Tennessee State Parks That Rock Our World

Cummins Falls State Park

BEST PLACES TO LIVE IN THE SOUTH

Baby Boomers looking for an adventurous and fulfilling retirement should consider relocating to Tennessee and here's a few good reasons why. The Tennessee national parks are some of the best in the country and provide lots of outdoor activities to keep seniors and their families active while enjoying the majestic and preserved region.  Here folks will find waterfalls, gorges, bubbling streams, forests filled with virgin hardwood timber and rustic mountain homes to enjoy the incredible scenery found in the state of Tennessee.  Nature lovers will be able to explore some of the finest landscaping while improving their health and well-being associated with living in the great outdoors.  This is the perfect place to retire and take advantage of the amazing state parks Tennessee offers its visitors and residents.  

Whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, cave exploration, horseback riding, zip lining or simply a casual walk through this great terrain, folks will be able to  refresh the soul and strengthen the heart while enjoying the Tennessee parks found throughout the state.  Here are three of the most popular State Parks that provide not only natural beauty but lots of activities as well:

Fall Creek State Park in Pikeville Tennessee is the largest and most visited state park in Tennessee sprawling over more than 26,000 acres across the eastern top of the infamous Cumberland Plateau.  Fall Creek Falls is the highest waterfall in the eastern United States at 256 feet and is a huge attraction when visiting this park.  There are other waterfalls found here as well; Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls and Cane Creek Cascades are also points of interest.  Folks can also enjoy the many environmentally friendly activities offered at The Nature Center at Fall Creek Falls where programs include arts and crafts, movies, campfires, and live musical entertainment.  There is even an overnight field trip for school group environmental education.

In addition to The Nature Center, the park also has 4 playgrounds, horse stables with trail rides, 5 picnic pavilions and an Olympic-sized pool open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  (The pool is closed for the 2015 season due to renovations.)  There are a multitude of options available for those who want to stay at the park.  There are 145 hotel rooms at the Fall Creek State Park Inn located within the park along with a restaurant and meeting space.  Additionally, rustic lodgers have a choice of 30 cabins (equipped for 8 to 10 people) and 222 campsites in the park.  Campers with a permit can enjoy backcountry camping along with long distance overnight trails for adventurists.  With over 34 miles of trails, hikers have the option of walks around the lake or to the base of Fall Creek Falls for some awesome exercise.  For avid golfers, Fall Creek Falls Golf Course offers a picturesque and challenging 18-hole course which is considered one of the best golf courses in Tennessee.  The park also offers the following:

Boating – Aluminum fishing boats are available for rent year round but boaters must bring their own trolling motor and battery (no privately owned boats or gas motors are allowed).  Paddleboats and canoes are also available for rent.  Pontoon boat rides may be arranged with the staff at The Nature Center.

Zip lining is provided by ZIPStream Fall Creek Falls and is operated independently.  This 2.5 hour ride will challenge all with a 70+ aerial experience testing agility using ladders, wobbly bridges, rope swings, cargo nets, balance beams and zip lines and ranges from easy to extreme.  ZIPStream provides all the necessary gear which is included in the price along with thorough instruction at their Ground School.  

Golf is available at the Fall Creek Falls Golf Course and this 18-hole course was designed by Joe Lee and is carved out of the dense forest found at the Cumberland Plateau.  The course opened in 1972 and was restored in 1998.

Horseback Riding is located within the park at The Fall Creek Falls Stables where equestrians can enjoy a two mile 45 minute guided trail ride through this breathtaking terrain.  The ride is scheduled hourly and costs $25 per person, cash only.  The stables are open daily mid-March through October 31 from 9am to 6pm.

