According to its website, Burgess Falls State Park is a day-use park, noted for its natural beauty and four waterfalls that cascade down from over 250 feet in elevation. The last of these falls is the most spectacular, plunging more than 130 feet into the gorge.
The area was originally populated by Native Americans of the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw tribes. These tribes used the land as a hunting ground until the late 19th century when a gristmill and sawmill began operating on the river.
The Falling Water River was used to generate hydroelectric power for the city of Cookeville from 1928-1944. In 1973, the territory became a designated Tennessee State Natural Area, protecting the diverse forest and aquatic habitats.
Remnants of the hydroelectric flume are still visible today as it once crisscrossed the river on a suspension cradle made of wire and wood. The flume is long gone, but its harnesses still hang high above the gorge.
Entering the park, you’ll see a large sign warning about the strenuous hike to the falls. If you hike at all, you will not find it strenuous, but the hike will require you to ascend and descend many many stairs, requiring you to be alert and sure-footed.
This park is very dog friendly. In fact, my mini-golden doodle, Mayme, met many well-behaved dogs, as well as several eager children along the way.
A nice pavilion and modern bathrooms are available next to the parking lot. I noticed some of the park’s flora are tagged for easy identification. Benches dot the trail, with scenic overlooks developed for optimal viewing.
Those who want a closer, more adventurous view of the falls can hike down several hundred feet to the water’s edge. There you can feel the frigid white water as it rumbles by and feel the mist as it rises from below.
Plan on staying an hour and a half at this location – even longer if you plan to see the native wildflower and butterfly garden.
Burgess Falls is gorgeous during the dead of winter, so spring, summer and fall must be spectacular. The park was busy but manageable in February. Its website says to consider visiting during the middle of the week to avoid the crowds.
If you are looking to make a day of the area, consider visiting Window Cliffs State natural area just south of Burgess Falls. Window Cliffs is a 275-acre natural area that opened for public access in April 2017. This day-use area is located in southern Putnam County, approximately 18 miles south of Cookeville; it is managed by Burgess Falls State Park.