There are two trails in the park: the 1.5-mile River Trail/Service Road Loop (hike it as an out and back, or as a loop by taking the service road back to the parking lot), and the scenic, half-mile Ridge Top Trail.
Destination Distance From Downtown
2 of 5 diamonds
The trails here are relatively easy with minimal elevation gain, but footing is uneven in some places.
Time To Complete
The 1.5-mile scenic hike, finished as a loop via ridge road is an easy 45-minute hike, or you can do the same hike, but finish it as an out and back, but it may take a little longer due to the more challenging terrain.
The park is open year-round as a day-use area, but is generally deserted in the winter.
Burgess Falls State Park is an extremely scenic spot for hikers. There are two trails, the main loop at 1.5 miles and a possible .5 mile extension, which provide stunning views of the park. The classic 1.5-mile River Trail/Service Road Loop brings you next to the park's four waterfalls. The trail provides a modest and enjoyable challenge for families and beginners as it follows the riverbank past increasingly impressive cascades, culminating in the 136-foot main falls. This hike will impress in any season—roaring after spring rains, frozen in winter, or surrounded by fall color. There are also a few spots for wading if you want to escape the summer heat. The half-mile Ridge Top Trail has great views of the Falling Water River, and can easily be added on to lengthen your hike.
Unfortunately, views of the main falls are currently limited due to damage from heavy rains.
What Makes It Great
At the River Trail trailhead, the earth beneath your feet is dark and rich, and intermingles with tree roots and bedrock. At the start of the hike, the trail is a gentle downgrade, as the river drops away. Along the way, you'll pass small rock overhangs and cross bridges spanning small streams. There is one short, steep, stair-stepped section, but know that the effort is worth the reward. The first waterfall overlook is only a few minutes from the trailhead. In the 1930s, this area was used for hydroelectric, and you will notice the remnants the past— parts of an old cable bridge, and looking across the river, you will see the tunnel once occupied by a large water pipe.
As you continue on, you will come to the middle falls overlook, which is damaged, but the falls are still easily visible from the trail. Finally, you come to the main overlook. Burgess is not the tallest waterfall in the state, but it is one of the most impressive. Unfortunately, the trail from the overlook to the base of the falls is closed due to flood damage and instability. Presently the overlook is also closed and only a portion of these falls can be seen. Although, while the bottom of the falls is no longer accessible via this trail, it can be accessed by water, from a put-in off of Cane Hollow Road. So if viewing the falls is your main goal, going by boat may be your best bet.
For the return, you can take the flat, wide service road back to the parking lot, which is faster than backtracking, but it is generally more scenic to return along the same route as you came.
There are some great spots in the river to hop in and cool off during the summer heat, including one right at the River Trail trailhead, where the water splashes over a series of uneven rocks.
When you are done hiking, be sure to check out the Butterfly Garden near the upper parking lot.
Who is Going to Love It
Burgess Falls is perfect for families and beginner hikers. It’s also if you are looking for a short, but showy hike, with beautiful scenery. It's particularly nice to visit during the winter, when freezing temps create icicles, and the hemlock trees along the trail provide some heartening greenery in a state of mostly deciduous forests. This is a well-known and well-loved trail, and is not optimal if you are seeking solitude.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Take I-40 to Exit 285. Entrance to the park is off Highway 135 South. There is a lot of parking, but spots fill quickly during busy season weekends (April-October). You'll find the trailhead to the left of the restrooms. It begins with a short sidewalk that leads toward the water. Dogs are allowed in TN State Parks, but must be on a leash at all times. High bluffs and recently damaged overlooks may be dangerous. Please stay behind barriers and fences.