Cummins Falls

Cummins Falls State Park / Cookeville, Tennessee, USA

About Cummins Falls

Hiking Distance: 1 mile round trip (to overlook only)
Suggested Time: 1 hour

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

Waterfall Latitude: 36.24943
Waterfall Longitude: -85.57154

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Cummins Falls was considered to be one of Tennesse’s most prestigious swimming holes.

I understand that the falls had a cumulative height of 75ft.

Cummins_Falls_025_20121024 - Cummins Falls
Cummins Falls

Of that, the upper section dropped 50ft while the remainder of the falls dropped into a deeper plunge pool, and that’s the pool that was called one of the best swimming holes in the country (at least according to Travel and Leisure Magazine).

I’ve also seen in the literature claiming that Cummins Falls was the 8th largest waterfall by volume in the state of Tennessee.

Given all the superlatives thrown at this waterfall, I have to say that this completely depends on how you choose to experience it.

Indeed, there were two ways to experience Cummins Falls – a fairly quick and easy look-but-don’t-touch way or a much more difficult up-close-and-personal way.

Experiencing Cummins Falls the Easy Way

Naturally, we first tried the easiest way to see the falls, which involved hiking on a well-defined path towards an overlook.

Cummins_Falls_006_20121024 - Julie on the trail following the pink ribbons leading to the overlook of Cummins Falls
Julie on the trail following the pink ribbons leading to the overlook of Cummins Falls

The path undulated a little before crossing what seemed to be an old road.

It ultimately ended at the overlook where wooden railings were set up to keep us away from the cliff edges.

Overall, this hike was probably about a mile or less round trip (though it did feel longer than that).

At the overlook, there was really only room for one maybe two people to get the real good views of the Cummins Falls.

The rest of the overlook area didn’t yield as good a view as at the very end of the railings.

Photographing Cummins Falls

Cummins_Falls_018_20121024 - Dark shadows and bright afternoon sun conspired to make Cummins Falls very difficult to photograph at that time of day
Dark shadows and bright afternoon sun conspired to make Cummins Falls very difficult to photograph at that time of day

I managed to use the railings as the pseudo tripod because I’m sure it wouldn’t be considerate to hijack the best spot of the overlook to set up and take many shots from a tripod (especially if people are waiting for you to finish).

During our early afternoon visit, the harsh sun cast dark shadows juxtaposed against brightly lit areas.

It just so happened that the falls was in shadow while the surrounding cliffside and accompanying foliage were bright.

As a result, our photos were very subpar.

Maybe we should’ve come here around mid-morning when the whole gorge might be lit up or very early in the morning when the entire scene would be shadowy.

Accessing the bottom of Cummins Falls

Cummins_Falls_021_20121024 - Signs pointing the way to the Downstream Trail to the bottom of Cummins Falls
Signs pointing the way to the Downstream Trail to the bottom of Cummins Falls

We saw a couple of guys down below us scrambling around the Cummins Falls, and that made us wonder how feasible it would be to get down there.

The signage indicated that we were supposed to take the Downstream Trail, which descended gradually towards the Blackburn Fork.

Then, we were supposed to do a boulder scramble and stream wade upstream towards the base of the Cummins Falls.

It was said to be about a two-mile or so detour (each way, I believe) to do this, but we didn’t end up doing it given how late in the afternoon it was getting.

Besides, we just didn’t feel like doing it when we still had Burgess Falls to do next.

Cummins_Falls_023_20121024 - Looking down at a very dicey shortcut leading down to the gorge in pursuit of the bottom of Cummins Falls
Looking down at a very dicey shortcut leading down to the gorge in pursuit of the bottom of Cummins Falls

I also looked to see if there was a shorter way to get to the base of the falls, and I happened to see an extremely steep and exposed path with mini-flags marking the way.

After investigating this descent, I decided it was too dangerous as the steepest part looked like it could use a rope (which wasn’t there) for the somewhat technical descent and climb.

This descent was dicey enough for me to wonder if some people have died here trying this shortcut.

Julie and I spent about an hour at the Cummins Falls, including the hiking and picture taking (but not the attempt to go to the bottom).

Nearly Losing Cummins Falls

I had read that Cummins Falls was nearly lost to a developer wanting to purchase the area from the Cummins family (owners since 1825).

The developer wanted to build 80 homes around the falls, which for sure would impact the experience and quite possibly remove access altogether.

However, the Global Financial Crisis ultimately caused the development project to be abandoned as real estate speculation took a real hit during the event.

A concerted effort by the local community to purchase the land eventually paved the way for the Cummins Falls to be preserved as part of a newly-created state park in 2011.


Cummins Falls resides in the Cummins Falls State Park near Cookeville in Jackson County, 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.

Cummins_Falls_005_20121024 - Bare signboard at the parking lot indicating it's still a work in progress during our October 2012 visit
Cummins_Falls_008_20121024 - Crossing a large open area, which I believe was an old road en route to the Cummins Falls overlook
Cummins_Falls_011_20121024 - Our first look at the Cummins Falls from the overlook in harsh lighting conditions of the late afternoon
Cummins_Falls_014_20121024 - Another look down at the Cummins Falls with a couple of guys scrambling closer to the ottom of the waterfall
Cummins_Falls_020_20121024 - The best spot to view the Cummins Falls from the overlook area

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

The fastest way is achieved by heading west on the I-40 from Cookeville, then exiting onto Hwy 56 (about 7 miles west of the Hwy 136/I-40 ramp).

Turning right onto the Hwy 56, continue on this road for about 7.5 miles towards a junction with Hwy 290 on the right.

Turning right onto Hwy 290, drive a little less than a mile before turning left onto Cummins Mill Rd.

After a little less than 3 miles on Cummins Mill Rd turn left onto Blackburn Fork Rd (I recalled there was a sign indicating we should turn left here).

Cummins_Falls_026_20121024 - The unpaved parking lot for Cummins Falls on the former Cummins Property
The unpaved parking lot for Cummins Falls on the former Cummins Property

After about 0.2 miles on Blackburn Fork Rd, turn left into another road leading into what looked like a ranch (the former Cummins property).

This spur road eventually leads to a very large unpaved parking lot, which is for Cummins Falls State Park.

Overall, this 10-mile drive was said to take under 30 minutes.

We also managed to get to Cummins Falls State Park from within Cookeville itself though we had to contend with traffic.

But going this route, we took the Route 135 north to Hwy 290.

Then we drove about 7.5 miles to the Cummins Mill Rd on the right.

Then, we continued as described above to get to the large unpaved trailhead parking lot.

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.

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Tagged with: cookeville, jackson county, tennessee, waterfall, downstream trail, blackburn fork, swim, swimming, dangerous shortcut

Visitor Comments:

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Nice waterfall (Cummins Falls) June 9, 2014 6:46 am by Bill Porter - Went there many years ago and had to get there from the road using a rope people put there to access the swimming area. The area became a State Park in 2013. ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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