By Johnny Molloy
Burgess Falls is one of Tennessee’s most dramatic and favorite cataracts, and a great place to visit during autumn. This destination – Burgess Falls State Natural Area — is more than just one waterfall, though 136-foot Burgess Falls is clearly the jewel in the “triple crown” that also includes roaring Middle Falls and cascading Upper Falls. A fine trail leads along the aptly named and voluminous Falling Water River, culminating in a drop to the misty base of Burgess Falls. An alternate return route makes a loop hike possible.
Burgess Falls State Natural Area stakes claim to this parcel of the Falling Water River, where a scenic stretch of water drops over 250 feet, creating three major cataracts and a host of lesser cascades in less than a mile’s distance. Protected for over four decades, this natural area was one of the Volunteer State’s first designated and protected environmental havens. Before that, the Falling Water River was dammed by the city of Cookeville for power generation. Concrete and steel relics of this operation are visible within the natural area.
A fine trail system has been created, and a stable one too, to handle the crowds that flock to visit this avalanche of cataracts. The trek starts at a welcoming picnic area, then follows the Falling Water River downstream, passing under rock bluffs to quickly reach Upper Falls. This wide cascade impresses and is only diminished by the falls ahead. Meanwhile, the trail curves along a sheer gorge. The white rumble below lets you know that Middle Falls is making its 80-foot, river-wide descent. An elevated viewing platform allows a top down view of Middle Falls.
It is not long before another roar lies ahead. Here, you reach a viewing platform above Burgess Falls. This is where the easy part of the hike ends. Adventurous waterfallers will descend by switchbacks to the Falling Water River where you can carefully stand atop the falls lip. From here, metal steps bypass a sheer cliff, then reach wet, mist-sprayed and slippery ground. A little careful footwork and you are looking up at the unusual inverted “v” shape of Burgess Falls. Wow! Some hikers will want to backtrack, passing the trio of cascades a second time. However, the state natural area offers a wide road-
like trail leading back to the parking area. An additional path – the Ridge Trail – makes its own loop.
To get there from exit 286 on I-40 in Cookeville, take TN 135 south for 8 miles, crossing the Falling Water River. After bridging the river, immediately turn right on Burgess Falls Lane and follow it into the parking area in a traffic circle.
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Hiking Waterfalls Tennessee
Tennessee is known for its natural beauty and great hiking, but it may be surprising that there are so many splendid waterfalls – from mountaintop cataracts to falls that flow among the hills along the Natchez Trace. Hiking Waterfalls in Tennessee provides driving directions and hike description, maps, and color photos for over 100 of the most scenic waterfalls in the Volunteer State. This guide will lead you through state and national parks, forests and wilderness areas, and remote and secluded corners of the state, hiking to Tennessee’s most spectacular waterfalls.
This guide includes:
. GPS-based trail maps and elevation profiles
. Detailed directions to trailheads
. Ratings for scenery, difficulty, trail condition, solitude, and accessibility for children.
Available at Mahoneys, Book-a-Million and Barnes & Noble and online.