The 15 Top Tennessee waterfalls
The state of Tennessee offers many of the most spectacular images in the American Southeast. From the Cumberland Plateau to the Great Smoky Mountains, much of the terrain remains the same as when the Appalachian settlers roamed the landscape. The wilderness also has an enormous stretch of waterways that provided hydroelectric power during the state’s development. Tennessee’s vast network of rivers, streams, and springs allowed early communities to flourish with rich resources. Tennessee’s rich resources were also integral in creating the famous Tennessee whiskey and is why you find so many great distilleries around the state.
The extensive number of rainfall and water sources also created hundreds of beautiful waterfalls scattered across Tennessee. In fact, the state boasts a whopping 500 waterfalls and has some of the tallest cascades east of the Mississippi River. Many waterfalls are easy to view from the car, but others require a long hike into the wilderness. With such a huge number of waterfalls, it would take you months to find them all.
It wasn’t easy picking out the 15 best waterfalls in Tennessee, but this list covers a wide range of cascades. From 200+ ft drops to gentle streams, you’ll discover the diversity of Tennessee’s network of waterfalls. Most waterfalls on this list are inside Tennessee state parks or other protected areas of wilderness. That gives you the chance to explore the untouched nature that hosted Native Americans and European settlers centuries ago.
Lace-up your hiking boots and get ready to find out why Tennessee has many of the most beautiful waterfalls in the United States.
The 15 Top Tennessee waterfalls
Cummins Falls | Laurel Falls | Burgess Falls | Twin Falls | Greeter Falls | Margarette Falls | Cane Creek Falls | Fall Creek Falls | Coon Creek Falls | Buckeye Falls | Cul-car-mac Falls | Jones Falls | Virgin Falls | Emory Gap Falls | Machine Falls |
1. Cummins Falls
The grandest spectacle inside Cummins Falls State Park, the 75 ft Cummins Falls creates a fairy-tale image for nature lovers. Cummins Falls is Tennessee’s 8th largest waterfall by volume and makes two elegant drops into a swimming hole. The first cascade plunges from a rugged cliffside and the second drop gently flows against a wide, rocky staircase.
Swimmers often climb the base to splash around as the waterfall drops from above. Before you visit Cummins Falls, a Gorge Access Permit is required to reach the base of the waterfall. It’s only accessible during fair-weather conditions since the gorge can flood without warning. Not only will you encounter slippery rocks at the falls, but it requires a challenging hike to get there.
The strenuous trek is worth it once you can swim beneath the falls and bask in its idyllic setting.
2. Laurel Falls
Follow the Laurel Falls Trail inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reach one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state. The roughly 3-mile round trip hike is worth the effort to capture the beauty of the 80 ft cascade. One of the popular sections of the park, it’s recommended to visit early in the morning to beat the traffic.
Dense vegetation surrounds Laurel Falls, and there’s a walkway that divides the cascade into two sections. From the platform, you have a beautiful angle of water spilling onto the rocks at the base of the upper falls. Look below, and the stream weaves against gigantic boulders into a shallow pool. It’s worth noting that the Laurel Falls Trail is among the few paved trails in the national park as you ascend Cove Mountain.
3. Burgess Falls
Nestled on the Falling Water River, Burgess Falls plunges 135 feet into an enormous gorge inside Burgess Falls State Park. Once populated by Native Americans, this pristine wilderness of Putnam and White counties is a Tennessee State Natural Area. In total, Burgess Falls State Park has four majestic cascades on the river, with Burgess Falls offering the most spectacular sight for visitors.
Burgess Falls makes its climatic drop between rugged walls and enclosed by lush vegetation. The limestone gorge rises upwards of 200 ft, and the water flows downstream to nearby Center Hill Lake. Around Burgess Falls, the park has numerous hiking trails, fishing sites, and bird-watching areas.
4. Twin Falls
Located inside Rock Island State Park, Twin Falls provides one of the most stunning images of any Tennessee waterfall. The cascade gushes from the walls of a gorge instead of plummeting from the cliffside. This unique formation is due to the dam constructed at the Caney Fork River. You’ll notice a few large streams spindling into many trickles as the water spills into the river.
Twin Falls is near the Great Falls Dam, and a small road on the dam transports you to the viewing platform. You can also venture down to the Caney Fork River to admire the falls near the base. The nearby overlooks in the Caney Fork Gorge provide breathtaking images of Tennessee’s Eastern Highland Rim.
5. Greeter Falls
Located inside South Cumberland State Park, Greeter Falls forms one of the prettiest postcards in Tennessee. The waterfall gushes over a rocky ledge and drops 50 feet into a pristine swimming hole. Temperate forests sit above the pool and form a beautiful panorama of the canyon. Enormous rocks beside the water provide a convenient resting place as the refreshing mist cools you off.
The 1.1-mile Greeter Falls Loop is rated as an easy hike, but there’s a slight elevation gain. Although the trek is accessible for all skill levels, proper hiking boots are required on the unstable terrain. Situated in Monteagle, South Cumberland State Park has over a dozen waterfalls within its near 31,000 acres of wilderness.
6. Margarette Falls
Located near Greeneville, the 60 ft Margarette Falls is one of Cherokee National Forest’s finest wonders. The cascade gently flows against a diagonally-shaped geologic pattern and into a small pool. A roughly 3-mile round trip hike along a scenic creek takes you to the stunning waterfall.
