Epic Tennessee Waterfall Trip

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Burgess Falls
Burgess Falls

2015 has gotten off to a slow start for me. I am usually very busy in early January at my job, and this year was no exception. After going weeks without seeing a waterfall, living vicariously through the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts of others, I was dying to get out. On the weekend of Friday 1/23 and Saturday 1/24/15, I was able to do just that. I love the waterfalls of my home state of North Carolina. While I spent some additional time in 2014 exploring South Carolina and Virginia waterfalls, I have vowed to spend more time in 2015 to the Waterfalls of Tennessee. This will require more driving for me and most likely some overnight trips. Overnight Waterfall Road Trip….sounds great, I’m in!!

Of all the beautiful Tennessee waterfalls I have seen, none have seemed more enchanting than the 136 ft Burgess Falls. This was priority number one and I would plan everything else around this waterfall. This meant a 5 hour drive into east central Tennessee. I left Winston-Salem around lunchtime on Friday and drove in terrible conditions. It was sleeting here, but the forecast was for rain mainly. The first 150 miles, my car’s outside temperature display fluctuated between 33-36 degrees all the way to Asheville, NC. Black Ice was a worry, especially in the Black Mountains area. It never became a problem, thankfully, and once past Asheville the temps began to slowly warm into the low 40’s. This is a prime example of what is known as the “Appalachian Wedge” where the colder air banks up against the mountains and leaves those of us east of the mountains chillier, sometimes much chillier than those on the west side. Even with the warmer temps, this was no picnic making the drive along I-40 through the rugged, mountainous section where the highway narrows, the curves become sharper, and 2 tunnels must be driven through. On a cold, wet day with heavy 18 wheeler traffic, I could not get to the other side fast enough.

Ozone Falls
Ozone Falls

My plan was to see Burgess Falls on this cloudy day, hopefully with the rain letting up. I didn’t make it in time though, even with the added extra hour of daylight from entering the central time zone. I stopped for the night about 50 miles from the Burgess Falls exit in a travel friendly town called Crossville. I had a trick up my sleeve though. I knew of a waterfall in this area that was supposedly very close to I-40. It is called Ozone Falls. I will go into greater detail of this and other falls in later individual blogs. This one was just 4 miles off of I-40 from the Crab Orchard exit and it was a 110 ft beauty.

I first learned of Ozone Falls through a fellow Internet waterfall explorer named Jeff Burcher. He is from Ohio and regularly makes trips south into Tennessee and the Carolinas on photography expeditions. He is an excellent photographer and an inspiration to me to continually improve my skills. His photos and info can be accessed here on his flickr page “Jeff Burcher Flickr”and also his photography facebook page “Jeff Burcher Photography”

Ozone Falls was very beautiful, but it was still raining fairly steady. I did not remain here long, and soon settled down for the night in Crossville, Tn. Saturday morning had a treat for me.
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A half inch of snow fell overnight as one last band of precipitation moved through the area. This was awesome, and a great start to Saturday. It was 28 degrees outside and I was again worried about ice on the roads. Thankfully, it has been too warm recently, so they were safe and just wet. After some breakfast and those wonderful hotel waffles, off To Burgess Falls it was. When I got there, it was closed…OH NO!! Was it because of the weather? Were they closed during the winter? As it turned out, I was there 10 minutes before they opened. Crisis averted. It was still pretty cold out, so I made the 3/4 mile hike to Burgess Falls pretty fast. This river, the Falling Water River was big, wide, and had large volume of water in it. This was going to be good. After the cascades at the start, there are 3 waterfalls in the next 3/4 of a mile , Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and my favorite…Burgess falls. Each one was a tad bigger than the one above.

Upper Falls - Falling Water River
Upper Falls – Falling Water River

After a short hike, including a wooden bride that WAS icy, I came the beautiful Middle Falls. The overlook was placed perfectly for this 80 ft waterfall.

Middle Falls - Falling Water River 80 Ft
Middle Falls – Falling Water River 80 Ft

Downstream a tad further was the one I was here to see, Burgess Falls. It was gorgeous. The overlook was way above the waterfall, with a strenuous trail to the base. With the cold temps, I opted NOT to climb down. The view from the overlook was amazing!

Burgess Falls - 136 ft
Burgess Falls – 136 ft

I could have called it a trip at this point and been happy! But, I did drive 5 hours to get here. So, what else was around me? I saw on the map that Rockhouse Island State Park was nearby and was the home of Twin Falls. Twin Falls was created by the damming up of the Collins River near the confluence with the Caney Fork River. The rising water from the Collins seeps into some caverns in the mountainside and fill up, only to pour out of the other side of the mountain. So it is somewhat of a man made waterfall, a very cool one. The only problem was that the park was closed on this day! Grrr! Due to safety concerns and the dangers of fast rising water, they had it closed off as they were releasing extra water from the dam. There was one overlook that I had access to. It was overlooking Great Falls on the Caney Fork River. Twin Falls can be seen downstream away so towering over the Caney Fork. I was disappointed and really wanted to see this . I did my best, took photos. I pulled out my seldom used 55-250 lense to get as close of a shot as I could.

