Explore The Cascades Of Tennessee: 10 Must-See Waterfalls

Find solace at one of Tennessee's incredible cascades.

By: Clare Healy
March 1, 2016

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When I moved to Tennessee, nobody warned me of the abundance of waterfalls I’d find around every corner. In fact, if someone had told me about them, I might not have believed them (many Californians find flowing waterfalls to be somewhat of a myth these days). What I quickly came to learn is that Tennessee is home to some of the most luscious, free-flowing waterfalls in the world. Most hiking trails lead you past one or to one whether you’re expecting it or not. From one of the tallest falls in the US to flourishing cascades that truly shine right after a good rain, there is guaranteed to be one that will leave your jaw dropped.

During the warm summer months, these falls can often turn into local watering holes, attracting people from every which way looking for an escape from blistering heat. And in winter months? Hikers can find solace in the emptiness of these trails and awe in the flow of these falls. Here are some of my top waterfall destinations!

1. Fall Creek Falls

Photo: Clare Healy

Sprawled across the eastern span of the Cumberland Plateau, Fall Creek Falls State Park is Tennessee’s largest and most visited recreation area. And for good reason. The belle of the ball, Fall Creek Falls, boasts a 256-foot free fall winning the crown as the tallest in the Eastern United States. The view from above can be accessed in a few steps from the parking lot, but trekking down to the base of the falls is where you’ll truly witness the vastness of this beauty.

Perk: The 26,000 acre park is home to 34 miles of hiking trails and is laced with a plethora of other cascades, gorges, waterfalls, and streams to explore. Learn more.

2. Lula Falls

Photo: Clare Healy

Sharing the border of southeastern part of Tennessee and Georgia, Lula Lake Land Trust is a well-preserved nature area atop Lookout Mountain. Lula Falls may actually be in Georgia, but since it’s just 20 minutes from Chattanooga - and amazing - it’s making the list. With 6 miles of trails, there is plenty to explore but both the upper and lower falls are easily accessible taking less than a 2 mile stroll to get to. The upper falls beautifully cascades into Lula Lake, but keep trekking down to the lower falls to experience the thunderous 110-foot beast. You’ll get a glimpse - with your eyes and ears - of the flowing falls from up top, but head down to the base via stone staircase for an up-close and personal look of the water pummeling into a boulder field below. Learn more.

3. Laurel Falls

Photo: Clare Healy

The Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness is home to one of the most picturesque sections of the Cumberland Trail. Named after two waterfalls, Laurel Falls and Snow Falls, there is no lack of falling water within this area (climbing is very popular here as well!). Hit the taller of the two falls, Laurel Falls, via a 2.4 mile hike and planning your trip for after a rain will promise an especially awe-worthy sight. Just be weary that the recently-damaged bridge does not make for an easy crossing, so dogs and children are not recommended for this trek. Learn more.

4. Foster Falls

Photo: Rob Giersch

When most hear the name Foster Falls, a few things come to mind: world-renowned sport climbing, plummeting waterfall, Fiery Gizzard Trail, and summertime. However, Foster Falls will not disappoint at any time of year. In fact, winter will likely let you indulge in the vastness of the falls all by yourself, but be sure to head there when the weather warms up for a dip in the pool below the falls as well. Cliff jumping and camping are popular activities for the area as well. Learn more.

5. Twin Falls

Photo: Andrew Conaway

As soon as you hear the roar of Twin Falls as you’re hiking through Rock Island State Park, you’ll know this one is a monster. This waterfall is a byproduct of the Caney Fork River dam and you’ll notice how the water uniquely pours out through the dam instead of over the wall. And for those weary of longer hikes, this one is a shorty with a big reward. But be ready to get a little soggy in the process of getting up close and personal with this waterfall. The short trail requires a river crossing or two as well as some boulder traversing. But don’t let that scare you off, it’s well worth it. Learn more.

6. Northrup Falls

Photo: Nathan Szwarc

A two mile loop through oak hickory forestry and past towering rock walls in northeastern Tennessee’s Colditz Cove State Natural Area will bring you to this hidden gem of a waterfall. The seventy foot waterfall is surrounded by protruding rocks and plunges into a turquoise pool, making this entire area feel a bit dreamlike. At the fork in the trail, going left or right will take you to the base of the waterfalls, each providing a variety of scenery - moss-covered caverns, cliffs, and miniature waterfalls - along the way. Learn more.

7. Rainbow Falls

Photo: Clare Healy

Explore this hidden 80-foot waterfall that produces a mist rainbow visible on sunny afternoons. This hike is located less than 10 miles from downtown Chattanooga and can provide easy access to Signal Point for sweeping views of the Tennessee River Gorge. The hike from the Rainbow Lake Trailhead to Rainbow Lake is casual and great for first time hikers. When arriving at the lake, you'll find an area to rest, eat lunch, take pictures, or explore the dam. In the summer, you'll find that many hikers swim in this area. Learn more.

8. Cummins Falls

Photo: Matthew Ady

This popular warm weather swimming hole is also one of the tallest waterfalls in the state by volume. Take the gravel road for a short 0.4 miles and you’ll see the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River plunging 75 feet into the depths of the turquoise swimming pool at the base. Keep trekking, following the clearly marked trail through the switchbacks until you reach the river’s edge. From here, you’ll have to put your bushwhacking skills to use and wade through the river a few times to reach the base of this cascading falls. Learn more.

9. Hike to Falls Branch Falls

Photo: Nathan Szwarc

There is a good chance that you’ll have the trail to to Falls Branch Falls almost to yourself. Part of the reason for this is that it can be a tough, or at least very slippery hike in. After heavy rains, the steeper parts of the trail and the river crossing can be somewhat of a challenge, but it will all be worth it when you arrive at the beautiful 70ft Falls Branch falls. Learn more.

10. Bald River Falls

Photo: Mason Boring

Most of Tennessee’s best falls tend to be in the western part of the state, but that doesn’t mean this Eastern TN waterfall is any less of a sight to see. The 90-foot roaring beauty sits near the mountain town of Tellico Plains and will surely have you staring in awe for hours. The falls can be seen from your car, but hopping out and hiking above the falls through the Bald River Gorge will have you coming back to this beautiful little town for more. Learn more.

If you’re a Tennessee local, have you taken the plunge and snapped all 10 of these waterfalls? And if you’re located elsewhere, are you convinced that Tennessee’s abundance of waterfalls might make a worthwhile visit?

Cover photo: Rob Giersch

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.