Burgess Falls

Burgess Falls State Park / Cookeville, Tennessee, USA

About Burgess Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2012-10-24
Date last visited: 2012-10-25

Waterfall Latitude: 36.04553
Waterfall Longitude: -85.59948

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Burgess Falls is actually a series of waterfalls on the Falling Water River.

It was a waterfall experience that impressed Julie and I so much that it once made our Top 10 Best USA Waterfalls List and easily made our Top 10 Best Southern Waterfalls List.

Burgess_Falls_087_20121025 - Burgess Falls
Burgess Falls

That said, the name generally refers to only the largest of the waterfalls, which has an unusual shape (almost reminiscent of a smaller version of Union Falls in Yellowstone National Park).

Julie and I saw four noticeable waterfalls in a short stretch of the river, which were immediately downstream from a dam that formed Lake Burgess.

Burgess Falls was said to be named after a Revolutionary War vet named Tom Burgess whose family ran a mill powered by the Falling Water River.

The Riverside Trail to Burgess Falls

There were two trails that led from the parking lot to the top of the last of the Burgess Falls.

Burgess_Falls_063_20121024 - The Cascades, which I'm considering to be the first of the Burgess Falls
The Cascades, which I’m considering to be the first of the Burgess Falls

The trail that hugged the river most of the way was about 3/4-mile each way (or 1.5 miles round trip), and we’ll begin the trail description using this approach.

According to a map sign at the trailhead, the very first waterfall was very close by, and it was called the Cascades.

The Cascades consisted of very tiny drops (possibly 10ft in height) spanning the width of the Falling Water River in an uneven fashion.

Barely 100ft downhill along the riverside trail, we got to the second waterfall, which was called First Falls as it was the first major waterfall we saw (if we didn’t count the Cascades).

Burgess_Falls_008_20121024 - The First Falls, which I'm considering to be the second of the Burgess Falls
The First Falls, which I’m considering to be the second of the Burgess Falls

The First Falls was said to drop some 30ft.

There were some concrete and metallic remnants behind the lookout for this waterfall, and I believe they were once part of a flume that was the penstock of an old hydroelectric scheme.

Roughly 0.3 miles further down the riverside trail from the First Falls, we reached a lookout platform for the third waterfall, which was called Middle Falls.

The viewing platform gave us top down views of the front of this 60ft cascade, which was very photogenic given its width and lacy appearance.

Burgess_Falls_020_20121024 - The Middle Falls, which I'm considering to be the third of the Burgess Falls
The Middle Falls, which I’m considering to be the third of the Burgess Falls

I don’t think there was a safe way to get down into the gorge and closer to the Middle Falls, but we felt the view from the platform was adequate anyways.

Finally, at about 0.75 miles from the trailhead, we reached the lookout platform for the last waterfall, which was called Big Falls.

However, I’ve also seen the name Burgess Falls refer to just this waterfall alone.

This 136ft waterfall was unusual in that it seemed to drop over a protruding wall giving the appearance that it had two waterfalls facing away from each other.

Burgess_Falls_026_20121024 - Afternoon look at the Big Falls, which was the last of the Burgess Falls
Afternoon look at the Big Falls, which was the last of the Burgess Falls

Although I’ve seen photos where the Falling River River had enough flow to cover the entire wall of Burgess Falls, there was much less water during our visit so it appeared to us as two separate waterfalls side by side.

Most of the water tended to fall over the south facing part of the drop, which also was the side most visible to us without having to wade in the river to improve the view.

While I’m sure the viewing experience from the overlook would be adequate for most people, we also took the steep trail that descended towards the base of the Big Falls.

A signpost stated that this trail was strenuous, but I’d argue that it only got dicey once we got towards the bottom of the descent past the covered stairs.

Burgess_Falls_089_20121025 - Julie descending the covered stairs alongside the drop of the Big Falls or Burgess Falls
Julie descending the covered stairs alongside the drop of the Big Falls or Burgess Falls

The reason was that mist from the Burgess Falls tended to moisten and muddy both the rocks and the trail itself.

