The Most Beautiful Waterfall Hikes Around Nashville
The best Nashville waterfall hikes are a perfect break from the city.
No matter what TLC sang, we believe you should go chasing waterfalls. Middle Tennessee’s limestone geology is ideal for creating cataracts that tumble over ridges into cool pools below, and many of them are located at the end of bucolic hikes through the forest. Make yourself a bucket list of waterfalls to visit now that the weather is more conducive to outdoor pursuits and check them off one by one using this as your guide.
Sewanee Perimeter Trail
One of the joys of being a student at the University of the South in Sewanee is access to 65 miles of hiking and biking trails across the 13,000-acre domain. Visitors can travel along most of them, especially the 21+ miles of the Perimeter trail that rings the campus running along the edge of the plateau and through some lovely wooded acreage as well. With plenty of entrance and exit points, hikers can tackle it in small bites if they’re not up for a twenty-miler. Another benefit is since the trail traverses the plateau and water runs downhill, there are lots of delightful little waterfall surprises along the way, especially after a good storm. Look for signs to Bridal Veil Falls and Morgan Falls to find two of the best ones.
Walls of Jericho
This isn’t an excursion for the casual hiker, as it’s an eight-mile round trip from the Tennessee trailhead to this remarkable natural formation, that is actually in Alabama. But it’s worth it when you arrive to bask in the splendor of this bowl-shaped box canyon with 200-foot tall walls and a Turkey Creek-fed cascade streaming from halfway down the walls. The remoteness of the location means that you’ll probably spend most of your hike alone in pristine nature. In fact, it’s so out of the way that cell phone reception can be spotty, so be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll check back in with them.
Although Rutledge Falls is located on private property, it’s open to the public. It’s also a great place for a day of family fun as the secluded spot offers easy access, pristine picnic spots, and a beautiful swimming hole if you can handle the bracingly cold creek water. The only difficulty is a short climb down some rocks that may be slippery on the way to the base of the falls.
Greeter Falls is part of the Savage Gulf trail system and the South Cumberland State Park. The falls themselves are impressive with a fifty-foot plunge over a limestone ledge into a pool below, but it also offers the bonus that the 1.6-mile loop trail to reach it is dog-friendly. Take your pooch on a fairly easy hike, but keep them on a leash.
If you like shorter falls that offer secluded swimming hole opportunities, it’s tough to beat the Fiery Gizzard Trail, part of the South Cumberland State Forest in south central Tennessee. In one easy 3.3-mile loop, you can experience five different waterfalls, two of which drop into fantastic outdoor swimming pools. Blue Hole Falls and Sycamore Falls are both only 10-12 feet tall, but they offer plunge pools filled with a constant flow of cool, crisp mountain water.
Fall Creek Falls
The big daddy of Tennessee cataracts is actually the tallest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The view of the 256-foot fall is great from the top, but a short hike down to the plunge pool below really gives visitors a better idea of the power and volume of the flow. Just remember that you have to hike back up to the parking lot afterward.
Despite the inviting plunge pool below, this beautiful multi-level waterfall is best viewed from above where the overlook is just a short amble through the woods from the parking lot. Acrophobes may have a little difficulty with the steepness of the viewing platform, but they will be rewarded for their courage. Descending into the valley below involves steep descents down unimproved trails and crossing the river, so think twice (or thrice) before attempting the trip.
Twin Falls is unusual in that it was created by the damming of the Caney Fork River in the 1920’s which caused two streams to flow out of the side of a gorge, seeping from the walls about forty feet below the edge of the cliff into the river below. Several easy-to-moderate trails lead to different views of these remarkable falls, but how close you can actually get to them depends on the generation schedule of the dam. Stay alert because the water levels can rise quickly.
If you’re feeling froggy, you can reach this gorgeous 60-foot tall waterfall by extending the leisurely stroll through Fiery Gizzard to add a strenuous day’s worth of hiking for another nine miles -- rather than taking the day loop trail. However, the falls, and the inviting swimming hole below, are also accessible as a much easier two-mile hike which includes a cool swinging bridge across the creek below the falls.
Cane Creek Falls
Cane Creek is one of five waterfalls located near Fall Creek Falls, so it’s not too difficult to check off multiple boxes on your bucket list in one day. The falls are only about a third as tall as their more famous neighbor, but after a good rain it is still pretty impressive as the water flows in a wide swath over a rock ledge. Multiple trails of varying difficulties offer different vistas of the falls. Most of them are easy and less than a mile round trip, but be warned that the Cable Trail does indeed involve clambering down a rock face while clinging to a metal cable.
The accurately named Falling Water River passes over four falls within Burgess Falls State Park, but the waterfall that gives the park its name is the most impressive for sure. The river is quite wide as it passes over the edge of a 130-foot cliff into the gorge below, so the volume of rushing water is particularly awe-inspiring. A mile and a half loop takes visitors past all four falls, but don’t let the short length fool you; this is a big hike. Even with the assistance of a set of metal steps to carry you the last bit to the base of the big falls, lots of folks bail out and take a service road back to the parking lot rather than completing the entire hike. We won’t judge.
Virgin Falls is a fascinating example of a spring-fed falls, with a creek flowing out of a cave over a cliff and into another cave 120 feet below. Especially intrepid hikers can actually enter the two caves when the water levels are lower, but it is generally not recommended. However, if you can handle the rugged eight-mile hike to get to the falls, you’re probably kind of a badass anyway.