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14 Best Waterfalls in Tennessee

Written by Catherine Hawkins and Colin J. McMechan
Jan 5, 2022

Waterfalls are to the eastern half of Tennessee what red sandstone cliffs and arches are to the southern half of Utah. The first one you see is amazing, but then there is another and another. Tennessee has them in abundance–wide, skinny, tall, short, cascading in stages or in a series, and perhaps most memorable, thundering down in one frothy column.

Ozone Falls in Cumberland County
Ozone Falls in Cumberland County | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Several of our picks for best waterfalls are so magnificent, they lend their name to state parks: Cummins Falls, Burgess Falls, and Fall Creek Falls. Look at a map of state parks, and you'll notice that these three are stacked up in the central region, within a two-hour drive from Nashville. All three, plus Ozone Falls State Natural Area, can easily be visited in one day from the state capital. Another cluster of falls is concentrated in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including four on our list: Abrams Falls, Rainbow Falls, Cataract Falls, and Laurel Falls.

Even on a cloudy day, the state's waterfalls have that extra edge that thrills the eyes and ears of the beholder. Find those that dazzle and sparkle, with our list of the best waterfalls in Tennessee.

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1. Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls, Tennessee
Ruby Falls, Tennessee

The colorful and romantic spectacle of illuminated Ruby Falls is in such demand, you have to make a reservation to view it on a guided tour. Visitors flock to this attraction less than five miles from Chattanooga because it is the tallest and deepest accessible underground waterfall in the U.S. Begin your adventure by descending 260 feet in a glass-front elevator from Cavern Castle into Lookout Mountain. You're now in the company of visitors who have been making their way to the waterfall since 1928.

Along the short, paved cavern walk, you'll see stunning, naturally occurring rock formations of stalagmites, stalactites, and drapery formations. It takes about 60 to 80 minutes to reach Ruby Falls, a cascade of 145 feet, located 1,150 feet below the surface of the mountain. (Expect to walk and stand rather than sit and rest.)

When you return to the visitor center above ground, enjoy views from the 70-foot Lookout Mountain Tower and Blue Heron Overlook. During busy times, avoid congestion by booking a tour early in the day.

Address: 1720 Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Official site: www.rubyfalls.com

2. Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Laurel Falls is one of the highlights of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that many visitors try to include on their itinerary. Unlike most waterfalls on our recommended list, you hike up 1.3 miles to access Laurel Falls instead of descending into a ravine or gorge. You will be rewarded at the end of your climb by an 80-foot waterfall that sparkles on a sunny day in the mountains.

The trailhead starts at the side of Fighting Creek Gap Road west of Sugarlands Visitor Center and seven miles from Gatlinburg. When you arrive at Laurel Falls, walk across a concrete bridge that separates the upper falls in front of you and the lower falls beneath you. Appreciate the refreshing mist of the falls and the rainforest surroundings of large mountain laurels and rhododendron, which bloom in the spring.

Address: Fighting Creek Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/laurel-falls.htm

3. Fall Creek Falls

Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

At 256 feet high, Fall Creek Falls is the standout on a crowded stage of waterfalls at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Less imposing are Piney Creek Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades, plus 345-acre Fall Creek Lake, and assorted streams, gorges, and pools. In a park comprising almost 30,000 acres, half of which is designated wilderness, all of these features literally shape the scenic reputation of the craggy Cumberland Plateau.

Access the beauty of Fall Creek Falls via a hike along Piney Falls Trail or Overlook Trail to the .3-mile Base of Falls Trail. Two cascades, almost a matched set, pour over ledges at different levels, plunging to the pool below. A hardwood forest surrounds the massive bowl of tiered limestone where the falls is located. From Nashville, it's a two-hour drive east to see the falls and perhaps camp overnight.

Address: 2009 Village Camp Road, Spencer, Tennessee

Official site: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/fall-creek-falls

4. Bald River Falls

Bald River Falls
Bald River Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

In the northwestern corner of the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina border is one of the most idyllic settings for the magnificent froth of Bald River Falls. In its final surge, the Bald River tumbles 90 feet to a pool, rushes under the bridge below your feet, and empties into Tellico River. The grandeur of the Cherokee National Forest surrounds you.