Great Falls on the Caney Fork River with Twin Falls downstream
Great Falls on the Caney Fork River with Twin Falls downstream

Twin Falls pouring into the Caney Fork River
Twin Falls pouring into the Caney Fork River

After some lunch, I headed a tad further southeast to Fall Creek Falls State Park. Looking back now, I shoud have saved 2 full days for this park. It was amazing, filled with picturesque waterfalls, with lots of different trails to see different views of them. It also has a golf course. This place is heaven! A week vacation will be spent here sometime, staying at the inn or hotel they have here, and getting more detailed with each waterfall here. I feel somewhat guilty, only allowing several hours in the afternoon for this place. I could have done my homework better. Anyway, my first waterfall here was the 256 ft freefalling waterfall the park is named for. A pair of waterfalls actually come together, Fall Creek and Coon Creek to form and epic drop that us the tallest free fall in the eastern U.S. The photo conditions had gone south by this point, as the skies cleared and was now bright and sunny. Also, notice the snow on the trees near the top of the falls.
Fall Creek Falls & Coon Creek Falls dropping 256 ft
Fall Creek Falls & Coon Creek Falls dropping 256 ft

As I said, I was not prepared for this park. I kind of just followed signs around and next came to Piney Creek Falls. This was a 95 foot waterfall that was flowing fiercely! A short walk to an overlook provided a decent, but distant view of it.

Piney Creek Falls - View from the overlook
Piney Creek Falls – View from the overlook

I tried the trail going the other way. It provided a side view blocked by trees. It came to a suspension bridge. There is a way to the base..where I wanted to go. I did not learn about it until later though.

It was getting late now and I still had yet to see the famous Cane Creek Gorge. I found this area, next to the nature center there. It was quite a find as right next to it is the 45 foot Cane Creek Cascades, a 45 ft nice cascade with a suspension bridge just above it, a 1.2 mile trail leading to Fall Creek Falls and a view of the Cane Creek Gorge.

Cane Creek Cascades - 45 ft beautiful waterfall just outside the nature center
Cane Creek Cascades – 45 ft beautiful waterfall just outside the nature center

There is also a nearby side view of the gorge, placing you in between the 85 foot Cane Creek Falls and the 125 feet, higher but smaller Rockhouse Falls. The pool created below is enormous, one Of the largest I have seen. This was not the view I wanted, but I was running out of time. I saw and overlook way up on the other side, so I crossed the suspension bridge upstream. This was very interesting, as it was wobbly and packed snow covered.image
After a steep climb and a short stroll down along the ridge top, a short extension trail leads to the Cane Creek Gorge Overlook. This was beautiful, but still not the angle or view that I was searching for. The afternoon sun was brutally bright. I will have to take this as it would be the best photo I would get this trip.
Cane Creek Gorge - 125 ft Rockhouse Falls on left,  85 ft Cane Creek Falls on right
Cane Creek Gorge – 125 ft Rockhouse Falls on left, 85 ft Cane Creek Falls on right

To demonstrate the scale of this pair of waterfalls, look in the middle of the 2 falls, where the rock wall goes all the way to the top. This is the overlook next to the nature center.
The overlook and people look tiny, even zoomed in.  This Gorge was amazing!
The overlook and people look tiny, even zoomed in. This Gorge was amazing!

I made one last effort for a better view, the Cable Trail. After looking at it, I realized I was out of energy, and out of time. This would be a fresh adventure for another day, preferably with someone who has done it before, as it looked crazy! I had 5 hours of driving ahead of me.

I decided just east of Knoxville to call it a night and stayed in another small but travel friendly town called Newport. Here I was able to reside, and have dinner all in the same parking lot. A full appetizer, full rack of baby back ribs and several 20 oz draft beers were on the menu. It had been a great 24 hours, I had reason to celebrate, plus I was walking home…lol

Sunday morning came, and I finished my drive home. The tight drive through the mountains was much calmer than it was Friday, as I enjoyed the numerous views of the roaring Pigeon River below. Interesting, how you are driving down the mountain, yet the Pigeon is flowing the opposite way that it seems it should. I almost…almost took US 276 and then again NC 215 down into my beautiful NC mountains for a quick waterfall detour. I was too tired though, just wanted to get home to my family. Besides this trip was all about the waterfalls of Tennessee. I will be thinking about them for some time to come!

9 comments

  1. Wonderful photos. I’ve been to every fall you listed (NC transplant from east TN) except for Great Falls on Caney Fork River. I may have to make a return trip to that area myself. You’re photos reminded me of a series of waterfall hikes I took with my Mom in the late 70s while my dad and brother played golf. We stayed at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Great memories.

  2. Enjoyed reading your adventure and wishing I had been there! I have only hiked waterfalls in NC and GA and I was trying to plan out a trip to see some in Tennessee. I was looking at making this same trip as you, to see Burgess Falls. Glad to see that there are some other gorgeous ones in the area! Hope to make it there sometime soon!

    1. Thank you very much for checking out the site. The Burgess Falls State Park and Fall Creek Falls State Park are less than 1 hour apart and provide lots to see. Hope you are able to make it out there.

  3. You were in my old backyard I was born about 10 miles from Fall Creek Falls…my family cemetery is just outside the park entrance and my Dad and all my aunts uncles, grands and great grans are buried there…The park is awesome!! Besides the lodge there are fishing cabins, and a campground too…I too have visited all these falls TN is one beautiful state! In times of high water FCF is spectacular!! Take your MT bike when you go there’s some nice bike trails. the gorge is wild and tough hiking!

  4. Have you ever been to Cumberland state park in TN? Savage and Greeter falls are gorgeous. Greeter has 3 levels and makes for an amazing day.

    1. I have not been there yet. That was actually on my list before I left NC. It took me so long to get to Bald River Falls that I headed back east, spent the night and went to some NC Waterfalls the next day. I will make it there though.

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