool. This used to be one of Middle Tennessee's lesser-known swimming holes, and if you knew about it, you'd be one of the lucky ones. Now it is usually full every day when the weather is nice outside. Now you can still swim here and have a great time, don't get me wrong. Just be prepared for a crowd.
Litter has become a problem in and around the pool and it falls out. Not everyone respects the beauty or the potential dangers of Cummins Falls. There wasmany dead and many injuredin recent years. This amazing natural pool is worth going to and in my opinion you can even take the kids, just be prepared, be careful and respect the park.
The main path to the falls and swimming area is along the river. So you get very wet on the way. The walk from the parking lot to the falls takes between 45 minutes and an hour. The water is usually not very high, but if it has rained recently and the water is fast, jump in. go another time
However, when the water is fairly calm and low, take your time and head straight for the falls. It is likely that you will go with many other people. There are a few things you might want to invest in to make this hike a little easier for yourself.
- A good pair of water shoes: You can probably get by with an old pair of sneakers, but they'll probably wear out and you'll have to throw them away later.
- Walking stick or trekking pole: On rocky terrain, it is easy to lose your balance in gentle currents. The first time I went to Cummins I didn't have one, but the second time I did and it made a world of difference and probably saved me from busting my butt more than once.
2. Burgess Falls State Park
Distance from Cookeville: approx. 20 minutes
Burgess Falls is a much larger and more impressive waterfall than Cummins. You can really take great photos here if you are a photographer or even an amateur photographer like me. I let my daughter use one of my cameras to test her photography skills.
You can walk up to the overlook for a quick peak of the falls, or walk down the steps and be right on top of the falls. There are also stairs that go down below the falls. However, the last time I was in Burgess, the steps below the falls were closed with no access. It was probably June 2018 so I'm not sure if or when it will reopen.
The main hike up to the overlook and falls is relatively easy and good for kids in my opinion. The hike is only a mile and a half and there is some beautiful scenery so bring a camera. There are a few steps so please wear comfortable shoes or boots. I put on my trail shoesthis postwould be a good choice. Just don't show up in flip flops like I've seen before.
This is the best kid friendly hike on this list, in my opinion. It doesn't take long, if I remember correctly there is a playground nearby so if someone starts complaining you can use that as a bargaining tool (and I have ha). There are a few other smaller trails off the main trail, but they are disappointing and I never bother with them again.
Once you've made your way down and back up past the overlook, you can either walk all the way back, or opt for a gravel path that leads directly to the parking lot. We usually take the shortcut and then have a race, which I always win!
If you're visiting the area and looking for a short waterfall hike with your kids, then Burgess Falls might be for you. It's one of my favorites and I've been coming here since I was a kid.
3. Fall Creek Falls State Park
Distance from Cookeville: 45-50 minutes
Fall Creek Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River and the highest waterfall in Tennessee. There are other falls that are actually higher, but the free fall of the water not reaching the rocks makes this the highest. You can see at the top that there is a drop where you hit the rocks and then you free fall the rest of the way which is probably 200 feet or so. When the water flows well, it can be a beautiful sight. The last time I was here there was very little power and it was just a wire.
The park itself is quite large and there is a lot to do besides the hike to the falls.HereYou may get some ideas for other activities in the park. You can rent a nearby cabin and spend the weekend ziplining, hiking, and exploring the park.
The park is home to 90 km of hiking trails of varying lengths, from easy to strenuous. There are even some night trails for the most inveterate hikers. I think the hike to the main falls is about 3 miles and suitable for beginners. However, you can walk a bit from the parking lot to an overlook where you can see the falls.
There are 14 trails in all, ranging from a 22-kilometer night trail to an easy 0.3-kilometer hike. There must be something for every hiker. Families with children and solo hikers will have plenty to do at this beautiful 25,000-acre state park.
4. Virgin Falls State Natural Area
Distance from Cookeville: 45-50 minutes
Virgin Falls State Natural Area actually has 2 large waterfalls and a few smaller ones. There is a midway, Big Laurel Falls (pictured below) and then the main falls (pictured above) at the end of the 7km hike.
If you have kids in tow, a hike to Laurel Falls and back might be a good idea for you. This is still a 4 mile round trip hike and I would rate it as moderately strenuous. I went there with a group of adults and children a few years ago and we did exactly that. By the time we got half way some of the kids were very tired and I'm glad we didn't go all the way to the main falls.
This waterfall is great on its own, even if you make it your tipping point. There is a very beautiful cave that you can visit below the falls, which you can see in this photo that I took. It doesn't go very far back, but there is a low point near the back where the water spills underground. I've been told this cave can fill with water if it rains hard enough.
When it's unusually hot outside, this is a great place to dive in and snorkel for a few minutes. It is also a good place for a snack or a water break. However, the cave is often very muddy. If you or your kids go there, do yourself a favor and don't slip or fall or sit on it unless you like mud on your clothes.
Laurel Falls about 3 km away
Virgin Falls is obviously the main waterfall and is only 7 km from the trailhead. If you go to the sheep hole the whole hike might end closer to the 9 mile round trip. Especially after doing the short hike to the top of the falls. The sheep cave was not that interesting to me. If you're on the go, do it, it won't take that long.
When you get to the main falls you will see a few more campsites and some kind of lookout point. There are many good places to sit and have lunch or a snack. From here you can venture up to the falls and capture some heavy but cool mist. The soil is very wet and very rocky. When these two are combined, you get the ideal environment for blasting wet rocks. So be careful walking down.
You can also walk around the falls and see the water fountain coming out of a cave.
Virgin Falls State Natural Area is one of my favorite if not my favorite hikes in central Tennessee. It's rated strenuous and the 8.6 mile round trip isn't for you if you're severely out of shape. The whole round trip took me about 4 hours last time I was there.
The terrain is very rough, there are tons of rocks and roots. It can be all too easy to sprain your ankle and limp away. So take conscious steps and wear good walking shoes ortrack shoesto protect your feet and support your ankles. There are also lots of natural stone steps and an easy climb up so be prepared for that too.
Unless you're a fairly experienced hiker, you'll probably be a bit out of breath on the way back. It's a good half day hike. So pack some lunch and arrive around 9 or 10 am. Lunch at the main falls and then return. On such a long hike, be sure to pack plenty of water to stay hydrated.
5. Rock Island State Park
Distance from Cookeville - 40 - 45 minutes
Twin Falls was formed when the Caney Fork River was dammed. You can read more about how the dam was built and how the falls were formed.Here.
Great Falls is a waterfall and is only about 30 feet tall. These are some of my favorite falls in the area. You should really check it out if you have the time.
Rock Island State Park is 883 acres south of Cookeville on Highway 111. Here you can rent cabins, camp, fish, and find a natural sandy beach for swimming on beautiful Center Hill Lake. There are also plenty of fishing opportunities and picnic areas.
The hike to Twin Falls is only 1 mile round trip. Rated beginner or easy, it should be suitable for hikers of all levels. The park has a total of 9 trails for your walk. Caney Fork Gorge sits below the dam and is home to blue herons, wildflowers, and waterfalls. Caney Fork Gorge can be accessed via the Old Mill Trail or the Upstream Trail. Here is a complete list of all the trails in the park.Here.