If you're an outdoor enthusiast, you'll soon run out of new places to explore in Tennessee's Upper Cumberland region. Within an hour's drive of a town called Cookeville you will 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 that are an easy drive to.
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. In addition, it is home to Tennessee Tech University.
Cookeville is the 23rd largest city in the state and has a population of around 33,000 as of 2018. There are a variety of beautiful state parks in the Cookeville area, not to mention it's only a 2-3 hour drive from CookevilleGreat-Smoky-Mountains-Nationalpark.
Let's take a dip in 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 from the photo above, there is a beautiful waterfall and a large swimming pool. This used to be one of the lesser-known swimming holes in central Tennessee, and if you knew about it, you'd be one of the lucky ones. Now it is full every day when the weather is nice. Now you can still swim here and have a great time, don't get me wrong. Just be prepared for a crowd.
Trash has become a problem in and around the pool and falls. Not everyone respects the beauty or potential dangers of Cummins Falls. He wasmany dead and many injuredin recent years. It's worth visiting this incredible natural pool and in my opinion you can even take the kids, just prepare, be careful and respect the park.
The main route to the falls and swimming area is across the river. So you get pretty wet on the way. The walk from the parking lot to the falls takes between 45 minutes and an hour. Usually the water isn't very high, but if it's 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 it's a straight shot to the falls. You probably meet a lot of other people. There are a few things you can invest in to make this walk a little easier for you.
- A good pair of water shoes: They'll probably look good with an old pair of sneakers, but they're likely to get damaged and have to be thrown away later.
- Cane or walking stick: It's easy to lose your balance on rocky ground with a gentle current. The first time I went to Cummins I didn't have any, but the second time it made a huge difference and has probably saved my ass busting 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 take really great shots here if you are a photographer or even an amateur photographer like me. I had my daughter use one of my cameras to test her photography skills.
You can go to the lookout for a glimpse of the falls or go down the steps and be right on top of the falls. There are also stairs leading down to the falls. However, the last time I was in Burgess the steps under the falls were closed with no access. It was probably June 2018 so not sure if or when it will reopen.
The main trail to the viewpoint and falls is relatively easy and good for kids in my opinion. The hike is about a mile and a half and there is some beautiful scenery so bring a camera. There are a few steps, so wear comfortable shoes or boots. The trail shoes I linkthis postIt would be a good choice. Just don't show up in flip flops like I've seen people do in the past.
In my opinion, this is the best kid-friendly hike on this list. It doesn't take long, there's a playground nearby if I remember correctly, so if someone starts bitching you can use that as a negotiating tool (and I have ha). There are a few other smaller trails off the main trail but they are disappointing and I'll never worry about them again.
After descending and returning through the lookout, you can either go back the way you came or opt for a gravel driveway 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 want to take your kids on a short waterfall hike, 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 tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River and the tallest waterfall in Tennessee. There are other falls that are actually higher, but the free fall that doesn't hit rocks makes it the tallest. You can see at the top you have a drop where you hit the rocks and then free fall the rest of the way 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 flow and it was just a trickle.
The park itself is quite large and there is a lot to do besides the hike to the falls.HereYou might get some ideas for other things to do in the park. You can rent a cabin nearby and spend the weekend ziplining, hiking, and exploring the park.
The park is home to 90km of hiking trails of varying lengths, from easy to strenuous. There are even some night hiking trails for the most demanding hikers. I think the hike to the main falls is about 3 miles and suitable for beginners. However, you should be able to take the short walk from the parking lot to a lookout point where you can catch a glimpse of the falls.
There are 14 trails in total, ranging from a 14-mile night trail to an easy 0.2-mile hike. There should be something for every hiker. Families with children and solo hikers will have plenty to do in this beautiful 25,000-acre state park.
4. Virgin Falls State Natural Area
Distance from Cookeville: 45-50 minutes
The Virgin Falls State Natural Area actually has 2 large waterfalls and a few smaller ones. There's one halfway up, Big Laurel Falls (pictured below), and then the main falls (pictured above) at the end of the 4.3-mile hike.
If you have kids in tow, it might be a good idea for you to walk to Laurel Falls and back. It's 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 just that. By the time we got half way there some of the kids were getting really 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 starting point. There is a really nice cave that you can go under the falls which you can see in this picture I took. It doesn't go far to the back, but there is a low spot near the back where the water runs underground. I was told that this cave can fill up with water if it rains hard enough.
If it's unseasonably warm, this is a great place to go underwater and swim for a few minutes. It's also a good place for a snack or water break. However, the cave is often very muddy, so do yourself a favor if you or your children go in there and don't slip, fall or even sit down unless you like mud your clothes!
Laurel Falls about 2 miles away
Virgin Falls is of course the main waterfall and is only 7km from the trailhead. If you take the loop to Sheep's Den the entire hike could be close to 9 miles. Especially after the short hike to the top of the falls. The sheep cave was not that interesting for me. If you're just exploring, go for it, it won't take that long.
Once you get to the main falls you'll see a few more campsites and some sort of lookout point. There are many good places to rest and have lunch or snacks. From here you can venture down to the falls and capture a heavy but cool mist. The ground is very wet and very rocky. When these two are combined, you get the ideal environment for blasting wet rock. So be careful when you go down.
You can also walk around the falls and see the falls' water source coming out of a cave.
The Virgin Falls State Natural Area is one of my favorite if not my favorite hikes in central Tennessee. It's considered strenuous and an 8.6-mile round trip isn't for you if you're very out of shape. The entire round trip took about 4 hours or so the last time I went.
The terrain is very rough, there are tons of rocks and roots. Spraining your ankle and limping away can be all too easy. So proceed consciously and wear good hiking shoes or walking shoesrunning shoesto protect your feet and support your ankles. There are also many natural stone steps and some gentle climbs to negotiate, so be prepared for that as well.
Unless you're a fairly experienced hiker, chances are you'll be a bit out of breath on the way back. It's a good half day hike. So prepare some lunch and arrive around 9 or 10am. Have lunch at the main falls and then drive back. For such a long hike, be sure to pack plenty of water to stay hydrated.
5. Rock Island State Park
Distance from Cookeville - 40 - 45 mins
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 only about 30 meters high. These are some of my favorite falls in the area. You should really check it out if you have time.
Rock Island State Park is 883 acres just south of Cookeville off Highway 111. Here you will find cabin rentals, camping, fishing, a natural sandy beach for swimming on beautiful Center Hill Lake. There are also many fishing and picnic spots.
The walk to the Twin Falls is only 1 mile round trip. Rated beginner or easy, it should be suitable for hikers of all skill levels. The park has a total of 9 hiking trails. Caney Fork Gorge lies below the dam where you can find great blue herons, wildflowers and waterfalls. Caney Fork Gorge can be accessed via the Old Mill Trail or the Upstream Trail. Here is a full list of all the trails in the park.Here.