Upper Piney Falls

Cumberland Trail State Park, Tennessee, USA

About Upper Piney Falls

Hiking Distance: 3-4 miles round trip (both falls)
Suggested Time: 90 minutes (both falls)

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

Waterfall Latitude: 35.73105
Waterfall Longitude: -84.86353

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Upper Piney Falls was a pretty 80ft waterfall that we got to walk behind.

In an effort to avoid confusion, we’re sticking with designating the main waterfalls on this page as the Upper and Lower Piney Falls (yes there’s a second waterfall here).

Piney_Waterfalls_020_20121024 - Upper Piney Falls
Upper Piney Falls

That’s because there happened to be another Piney Falls in Falls Creek Falls State Park further to the west near Spencer.

There seemed to be a bit of confusion regarding how dangerous visiting the Upper Piney Falls was.

After our experience, it seemed that those claims were either exaggerated or they were describing the conditions prior to improvements (especially regarding the signage) that we may have benefitted from.

Hiking to the Upper Piney Falls

From the small parking lot and trailhead (see directions below), we followed a wide trail that made a curve around what appeared to be a sign board except there was no sign on it.

Piney_Waterfalls_007_20121024 - Julie walking in a tranquil forested area under gorgeous Autumn colors on the way to Upper Piney Falls
Julie walking in a tranquil forested area under gorgeous Autumn colors on the way to Upper Piney Falls

Instead, there were etchings (graffiti, if you will) on the wooden foundation with conflicting claims of how dangerous the descent to the base of the Upper Piney Falls was.

While such messages planted seeds of doubt about whether we could visit the Upper Piney Falls or not, we proceeded nonetheless.

This part of the hike was pretty straightforward as it meandered on what appeared to be an old unpaved road beneath tall trees (said to be old growth) with plenty of Fall colors to boot.

Along the way, we passed by what appeared to be a small wire rope barricade though we weren’t sure what it was for.

Piney_Waterfalls_008_20121024 - Following the arrows taking us to the bottom of the Upper Piney Falls
Following the arrows taking us to the bottom of the Upper Piney Falls

Eventually, we reached a junction where clearly-marked signboards on trees pointed the way to either the base of Upper Falls (left) or the top of Upper Falls (right).

Since we weren’t interested in going to the top of the falls, we went left.

At this point, the trail got a bit narrower with one short steep part that I’m sure would be easy to miss on the return if not for the trail markings.

Eventually, we’d reach another junction where going left descended steeply for the Lower Piney Falls (which we came back for later) and going right continued to the base of Upper Piney Falls.

Piney_Waterfalls_041_20121024 - Examining the cliff walls where there was a faint resemblance to basalt nearby the Upper Piney Falls
Examining the cliff walls where there was a faint resemblance to basalt nearby the Upper Piney Falls

At this point, the trail started to hug the escarpment responsible for the plunge of Little Piney Creek over the Upper Piney Falls.

We happened to chance upon a dead deer by the trail during our hike, which we suspected were due to illegal hunting (as signs indicated this place prohibited such acts).

Eventually after roughly 1.5 or 2 miles (just a guess), the trail reached the Upper Piney Falls and even continued behind the falls as well as a little beyond it for a different angled view.

Unfortunately, the late morning sun was against us from that different angled view, which made photography from there a bit difficult.

Piney_Waterfalls_037_20121024 - Looking back at the Upper Piney Falls from the other side of its creek
Looking back at the Upper Piney Falls from the other side of its creek

However, we did notice that the cliff wall adjacent to the trail here exhibited what appeared to be faintly discernable basalt formations (not sure if it is indeed basalt or not though).

Whatever the case may be, it clued us in that this cliff was probably volcanic in origin, and this layer of hard rock was why the creek plunged the way it did.

This cliff also dripped water attesting to the amount of upstream moisture that spread from the creek and into the soil and vegetation.

The detour to Lower Piney Falls

Returning back to the junction with Lower Piney Falls, I made a very steep descent (might be even trickier if the ground was muddy and wet) towards a top down view of the smaller 40ft waterfall itself.

Piney_Waterfalls_062_20121024 - Lower Piney Falls
Lower Piney Falls

I don’t think there was a safe way to get to the bottom of this one and I didn’t feel like trying.

Plus, the sun was totally against me while most of the falls was in shadow so I didn’t linger here too long given the subpar photo results.