Thus, the footing down there was precariously slippery and prone to injury with a misstep and tumble.

We definitely had to exercise some caution, and we even had to employ using our hands as well as the sit-and-scoot maneuver whenever we weren’t too sure about keeping our balance.

Finally, it was also possible to reach the top of the Big Falls just before the covered stairs.

Burgess_Falls_095_20121025 - Looking up at Burgess Falls from the plunge pool at its base
Looking up at Burgess Falls from the plunge pool at its base

However, there were no guardrails there so we also had to be very careful not to stray too close to the edge of the cliff.

The Shortcut Trail to Burgess Falls

The alternate trail was on what seemed to be an old road (now a maintenance road).

This path cut straight to the top of the last waterfall (i.e. Big Falls) bypassing all the other waterfalls en route.

I’d imagine this alternate trail would be a little quicker than the riverside trail only because there would be fewer stops.

Burgess_Falls_077_20121025 - Julie walking the road that is the direct and 'shortcut' route to the Big Falls, or the main Burgess Falls
Julie walking the road that is the direct and ‘shortcut’ route to the Big Falls, or the main Burgess Falls

It’s possible to make a loop out of this hike using both of these trails in either direction though we happened to do each trail in an out-and-back manner over our pair of visits.

Timing and Hours at Burgess Falls

During our visit in late October 2012, Burgess Falls State Park opened at 8am and closed half-hour before sunset (which was around 5:30pm).

I’d say the best time to take photos would be right around opening time since the waterfall would be completely in shadow.

We showed up at around 8:40am and the sun’s rays already started to pierce over the the uppermost tip of the Big Falls thereby blowing out long exposure photos.

Burgess_Falls_001_20121024 - Julie passing by a sign talking about the Burgess Falls Park hours situated right at the parking lot
Julie passing by a sign talking about the Burgess Falls Park hours situated right at the parking lot

Had we shown up any later, we would’ve been looking against the sun from the waterfall’s base.

Conversely, we also showed up in the late afternoon (around 4:15pm), but we were definitely in a rush to do our exploring before the ranger would close the gate.

I guess it was a good thing because it motivated us to make a second trip the following morning (which we just described above).

In the afternoon, the sun hit only one face of the falls while left the other face in shadow.

Perhaps the sun’s backlighting might have been more favorable in the early afternoon when both sides of the falls would be lit up while also producing faint rainbows.