You’ll pass a few smaller cascades before reaching the viewing area for Margarette Falls. The path encompasses a gravel road and dirt path to make it accessible to more hikers. Waterproof boots may be needed since there are some slippery rocks around the base of the falls.
7. Cane Creek Falls
Located inside Fall Creek Falls State Park, Cane Creek Falls forms an 85 ft drop on a picturesque creek. Cane Creek Falls is the largest by volume of several beautiful falls within the park. Although you can snap gorgeous photos from overlooks, an adventurous hike on the Cable Trail takes you near the base. Just above Cane Creek Falls, the 45 ft Cane Creek Cascades plunges into the creek.
To reach the base, you must descend a steep hill using a cable to support yourself into the gorge. The challenge rewards you with stunning views of Cane Creek Falls spilling into the majestic pool.
8. Fall Creek Falls
Another natural wonder inside Fall Creek Falls State Park is the iconic Fall Creek Falls itself. Measuring 256 ft, Fall Creek Falls surpasses all over free-fall waterfalls in the Eastern United States. From the overlook, you see the water trickling against the cliffside before plunging into the creek below. This angle also provides sensational views of the nearby Cane Creek.
Unlike other waterfalls inside Fall Creek Falls State Park, you won’t face a struggle to get an amazing photo. If you want to reach the base, a trail lets you descend down a staircase into the ravine. Although there’s a dam just above the falls, the water flow reaches impressive levels after heavy showers.
9. Coon Creek Falls
If you noticed a separate flume beside Fall Creek Falls, then you saw the underappreciated Coon Creek Falls. The waterfall shares the same pool as Fall Creek Falls and often accompanies its more famous neighbour in photos. It also plunges at an impressive 250 feet into the rocky gorge with beautiful foliage above.
10. Buckeye Falls
Buckeye Falls might be the toughest waterfall to reach in Tennessee but among the most picturesque in the state. Nestled in the Clarks Creek Recreation Area, Buckeye Falls reaches heights upward of 700 feet. It’s believed that the enormous cascade is the tallest east of the Mississippi River. However, those hoping to see this natural wonder have to endure a brutal 3.5-mile trek through the wilderness.
The trek courses through rugged terrain, make steep climbs, has loose rocks and is challenging to follow. You’ll need to cross water several times, and only experienced hikers should attempt this endeavour. If you’re able to complete the gruelling hike, you’ll be rewarded with astonishing views of the cascade trickling down a rocky slope.
11. Cul-car-mac Fall
Adjacent to the Evins Mill Resort, Cul-car-mac Falls (also Carmac Falls) provides an elegant backdrop for private events. The 90 ft waterfall cascades down a rocky cliff and into an emerald pool along Fall Creek. It’s a short hike to the falls from the Evins Mill lobby, but you’ll need to be a guest to access the trail. Alternatively, you have the option to organize day trips to the resort and admire the majesty of Tennessee’s 10th highest waterfall.
12. Jones Falls
If you find yourself hiking the Appalachian Trail, a detour near the Tennessee-North Carolina border leads to the impressive Jones Falls. The 100 ft waterfall is deep inside the wilderness near the town of Roan Mountain. To reach the Jones Falls, start at the Elk River Falls trailhead and veer onto a side path from the Appalachian Trail.
The roughly 5.3-mile out & back trail follows Jones Branch and presents scenic vistas of the Tennessee wilderness. You’ll notice the waterfall divided into two distinct sections as it flows into the creek. It makes a sudden drop of roughly 30 ft and gently cascades against the sloping rocks. A platform lets you stand beside the water flow but use caution due to slippery surfaces.
13. Virgin Falls
If you’re willing to embark on a challenging 9-mile round trip hike, Virgin Falls produces an unusual sight. Virgin Falls Trail includes a near 1,400 ft elevation gain and meanders past several other cascades. When you reach the 120 ft, Virgin Falls, you’ll notice the chute plummeting from one cave to another. The underground stream flows from the upper cave and plunges along a rugged cliff before vanishing into a sinkhole.
The Virgin Falls State Natural Area includes some of Tennessee’s most interesting geological formations. About a 30-minute drive from Sparta, the 1,157-acre area consists of untouched wilderness, and practising proper safety is critical for an enjoyable trip.
14. Emory Gap Falls
Emory Gap Falls often gets overlooked by larger waterfalls, but this cascade in Frozen Head State Park surprises visitors. The 2.5-mile trail to the waterfall is among the easiest within the park and meanders through a surreal forest. Bring proper hiking boots since you’ll encounter lots of jagged rocks and uplifted tree roots.
Several streams elegantly trickle against the rocks and into a peaceful swimming hole below. On a sunny afternoon, a small rainbow sometimes appears on the rocky ledge behind the cascade. The shallow pool provides a relaxing place to escape the heat or unwind in nature.
15. Machine Falls
Located inside Short Springs Natural Area near Tullahoma, Machine Falls forms an enchanting image within the temperate forest. The waterfall rests on a 4.5-mile loop that features numerous scenic cascades. Travel the Machine Falls Loop section to reach the elegant spindles trickling down a rocky staircase. You’re able to walk to the base of the falls or perch yourself on the adjacent rocks.
Lush vegetation engulfs the waterfall and provides shade if you’re hiking on a humid afternoon. Plus, the pool beneath the rocky base allows you to splash around and cool your body. It’s possible to reach the other side of Machine Falls but use caution due to slippery terrain on the path.
Which Tennessee waterfall is at the top of your list? Let us know in the comments below.
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