Burgess Falls State Park, located on the Falling Water River is noted for its natural beauty and four waterfalls that cascade down from over 250 feet in elevation. The last of these falls is the most spectacular, plunging more than 130 feet into the gorge. The area was originally populated by Native Americans of the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw tribes. These tribes used the land as a hunting ground until the late 19th century when a gristmill and sawmill began operating on the river. The Falling Water River was used to generate hydroelectric power for the city of Cookeville from 1928-1944. In 1973, the territory became a designated Tennessee State Natural Area, protecting the diverse forest and aquatic habitats.
The park offers several activities for family and friends to enjoy year-round. Fishing is popular below the dam and the main waterfall along the bank and at the fishing pier. There are no public boat ramps or canoe/kayak access areas in the park. A large covered pavilion equipped with grills and tables can be reserved for large groups and has a scenic view of the river. Additional picnic areas, most with grills, are conveniently located to restrooms and a playground is nearby. None of the picnic tables are equipped with water spigots and all are available on a first come, first serve basis.
The 1.5-mile round-trip River Trail/Service Road Loop is a moderately strenuous hike taking visitors past the waterfalls and into the gorge. The waterfalls are 20’ cascades, 30’ upper falls, 80’ middle falls, and 136’ lower falls in height. A steep trail leads to the edge of the falls, and a rustic stairway leads into the gorge. This is not an easy hike; the trail from the main overlook to the bottom of the main falls is very strenuous. Most people prefer to hike back to the parking lot along the service road. The half-mile Ridge Top Trail is very scenic with views down the main canyon of Falling Water River. All trails are foot trails.
While the park is popular for its waterfalls, wildlife and wildflower viewing, the Native Butterfly Garden, adjacent to the upper parking area, is easily accessed and provides striking native wildflower displays. The annual Butterfly Garden Celebration is a family-friendly event featuring staff led educational programs, hikes, butterfly identification, creek studies, landscaping with native plants and more hosted each summer.
During the summer, Burgess Falls offers Junior Ranger Camps to local youth. Each week-long camp is geared toward specific age groups and led by park rangers. The camps are a fun, hands-on way for kids to learn environmental education and experience the park’s many natural resources.