Authorities

Burgess Falls resides in the Burgess Falls State Park near Cookeville, Tennessee. It is administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Burgess_Falls_002_20121024 - Julie descending the steps leading towards the three main waterfalls on the Falling Water River culminating in the Big Falls or Burgess Falls
Burgess_Falls_011_20121024 - Context of Julie on the riverside trail along the river's banks leading down to the main Burgess Falls
Burgess_Falls_013_20121024 - Approaching the lookout platform for the Middle Falls
Burgess_Falls_018_20121024 - Looking down at the attractively wide Middle Falls on the Falling Water River
Burgess_Falls_012_20121024 - Approaching the continuation of the riverside trail after having our fill of the Middle Falls
Burgess_Falls_024_20121024 - The riverside trail eventually joined up with the shortcut trail where continuing on at this point meant descending steeply to the Big Falls (which I'm also presuming could also be called just Burgess Falls)
Burgess_Falls_030_20121024 - Looking down at the impressive Big Falls or Burgess Falls in the afternoon
Burgess_Falls_032_20121024 - Another look at the impressive Big Falls or Burgess Falls in half-shadow from the late afternoon sun
Burgess_Falls_033_20121024 - An even more zoomed in look at the Burgess Falls in the late afternoon
Burgess_Falls_034_20121024 - Approaching the stairs to the base of the Big Falls or Burgess Falls
Burgess_Falls_035_20121024 - Looking towards the top of the Big Falls or Burgess Falls
Burgess_Falls_038_20121024 - These stairs had a little chain-linked fence canopy, which led down to the base of Big Falls or Burgess Falls
Burgess_Falls_045_20121024 - At the base of Burgess Falls. Notice how only one side of the falls was lit up by the afternoon sun while the other side was dark.
Burgess_Falls_054_20121024 - Late afternoon look at the Burgess Falls from its base in most shadow
Burgess_Falls_062_20121024 - After having our fill of the Burgess Falls, we then headed back up the way we came along the riverside trail
Burgess_Falls_065_20121024 - Before returning to the parking lot, I made sure to check out the Cascades, which I considered to be the first of the Burgess Falls on the Falling Water River
Burgess_Falls_076_20121025 - Julie on the alternate trail on the maintenance road the following morning as we pursued the Burgess Falls again
Burgess_Falls_078_20121025 - Julie about to descend right to the trail junction with the riverside trail somewhere near the top of the Big Falls or Burgess Falls
Burgess_Falls_081_20121025 - Back at the Burgess Falls the following morning with much better lighting
Burgess_Falls_085_20121025 - Nice broad view of the Burgess Falls in decent morning light surrounded by Autumn foliage colors
Burgess_Falls_090_20121025 - Julie on the trail to the bottom of Burgess Falls just beyond the stairs the following morning
Burgess_Falls_091_20121025 - Looking back towards Burgess Falls as we were still making our way down to its base
Burgess_Falls_093_20121025 - Julie on a precarious part of the trail where the rocks were wet and slippery. Photos definitely don't do this obstacle justice. It was very easy to take a nasty spill if not careful
Burgess_Falls_101_20121025 - Once again back at the base of Burgess Falls. Notice how the morning sun already started to wash out the top of the right side of the falls
Burgess_Falls_130_20121025 - Focused on just the left side of the Burgess Falls

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We stayed in Cookeville so we’ll describe the directions from there to Burgess Falls.

On the western end of Cookeville along the I-40, take the exit for Hwy 135 (there are signs indicating for you to take this exit).

Head south on the Hwy 135 for about 8.3 miles (veer left at a fork in about 4.7 miles from the freeway).

Burgess_Falls_075_20121025 - Looking across part of the Burgess Falls parking lot towards a child-friendly playground
Looking across part of the Burgess Falls parking lot towards a child-friendly playground

Just as you cross the bridge over the Falling Water River, the turnoff for Burgess Falls State Park is on the right.

Follow this spur road another 0.3 miles to the large parking lot at its end.

To give you some geographical context, Cookeville was 81 miles (90 minutes drive) east of Nashville, 102 miles (over 90 minutes drive) west of Knoxville, and 99 miles (2 hours drive) north of Chattanooga.

Bottom up sweep of the First Falls


Fixated on the Middle Falls


Left to right sweep across the Middle Falls


Right to left sweep following the waterfall over the top of the Big Falls


Left to right sweep across the base of the falls ending with the lit up right side of the falls with faint rainbow


Fixated on the big falls from its base with faint rainbow in between the main sections


Left to right sweep starting with the sheltered stairs to the base then ending with a profile view of the Big Falls


Left to right sweep of some small cascades near the car park


Backwards C-sweep from top down starting with colorful cliffs then panning down across the Big Falls before following the stream downstream (seen the following morning)


Top down sweep of the Big Falls from its base first panning down across the larger of the two segments then panning up across the smaller of the two segments


Backwards L-shaped top down sweep of the Big Falls before panning downstream as seen from the trail to its base


Just fixated on a trailside view of the Big Falls in the morning


Zoomed in on leaves falling like snowflakes before zooming out and panning right to show the Big Falls

Tagged with: cookeville, putnam county, tennessee, waterfall, falling water river, big falls, middle falls, cascades, first falls, state park, tom burgess



Visitor Comments:

Burgess Falls August 7, 2011 2:21 pm by Cindy - This photo is from a negative that's at least 45 years old. I ran across it in my parents' house. I think it may have been taken in Mexico in 1963, but I'm not sure, and I've looked at images of waterfalls there and not seen anything like this. I'd appreciate any information about it.… ...Read More

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