It wouldn't be at all unfair to say that Middle Tennessee is home to some of the best waterfalls that the Southeast has to offer. Some are more popular (read: crowded) than others. Some are composed of a series of picturesque cascades; others are free-falling waterfalls that plummet from heights as tall as 100-feet. All of the falls featured on this list are worth a visit, and what's more, they're all within a 2.5-hour drive of the Nashville city center. Whether you're looking for a paddle out to a towering set of falls or a quick hike to the perfect view off the side of the road, here’s a list of 10 of our favorite waterfall adventures near Nashville.
1. Cummins Falls
A well-known swimming hole about an hour and a half from Nashville, Cummins Falls State Park is a fantastic place to visit... especially in the warmer months. There’s a 1.5 mile switchback-filled hike down to the falls, or you can take the shortcut that runs down the side of the overlook. If you take the climb down, be sure you’re wearing good hiking shoes and follow the well-used path. Once you reach the falls, after a number of creek crossings and boulder hoppings, you'll be greeted with a pretty surreal view of the falls as they cascade over a series of shelf-like rocks before spilling into a deep emerald pool below. Have a swim in the cool gorge water or lay out on the boulders and take a quick nap; whatever you decide it will be beautiful.
2. Fall Creek Falls
Tennessee’s largest state park, Fall Creek Falls is a 26,000-acre plot of land that's home to 35 miles of hiking trails, plenty of gorge overlooks, dense virgin hardwood forests, and several towering waterfalls, including Cane Creek Falls, Piney Creek Falls, and of course, Fall Creek Falls—a 256-foot centerpiece fall that's one of the tallest waterfalls in the eastern United States. The best bang-for-your-buck hike for waterfall viewing is to walk along the Woodland Trail (0.9-miles) above Fall Creek Falls and to add on the Gorge Overlook Trail (a 0.2-mile scenic bypass loop that tacks on Cane Creek Falls, Cane Creek Gorge, and a less-witnessed vantage of Fall Creek Falls). Most of the day hiking trails are fairly moderate with smooth paths, solid footbridges, and rocky stairs. If you feel like a long weekend, there are also two overnight backcountry trails where you can hike in, set up camp, and spend a few days exploring the surroundings; just check in online or with the rangers before heading in.
3. Foster Falls
You've likely heard of Foster Falls . A popular sport climbing destination for many regional climbers as well as a popular stop along the well-known Fiery Gizzard Trail, Foster Falls is a 60-foot free-falling waterfall that's pretty much impossible to take a bad photo of! It's only about an hour and forty-five minutes from downtown Nashville, and there's a wide array of activities to be had here. From rock climbing nearby, to hiking to a number of different vantage points, it’s a pretty spectacular place to visit on any given weekend, especially in the warmer months when you can take a dip in the pool below the falls. When you arrive, there's almost immediately a great overlook for you to take in the sites, and then you can head to the Climbers Loop that will take you down to the falls. It’s a moderate descent with a lot of awesome overlooks on the way down, but save your energy because the climb back out is quite steep.
4. Burgess Falls
Burgess Falls is a 136-foot beauty located on the Falling Water River that forms the centerpiece of Burgess Falls State Park. The classic 1.5-mile River Trail/Service Road Loop brings hikers next to four waterfalls within the park, following the riverbank past increasingly impressive cascades until eventually culminating in the 136-foot main falls. **Of note: The staircase to the main falls was damaged in a storm in spring 2016. The overlook to the main falls is still accessible, but the stairs down to the falls are closed. The park website frequently provides updates on the status of the reconstruction process.
5. Piney Falls
Located near Grandview, TN in Piney Falls State Natural Area roughly 2.5 hours from Nashville, Upper Piney Falls is an 80-foot beauty that's easy to access and even easier to fall in love with. There is a wide, easy trail to the overlook and then another path that leads down to the falls. You can climb behind the falls or wade in the creek below. If you find yourself there in summer, cool yourself off in the chilly Little Piney Creek.
6. Virgin Falls
Virgin Falls is another set of falls found within a state natural area that also happens to be a 2.5 hour drive from Nashville. This hike is one of the most unusual waterfall hikes in the area, featuring no less than 4 falls on a 9-mile loop. Along the way, you'll find subterranean tributaries, a cenote that turns into a high-volume 110 foot falls, and excellent camping.
7. Ozone Falls
A repeat from our list of top waterfalls near Chattanooga , Ozone Falls is one of our favorites for the Nashville area as well. This picturesque waterfall was actually selected to be a filming location for a scene in the movie, Jungle Book, and it's obvious to see why. It feels secluded and almost otherworldly with water spilling over 110-feet from a rim of sandstone caprock into a gouged-out punchbowl below. The climb down is not roped off or managed, so if you plan on taking the challenge (which we highly recommend), be sure to wear the right gear and be smart on your feet.
8. Northrup Falls
Northrup Falls is a 60-foot waterfall located in Colditz Cove State Natural Area that doesn't receive nearly the amount of foot traffic as some of the other falls included in this list. But it should. The trail begins and ends at the parking area and is a 2-mile, moderate loop that takes you behind the falls, then downstream, and then back up. This gorgeous site is named for a family that lived above the waterfall in the 1800's, and although it’s a bit of a drive, it makes for a great morning hike or a weekend day trip.
9. Twin Falls
The Twin Falls were accidentally created when they dammed the Caney Fork River in 1925. The gorge water pours through the wall rather than over making this 80-foot cascade a rare site in Tennessee. The falls are located in Rock Island State Park downstream of the dam, and there are great overlooks of the falls right where you park your car. Our only precaution with this falls is to check the TVA water release schedule before hiking down, as you are directly downstream if they open the dam.
10. Fancher Falls
This waterfall adventure is probably our favorite and most unique on the list. If you’re wanting a leisurely paddle rather than a day hike, this is your place. For a 3-mile paddle and a fairly simple ride, load in at the Cookeville Boat Dock on Center Hill Lake and cross over to the far side of the lake. There is a cove right in front of you, but you'll want to keep paddling and take a right into the next inlet you see. You’ll paddle down as it gets narrower and narrower, and once it turns into an unrideable stream, park the boat and hike just a little ways further. There, you’ll see the towering 80-foot Fancher Falls pouring into the perfect, crystal blue swimming hole below.