Four Great Waterfalls
East Tennessee has no shortage of breathtaking waterfalls. With so many options, we’ve decided to put together a list of the largest and most spectacular outdoor waterfalls in the area. We’re talking big, tall, powerful waterfalls; every fall on this list features at least 50 feet of free-falling water, and some considerably more than that. Here are four of our favorites. How many have you visited?
Height: 50 feet
Driving distance to trailhead: 59 miles
The Greeter Falls Loop Trail at Savage Gulf (part of South Cumberland State Park) is one of the best waterfall hikes in the area, perhaps the best. In a state park absolutely bursting with waterfalls, this short loop trail leads to three incredible waterfalls: Upper Greeter Falls, Lower Greeter Falls, and Boardtree Falls.
Lower Greeter Falls is the one pictured here, and the highlight of your hike. After descending into a gorge so steep that the trail includes a spiral staircase, you’ll scramble down a sometimes-slippery wooden ramp to the edge of a picturesque pool at the base of a massive waterfall. This is one of the best swimming holes around, and you sure can’t beat the scenery.
It’s worth the short side trip to Upper Greeter Falls while you are here, and Boardtree Falls is nice enough to justify the very short loop hike instead of heading back the way you came. This is classic Cumberland Plateau hiking, with beautiful blufflines and rocky, undulating terrain.
Those with more time, or seeking a more ambitious trip, would be well-served to visit Ranger Creek Falls on the same hike, at the end of a spur from the Big Creek Gulf Trail. Ranger Falls is particularly majestic after a rainfall, although those water levels make crossing the creek to reach the spur trail rather tricky. As for the creek itself, it disappears completely underground into a karst feature at the base of the falls. Weird!
Falling Water Falls
Height: 110 feet
Driving Distance To Trailhead: 12 miles
Falling Water Falls State Natural Area is a tiny parcel of land with an even tinier parking lot, with a single trailhead and a short trail… leading to the top of a very, very tall waterfall.
It’s tough to get a great view of this one, although in low enough water it can be possible to cross the creek and peek down at the falls from an overlook on the far side. Try this at your own risk, though, because it’s 110 feet straight down onto a pile of jagged rocks at the bottom.
Like several of the other waterfalls on this list, Falling Water spills off a sandstone shelf at the edge of the Cumberland Plateau and plunges straight down to a rocky gorge below. It may be accessed from the bottom, for those seeking to take a better photo, but there is no trail and the terrain is extremely rugged. Like with Laurel Falls below, the spray also tends to make photography challenging at spring water levels.
Falling Water Creek doesn’t drain a particularly large area, so the creek can flash quickly during periods of heavy rain and the water levels often recede just as quickly. The terrain at the edge of this very exposed cliff face is tilted, slippery and dangerous, so take extra care to watch your step.
Height: 80 feet
Driving Distance To Trailhead: 40 miles
The Laurel-Snow State Natural Area in Dayton,TN—part of the Cumberland Trail—is one of the most picturesque sections of trail at the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau near Chattanooga. Its unquestionable highlight is the towering Laurel Falls, at the end of a 2.4-mile spur trail with 900 feet of elevation gain along the way.
The trail begins by following the beautiful Richland Creek, then climbing up the hillside to cross Laurel Creek. The 50- foot steel bridge across Laurel Creek should be used during high water when the creek is unsafe to ford, especially when ferrying children or large dogs across.
Once across, the trail is especially rugged, weaving through and around large boulders alongside dozens of cascades along the creek. A trailside pool offers a great spot to take a break. Keep climbing, and at the top of the steepest part of the creek you’ll find Laurel Falls tumbling off the cliff above.
Fall Creek Falls
Height: 256 feet
Driving Distance to Trailhead: 72 miles
We’re not going to jump into describing the actual route to Fall Creek Falls in great detail. Why not? Well, it’s a state resort park, which means you’re not going to need a compass or an overnight bag to make your way from the parking lot to any of the waterfalls here.
That shouldn’t deter you, though. You may not end up with a tale of epic adventure to tell around the campfire, but you will get to see a 256-foot-high fall that moves an incredible amount of water in spring. It’s the highest free-falling waterfall in the eastern U.S., and directly adjacent to it is the only-slightly-shorter (though usually less impressive) Coon Creek Falls at 250 feet tall. Fall Creek Falls Lake ensures a steady, year-round flow for the park’s namesake.
In fact, there are several more waterfalls within the park that would qualify for this list on their own if we weren’t able to lump them together here: Piney Creek Falls (95 feet), Cane Creek Falls (85 feet), and Rockhouse Falls (125 feet). Bring your camera, visit after a big rainfall and you won’t be disappointed.
BONUS WATERFALL: Ruby Falls!
Now for an incredible underground waterfall. At Ruby Falls located on Lookout Mountain, you’ll get to take a guided expedition to discover the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States!
The tour includes taking a glass-front elevator 260 feet below ground, hearing tales of the cave’s accidental discovery, and exploring the cavern trail on the way to the waterfall, finding peculiar looking ancient geological formations created over thousands of years from dripping water and mineral deposits. The thundering 145-foot waterfall located 1,120 feet beneath the surface of Lookout Mountain is quite the splendor!
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