Finally, just to give you an idea of the time commitment, we spent about 90 minutes to do all the hiking and photo taking for both waterfalls.


Upper Piney Falls resides in Cumberland Trail State Park near Spring City in Rhea 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.

Piney_Waterfalls_002_20121024 - A small sign confirming we were at the right place to pursue the Piney Waterfalls
Piney_Waterfalls_003_20121024 - Julie hiking amidst some gorgeous Fall colors at the start of the trail to the Piney Waterfalls
Piney_Waterfalls_005_20121024 - Blank signboard containing lots of etchings or graffiti that we passed by on the way to Upper Piney Falls
Piney_Waterfalls_066_20121024 - We weren't sure what this barricade was for, which we encountered on the way to the Piney Waterfalls
Piney_Waterfalls_009_20121024 - This particular arrowed sign would have taken us to the top of Upper Piney Falls, but we opted not to do this
Piney_Waterfalls_010_20121024 - Julie passes by some overhanging parts of the cliff en route to the Upper Piney Falls
Piney_Waterfalls_011_20121024 - A fairly steep part of the trail where the red markings helped us out a lot in terms of navigating in both directions to and from the Upper Piney Falls
Piney_Waterfalls_012_20121024 - Julie encountering the signed trail junction for Lower Piney Falls
Piney_Waterfalls_013_20121024 - The trail continually hugged cliff walls at this point as we made our way down to the bottom of Upper Piney Falls
Piney_Waterfalls_053_20121024 - We saw this dead deer by the trail on the way to Upper Piney Falls
Piney_Waterfalls_025_20121024 - Looking out from behind the Upper Piney Falls inside its deep recess
Piney_Waterfalls_032_20121024 - Almost on the other side of the Upper Piney Falls looking up at the profile of its freefall
Piney_Waterfalls_039_20121024 - On the other side of Upper Piney Falls examining the basalt-like cliffs that gave rise to the waterfall in the first place
Piney_Waterfalls_043_20121024 - Another look from behind Upper Piney Falls up towards its brink and the surrounding trees
Piney_Waterfalls_054_20121024 - Looking down at the steep descent to the top of Lower Piney Falls after returning to the signed junction where this spur trail deviated from the Upper Piney Falls Trail
Piney_Waterfalls_055_20121024 - Almost at the top of the Lower Piney Falls as I was still upstream from the waterfall itself
Piney_Waterfalls_058_20121024 - Looking down over the top of the Lower Piney Falls

Since we drove to Upper Piney Falls from Ozone Falls, we’ll describe the route going from there.

Perhaps Ozone Falls visitors in the mood for another adventure might also do as we did (at least that’s my thinking).

Anyways, for directions to Ozone Falls, see the directions on that page.

Logistically speaking, Ozone Falls was 48 miles (under an hour drive) east of Cookeville and 57 miles (about an hour drive) west of Knoxville.

Piney_Waterfalls_001_20121024 - The trailhead parking alongside the unpaved Firetower Road for the Piney Waterfalls trailhead
The trailhead parking alongside the unpaved Firetower Road for the Piney Waterfalls trailhead

Leaving Ozone Falls, we drove about 5.5 miles west on Hwy 70 before turning left onto the rural (but paved) Cox Valley Rd.

Continuing another 3.4 miles on Cox Valley Rd, we eventually connected with Hwy 68.

Turning left onto Hwy 68, we then drove another 11.7 miles into the unincorporated town of Grandview.

While in town, we turned right onto Firetower Rd (though Emergency Rd just before it also connected to Firetower Rd and was less rougher) and followed this unpaved road for about 1.6 miles.

The limited parking area and trailhead was on the right.

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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L-shaped bottom up sweep of the Upper Piney Falls' profile

Left to right sweep from behind the Upper Piney Falls with a bottom up sweep of the falls itself

Top down sweep panning up at the overhanging cliffs before doing a top down sweep of the falls then panning to the right at the plunge pool

Left to right backwards gamma sweep of the profile of the falls from the opposite side of the alcove

Backwards J-shaped sweep following the falls from almost behind it

Left to right sweep looking down at the Lower Piney Falls

Right to left sweep looking down at Lower Piney Falls in its shadowy gorge

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Tagged with: cumberland, mountain, state park, rhea county, knoxville, tennessee, waterfall, jungle book, mcnair falls, ozone

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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.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.