Falls Overlook Trail | 0.45 Miles
Downstream Trail to Falls | 1.5 Miles
Cummins Falls State Park Location | Google Maps
Tennessee State Route 111, stretching from the Kentucky state line to Chattanooga has access to more waterfalls per capita than any other part of the state. With giant splashers located within Cummins Falls State Park, Rock Island State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Falls Creek Falls State Park, and the Lost Creek State Natural Area just a short jaunt away from your car, theres literally no excuse to not go out and see them all. Often undertaken as a summer road trip for families and waterfall chasers alike, this exciting adventure can easily be completed over a weekends time. As our first stop along this waterfall highway, we chose to stretch our legs at this scenic enclave in the heart of Middle Tennessee.
Cummins Falls State Park is designated as a Day-Use Area with all facilities operating seasonally from 8 a.m.- 6 p.m., 7 days a week. After entering the park via Blackburn Fork Rd, guests follow the gravel lined road to the parks newly built visitors center. While Cummins Falls State Park is free to enter and explore, it has recently implemented a new *Gorge Access Permit* at a cost of $6 per ticket for any visitor wishing to enter the gorge or visit the base of the waterfall. These tickets sell out fast so it is recommended you purchase them online ahead of your visit. The park has a 1.5 mile Downstream Trail that runs through the gorge to the base of the waterfall and its popular swimming hole. Trail routes to the gorge, through the gorge, and to the base of the waterfall are rugged, steep, and not generally recommended for young children or people with mobility issues.
After opening to the public in 2012, drowning deaths at Cummins Falls State Park began to mount due to the gorges unpredictable nature to flash flood, even during minor rain events. This new access permit was instated by The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in 2019 to monitor visitors entering the gorge. In addition, the park has added signage, additional safety information on the website and a safety education video for public viewing at the trailhead before beginning the hike down. Children are encouraged to wear life vests, available at the visitors center, once they enter the gorge. New systems have also been put in place to monitor the real-time weather, water levels and have created refuge areas staffed by rangers in case of an emergency or evacuation.
The Falls Overlook Trail \ Yellow Blaze (0.45 miles)
On this particular visit, we will be skipping the trip down to the bottom of the gorge and instead hike to several of the cliffside overlooks of Cummins Falls. All of the best views of the falls are conveniently located along the short and easy to traverse 0.45 mile Falls Overlook Trail. Marked by a bright yellow blaze, the trail departs the Visitors Center and enters an idilic woodland that has hosted picnickers, woodsmen, and hunters for hundreds of years. Prior to Europeans arrival into modern day Tennessee, the Blackburn River gorge was a prime hunting area for Native Americans. Once a central part of Tennessees ecosystem, buffalo herds numbering in the tens of thousands would roam across the state often stopping at natural salt deposits, commonly referred to as licks. Being drawn to the salt licks at nearby Bledsoe Creek and Salt Lick Creek, buffalo would wade through the shallower portions of the parks gorge, where they were easy targets for prehistoric hunters.
The Falls Overlook Trail crosses several trail junction as it blazes a path due southwest to the falls precipice. For most of these, you will stay to the LEFT. Climbing in and out of dry creek beds that come alive with seasonal streams, the trail has an astounding 133 feet of ascents and descents. Towards the end, you’ll have to merge RIGHT to avoid walking down the service road, but within minutes of this you will be at the entrance to the overlook. The first of the tow overlooks here goes down a small path to a perch at the edge of a cliff.
From here, you get an epic full frontal view of Cummins Falls and its two drops. The first has a plunge drop of 50 feet, ending in a shallow pool. Another cascading drop of 25 feet empties into the deeper pool visitors can swim into. The second of these overlooks has a better view of the natural pool with visitors sunning and picnicking on the boulders along the stream. All of the land surrounding the falls which now occupy the state park had been owned by the Cummins Family from 1825 until it was purchased by The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation in 2011.
Upstream of the falls, John Cummins built the first of two water powered mills in 1825 on Blackburn Fork which used an overshot waterwheel as its power source. Around the mill a small settlement was established by workers and their families. A general store opened on the grounds, and a blacksmith set up shop nearby. A post office and telephone exchange later operated there. The site was so popular that families from nearby towns built vacations cabins on the grounds for seasonal use. In 1929, the mill was destroyed by a massive flood and never rebuilt. Most of this area has remained untouched since then.Cummins Falls State Park is such a wonderful place to visit even if you plan on only heading over to the overlooks. If you’re feeling more adventurous, take the time to check out the short yet scenic Blackburn Fork River Trail (0.55 miles), John Cummins Trail (0.45 miles), or take the plunge down to the base of the waterfalls along the Downstream Trail (1.50 miles) to get that epic photograph of Cummins Falls.
Up next, we’re heading over to the banks of the Falling Water River to check out Burgess Falls State Park. This day-use state park is noted for its natural beauty and four major waterfalls that cascade down from over 250 feet in elevation, with Burgess Falls plunging more than 130 feet into a gorge. With tons of overlooks of the falls along the 0.50 mile River Trail, this is a place all waterfall chasers should visit. Stay tuned for this upcoming article and as always, see y’all on the trails!