This is one of the most outstanding and accessible natural features in an area of spectacular beauty. A short walk up the Tellico River are Baby Falls. Be sure to pause on a large limestone rock and appreciate the visual sweep and roaring power of water at your toes. Combine a trip to Bald River Falls with a drive up the celebrated, mile-high, 43-mile-long Cherohala Skyway.

Address: Tellico Plains, Tennessee

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/cherokee/recreation/recarea/?recid=35130

5. Foster Falls

Foster Falls
Foster Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Sixty-foot Foster Falls descends to a deep pool in the Fiery Gizzard range of South Cumberland State Park. From the parking lot, follow the short trail that takes you to a boardwalk and elevated lookout above the falls.

Many visitors hike the two-mile moderate Climbers Loop Trail into the gorge. The trail leads you across a suspension bridge to a location where you can admire the view at the base of the falls. Tread carefully over the steep rocky terrain that might be strenuous for some hikers. Serious hiking boots are recommended. Bring a bathing suit if the timing is right to enjoy the swimming hole in the gorge.

Don't be surprised when you see elite rock climbers scaling challenging routes up the limestone cliffs near Foster Falls. There are other waterfalls in the park, but Foster Falls is the most impressive. Access to the park from Foster Falls Road is 36 miles northwest of Chattanooga.

Address: 498 Foster Falls Rd, Sequatchie, Tennessee

Official site: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/south-cumberland

6. Twin Falls

Twin Falls, Rock Island State Park
Twin Falls, Rock Island State Park | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Twin Falls in Rock Island State Park is an accidental beauty that appears like a broad wall of water leaking out of the limestone cliffs along Caney Fork River. The "accident" emerged when the Great Falls Dam was constructed to produce hydroelectric power in 1925. Excess water from this engineered project naturally diverted to a wide swath of the escarpment, where it shoots 80 feet to the river below.

Follow signs to Twin Falls after arriving in the park. A short, easy trail descends to the river's edge where you can walk a leafy path that runs parallel to the shore. Heed danger signs that warn of high, fast-flowing water when released by the dam. Most of the time, however, you can safely walk onto the exposed riverbed for an unobstructed view of the falls.

Address: 82 Beach Road, Rock Island, Tennessee

Official site: tnstateparks.com/parks/rock-island

7. Greeter Falls

Greeter Falls
Greeter Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

It's a rock scramble for some, but two falls on one trail justify the effort. From the Greeter Falls parking area, take the moderate one-mile round-trip hike to the Upper Falls and Greeter Falls. Watch your footing and wear sturdy shoes for a trail with steep drop-offs, exposed roots, and slippery rocks.

Take the loop trail counterclockwise and follow the escarpment above the river to a cliffside grotto of limestone overhangs. From here, it's a short spur to the Upper Falls. The main trail leads you to a spiral metal staircase hugging a cliff face and a set of wooden stairs that drop to Greeter Falls.

On a warm day, reward your effort with a dip in the Blue Hole swimming area. Access it by a separate 0.4-mile trail from the parking area.

Greeter Falls is located in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area of South Cumberland State Park, 90 miles southeast of Nashville and 60 miles northwest of Chattanooga.

Address: Greeter Falls Road, Altamont, Tennessee

8. Blue Hole Falls

Blue Hole Falls
Blue Hole Falls

Blue Hole Falls, located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, is smaller than other waterfalls on our list but extraordinarily stunning. It's 30 by 40 feet and emerges from a spectacular pour-off flanked by cliffs as high as 50 feet. Rhododendrons contribute to the lush setting and are best seen when blooming in the spring. The blue "hole" at the base of the falls is ideal for a refreshing dip in the summer.

Due to the steep and often slick steps, a visit to Blue Hole Falls is not advised for young children or dogs. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes. Take your time going up and down. To access the falls, drive highway 91 to Panhandle Road, then go another mile to the small parking lot. The falls is located 12 miles northeast of Elizabethton, better known by locals as Betsy Town.

Address: Near Panhandle Road, Elizabethton, Tennessee

Official site: http://www.easttn.us/attractions/attraction.aspx/BlueHoleFalls/

9. Burgess Falls

Burgess Falls
Burgess Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Burgess Falls is the fourth in a series of waterfalls, each increasing in size over the one you saw before. From the visitor center of Burgess Falls State Park, a day use park, look for the 1.5-mile River Trail and Service Road Loop. Although it is rated strenuous, it might be easy or moderate for visitors who have no issue with stairs.

