About Cummins Falls
Cummins Falls was one of those waterfalls where there were two ways to experience the falls – a fairly quick and easy look-but-don’t-touch way or a much more difficult up-close-and-personal way.
Naturally, we first tried the easiest way to see the falls, which involved hiking on a well-defined path towards an overlook. The path undulated a little before crossing what seemed to be an old road then ending at the overlook where wooden railings were set up to keep us away from the cliff edges. It 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 falls. The rest of the overlook area didn’t yield as good a view as at the very end of the railings. 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 when there were plenty of other people around waiting their turn.
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.
I understand that the falls had a cumulative height of 75ft. Of that, the upper section dropped 50ft while the remainder of the falls dropped into a deeper plunge pool said to be 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.
We saw a couple of guys down below scrambling around the waterfall, which 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 downhill towards the Blackburn Fork. Then, we were supposed to do a boulder scramble and stream wade upstream towards the base of the 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 and that we just didn’t feel like doing it when we had Burgess Falls to do next.
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. I had read that this waterfall was nearly lost to a developer wanting to purchase the area from the Cummins family (owners since 1825) and build 80 homes around the falls. The Global Financial Crisis ultimately caused the development project to be abandoned, and a concerted effort by the local community to purchase the land eventually paved the way for the falls to be preserved as part of a newly-created state park in 2011.
We stayed in Cookeville so we’ll describe the directions from there.
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).
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 car park, 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 car park.
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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