Hiking is very popular and the 35 miles of trails found here range from easy to difficult.  Hiking is a great way to explore the park, have a picnic with friends or family and get some beneficial exercise while doing it. Hiking trails include:

  • Woodlands Trail (.8 mile) - Major trail leading from the Nature Center to Fall Creek Falls Overlook.
  • Campground Trail (.2 mile) - Connecting trail to the Woodlands Trail.
  • Gorge Overlook Trail (1.1 mile) - Trail passes overlooks of Cane Creek Falls and Fall Creek Falls
  • Turkey Pen Ridge Trail (.4 mile) - Connector trail to the Village Area and links to several trails.
  • Base of Fall Creek Falls Trail (.4 mile) - Steep trail to the bottom of the falls.
  • Piney Falls Trail - (1.85 mile) Easy trail through the center of the Scenic Loop.
  • Milliken's Trail (.4 mile) - A side trail off the Piney Falls Trail.
  • Paw Paw Trail (2.6 mile) - Loop trail with great views of the Cane Creek Gorge.
  • Cable Trail (.25 mile) - Steep trail to the base of Cane Creek Falls.
  • Gilbert Gaul Loop (4.45 mile) - Trailhead for Inn or Cabin Visitors.
  • Dam to Fall Creek Falls Overlook (.8 mile) - Paved path through a forest to the overlook.
  • Dam to the Cul-de-Sac and Woodland Trail (.65 mile) - Paved path through the forest.

Fishing is allowed on the 345 acre Fall Creek Lake and provides anglers a chance to catch Largemouth Bass, Channel Catfish and Bluegill either from the bank or by boat.  Fishing is best in the spring and fall seasons.

Bird watching is another favorite pastime and is best viewed from Millikan’s Overlook where buzzard hawks mingle with Turkey Vultures and bluff top breeds include Blue-headed Vireos, Black-throated Green Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers and other song birds.  The Lake Trail has Barn Swallows, Wood Ducks, heron and loons in the winter.

Bikers can enjoy several biking trails which are considered moderate due to the sometimes rugged terrain.  The park offers 3 trails ranging from 13.5 mile single track to an eight mile out and back trail at the Piney Mountain Bike Trail.

Be sure to check out the Fall Creek Falls Park many events scheduled throughout the year for visitors and residents.  For Boomers considering a visit to Tennessee national parks or near Tennessee retirement communities, the fall is a great time to enjoy the change of season.

Another fabulous state park Cumberland Caverns is located in McMinnville, Tennessee and has the largest caves in America.  This historic national landmark has more than 32 miles of exploration and was discovered by Aaron Higgenbotham in 1810 who allegedly was trapped for 3 days during which time his hair turned white according to historical accounts.  During the exploration of the cave, Higgenbotham did not journey very far underground and shortly after the close of the Civil War, a huge 60 ft. wide, 10 ft. high and 2000 foot long cavern was discovered and became known as the “Ten Acre Room”.  The Henshaw Cave was part of the original caving system and was used during the war of 1812 to manufacture gunpowder using the elements found in the soil.  In 1945, The National Speleological Society began exploration of the Higgenbotham Cave and in 1950 a new entrance was discovered only 240 feet from the original entry point.  The “Onyx Curtain Entrance” is a tight hole where entry is accomplished by crawling through a tight hole created in the flowstone found there.  With a man-made enlargement of the cave system both caves can be accessed including the infamous “Ten Acre Room”.  In 1955 the name was changed to the Cumberland Caverns as it exists today. 

Annually, thousands of visitors come to explore the caves and admire the 32 miles of caves, underground passages, sub-terrain rock formations, underground waterfalls and pools found here.  The Cumberland Caverns offers the following activities:

Daily Walking Tours are offered 7 days a week, year round from 9am – 5pm.  The walking tour is rated “moderate” and is 1.5 hours in duration.  There is no age restriction and children 5 and under are FREE.  No advance notice is required.  

Daytime Caving Adventures are also available yet require a minimum of 10 people per group.  This tour also must be booked at least 10 days in advance.  This tour showcases some of the most exotic and scenic rock formations and unusual sites in the caverns.  The tour is 1.5 miles and visits the 1812 saltpeter mine, a picturesque waterfall and shimmering pools. This is a superb outing for students, families and friends.

Caveman Campouts feature overnight camping and caving adventures.  Camping is allowed both inside and outside of the cave year-round and this outing provides an incredible exploration of the historical aspects associated with Cumberland Caverns.  This tour also must be booked at least 10 days in advance and requires a minimum of 10 people per group.  This primitive adventure is fun for “cave dwellers” of all ages!

Caving & Kayaking is also available through an association with Smooth Rapids who provide the services and kayaks at Cumberland.