At 130 feet, Burgess is one of Tennessee's most magnificent cascades. Watching as it plunges into the scenic gorge of the Falling Water River, you can't help but feel mesmerized and humbled. It doesn't take long to get here from Nashville–less than 90 minutes. Start early to dedicate a day to waterfall viewing.

Address: 4000 Burgess Falls Drive, Sparta, Tennessee

Official site: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/burgess-falls

10. Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls surrounded by fall colors
Abrams Falls surrounded by fall colors

Abrams Falls is a perennial favorite in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is one of the most popular things to do when driving the 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road west of Townsend. The five-mile roundtrip hike is rated moderate to strenuous, and 20-foot Abrams Falls is considered well worth the effort.

Abrams Falls is not the highest waterfall on our list, but the water that flows over it is a torrent, not a trickle. The pool at its base is long and deep, with currents moving too quickly to permit safe swimming. Fittingly, given its power and majesty, Abrams Falls is named after a local Cherokee chief.

Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/abrams-falls.htm

11. Ozone Falls

Ozone Falls
Ozone Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Featured in the filming of Hollywood's Jungle Book, Ozone Falls in the state natural area by the same name is magical in real life and on the big screen. A single drop of 111 feet from the flat sandstone pour-off at the top, this graceful waterfall appears heaven sent. The immense amphitheater–carved by Fall Creek over millennia–adds to the scenic splendor.

Start your exploration by walking a short distance to the top of the falls. The sheer drop-off should give you pause from walking close to the rim, where the falls plummet to the pool below. A side angle view of the falls is found by following the trail to the right. This trail along the rim leads you to Highway TN-1, where you have the option to hike down to the base of the falls.

A remarkable view of Ozone Falls awaits you at the bottom. Make sure you have proper footwear to navigate the slippery rocks and rough terrain to the water's edge. More sure-footed hikers venture behind the falls for an entirely different experience. Breathe in fresh mist and capture a unique selfie while surrounded by the majesty of these supernatural surroundings.

Address: 14563 TN-1, Rockwood, Tennessee

Official site: www.tn.gov/environment/program-areas/na-natural-areas/natural-areas-east-region/east-region-/na-na-ozone-falls.html

12. Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls
Cataract Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Although the smallest waterfall on our list, Cataract Falls is one of the most popular because it's near Gatlinburg and the northern gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From Sugarlands Visitor Center, walk the first half-mile of the Cove Mountain Trail hiking trail that leads you to the base of the falls.

On the level path to Cataract Falls, you walk alongside the Cataract Branch, which flows like a stream from the direction of the falls. In springtime, expect to see this gentle cascade in a setting surrounded by flowering rhododendron.

Address: Cove Mountain Trail, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Official site: www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm

13. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Many visitors to Rainbow Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are drawn by the energetic hike getting to them. Another appealing aspect is having LeConte Creek as a companion alongside much of the 5.1-mile round-trip trail. Rainbow Falls features the longest drop of any waterfall in the Smoky Mountains, plunging 80 feet to the picturesque pool below.

You'll be delighted by the footbridges that crisscross the creek. Once at the falls on a sunny day, search for gold at the end of the rainbow rising out of the mist. While the best time to see the falls follows a heavy rain, be prepared for wet and muddy conditions.

Address: Cherokee Orchard Loop Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Official site: www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/rainbow-falls-pyv.htm

14. Cummins Falls

Cummins Falls
Cummins Falls | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

The 75-foot cascade of Cummins Falls is the eighth largest in Tennessee. The falls is located on Blackburn Fork State Scenic River in Cummins Falls State Park, which was voted #1 park of the year in 2021 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The honor was bestowed due to improved management of increased visitors and safety measures.

Most visitors will find it easy to hike the Waterfall Overlook Trail from the informative visitor center to the scenic view looking down upon the falls. The three-mile hike from the center into the gorge and to the falls can take 45 minutes or longer.

Visitors who wish to visit the gorge must obtain a permit and watch a video regarding access to the base of the falls. The trail is rugged and involves several stream crossings, so appropriate footwear and trekking poles are recommended. The 282-acre park is located nine miles north of Cookeville and 85 miles east of Nashville. Read up on it to prepare yourself for exploring the falls.

Address: 390 Cummins Falls Lane, Cookeville, Tennessee

Official site: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/cummins-falls

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