Bluegrass Underground has made Cumberland Caverns famous.  Some incredible concerts from America’s top bands and artists who perform LIVE on stage at “Bluegrass Underground” which is located 333 feet underground.  The monthly concerts are recorded live in the Volcano Room and aired on PBS on their award-winning series.  It has also been featured on NBC.  An all-in-one combo pass includes the Daily Walking Tour in addition to the concert ticket.  The tour ends at the Volcano Room where music lovers can enjoy the performance.

Cummins Falls State Park is yet another place for Boomers relocating to Tennessee to visit.  This 211 acre Tennessee national park is located 9 miles north of Cookeville on the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River in the Cordell Hull Watershed.  This park has drawn tourists for years and local residents from Jackson and Putnam counties have used this scenic destination as a “swimming hole” for over 100 years.  Swimming is also a great way to get out and enjoy the scenery and get a workout for active Boomers and their families. Cummins Falls is Tennessee’s 8th largest waterfall in volume and is a great photo opportunity at 75 feet high. 

Cummins Falls has quite a rich history and at one time Indians used the grounds to hunt buffalo that meandered in the river’s shallow points.  In the 1790’s a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Sergeant Blackburn was given the land in lieu of a pension thus the name the “Blackburn Fork State Scenic River” was adopted. In 1825 a man named John Cummins acquired the land and built two mills for commerce while locals would visit the area for recreation.  In 1928, the mills were washed away yet the Cummins family retained ownership of the land.  Through the efforts of private and public donations the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation resold the land to the state of Tennessee.

The Gorge is a portion of the park that is completely natural and unaltered by civilization as is majority of Cummins Falls State Park.  The rugged terrain is quite beautiful yet access to the gorge and waterfall is only attainable by foot.  There are basically 2 routes that enter the gorge area of the park one is 1 mile while the other is 1.5 miles.  The uneven surfaces and steep terrain has some significant elevation drops so proper footwear is encouraged.  The trails embody water crossings, boulders and other obstacles of nature and the rocks at the waterfall are slippery so sturdy shoes like hiking boots are encouraged.  Also, be advised that sudden and heavy rain can lead to flash floods and streams can be a hazard during strong periods of rainfall.  Safety first is encouraged and planning around inclement weather is advised.  For less adventurous visitors, there is an overlook nearby the main parking area that can be accessed by foot and ADA access is available by request.  The main parking area has restrooms, trailheads and a designated picnic area for celebrating the event with friends and family.

Here are a few pointers to guide folks on their visit to Cummins Falls State Park:

Since the hike to the gorge is rugged it is not suitable for small children. USCG approved life jackets are advised if you plan to get in the water below the falls.  The park has some life jackets but swimmers are encouraged to bring their own. It is best to limit belongings if going to the Falls bring only items that will fit in a small back pack. Always keep your hands free. Wear sturdy shoes. Flip flops are not recommended. We found the hike challenging but well worth it. 

Like the other parks featured, Cummins Falls State Park also has lots of FREE outdoor activities for visitors and residents of Tennessee retirement communities:

Picnicking is popular here and the picnic area is located across the road from the parking lot.  Several tables are located around the old Cummins Family home site.  The area is quite primitive with uneven grounds.  There are no grills or trash cans so visitors are encouraged to clean up after dining.

Fishing is allowed along this section of the Blackburn Fork Scenic River,  while too shallow for boating wade and bank fishing is popular for anglers seeking bass and Bluegill.

Hiking routes to the gorge and the base of the waterfall are rugged.  With varied trail surfaces, hikers are advised to be extremely cautious when traveling over the rocky riverbed, water crossings, and slippery boulders found here.  Due to this fact, small children should not attempt hike the trails.  Here are the trails found here:  

  • Waterfall Overlook Trail — 0.4 Miles — Natural Surface — Moderate
  • Shortcut to Downstream — 1.0 Miles — Natural Surface — Moderate
  • Downstream Trail — 1.5 Miles — Natural Surface — Difficult
  • Upstream Trail — 0.5 Miles — Natural Surface — Moderate

Active retirees and their families are packing up and relocating to Tennessee to search for rustic mountain homes and enjoy the activities and serene settings provided by the Tennessee national parks.  Make this season spectacular with a visit to the great state of Tennessee.

If you are considering relocating to Tennessee, ask us to send relocation information for Cookeville, Tellico Lake and more. 

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