Burgess Falls: 3 For 1 Waterfall Special

Featured post provided by Chickery’s Travels.

We continued our tour of the Southeast with a visit to my family in Tennessee. After solemnly swearing not to discuss politics or religion, we enjoyed catching up on the activities of all the kids, cousins, and  extended family members. Then it was time to go exploring.

I wanted to go to Fall Creek Falls, but read on TripAdvisor that it was very crowded. Swimming is allowed at the bottom of the falls, so it is a hot spot in the summer. The reviewer said if you’re going for a hike, forget it. The trail is narrow and packed with people in flip flops toting toddlers. My dad recommended I go to Burgess Falls instead, and the saying is true, “Father Knows Best.” Well, at least in the particular circumstance. I’m not sure I’m willing to capitulate on every argument we’ve had just yet!

After a beautiful drive past corn fields, farm stands, and a restaurant with the best marketing hook ever, I arrived at Burgess Falls State Natural Area.


The park is situated around a steep gorge where the Falling Water River drops 250 feet in elevation in less than a mile, culminating in a 136-foot waterfall.

Did you know there are anywhere from 12 to 18 different types of waterfalls, depending on how specific you get in describing them?

The trail to the waterfalls is marked as strenuous, but I think that is only referring to the bottom of the waterfall. The actual ¾ mile hike to the big falls is pretty easy. There are quite a few steps built into the trail, so it wouldn’t work with a wheelchair or for those with problems climbing steps, but it has a strong railing on most of the hike.

The First Falls, 20’ cascades, is just a few hundred feet after starting the trail.

The trail is really neat with the gorge and river on the right, and the forest on the left.

About 1/2 mile down the path is the 80’ Middle Falls.

And then the main attraction: the 136’ Main Falls!

The picture really doesn’t do the main waterfall justice. It doesn’t look nearly as big as it did in person, and the limestone gorge it spills into is spectacular! The sheer walls are 100–200 feet high. From the Big Falls Overlook there are a few options for continuing the hike. The first is descending a fairly steep trail to the top or edge of the the main falls. You can actually walk out onto it, but this was the closest I dared because I was afraid I’d trip and fall over the edge!

From here there is a long, steep, caged stairway that leads to the bottom of the Falls, but sadly it is closed for repairs. After looking around, I walked back up the hill, marveled at those cliffs one last time, and struck up a conversation with a local couple. They told me about a new hiking area that just opened up called Window Cliffs, where you could actually get to the top of some of these cliffs.

Finally I took the gravel road towards the parking lot, but detoured to the short Ridgetop Trail (only .2 miles), which provides views down the main canyon of Falling Water River.

This ends up back at the gravel road and left me with a level half-mile walk back to the parking area.

On my way to the car, I took a stroll through their little butterfly garden, then I was off to my next destination, Window Cliffs!

Window Cliffs – I’m Not Afraid of Heights, But I am Afraid of Falling!

I heard about this awesome new hiking area when I was over at Burgess Falls, and rushed right over here!

There was only one other car in the parking lot, and I was little nervous when I saw the sign stating in red underlined and bold letters, “Difficult to Strenuous” hike with 18 water crossings plus steep ledges and high cliffs. Then it warned, “The terrain can be treacherous and hikers should be well equipped and experienced. Of course, I was neither. So I called Sean (who was working, as usual), and told him where I was in case I fell off a cliff and he had to call a search party for me. Then I headed off to give it a try.

The hike starts with a fairly steep, zig zag, wooded descent and I thought to myself, “this is really going to suck coming back.”

At the bottom, I encountered the first water crossing. Each water crossing was marked with a sign and had a cable to hang on to. At this point I was thinking, “Geez I hope I don’t fall in. I don’t have my waterproof iPhone case.” Since I already lost an iPhone this year due to my clumsiness, I was a little worried. I was also wearing my LL Bean hiking shoes and long pants, but I just rolled them up and went in and slogged along the rest of the hike with wet feet. It actually wasn’t bad and I made it without falling through all nine water crossings!

The trail alternates between wooded sections to open fields, but it well blazed throughout. I did pass a few people along the way, but overall it was very quiet and peaceful. In addition to the water crossings, along the way I passed a 20-foot waterfall and several cascades.

The last ½ mile had a decent incline, but I would rate this moderate, not strenuous. I mean, I’m really not in that great of shape and I was not huffing and puffing at all. Originally I thought if the hike was too difficult, maybe I could go part way just to get a look, then turn around early. WRONG. You have to go 2.5 miles to get to the overlook. And once you’ve gone that far, why turn back with only ¼ mile left to go?

So instead of stopping at the overlook, I headed straight for the cliffs. When you get near the end of the trail there is a sign that warns, “Climbing on the top of cliffs is very dangerous.” Then you hit the end and a sign with an even sterner warning, “Falling will cause injury or death.”

So I’m like ok, it doesn’t say I can’t climb on the top of the cliff. It just says not to fall. I’m pretty sure I can do that. So I did, and there I stood at the top of this unique geological feature 200 feet above a sharp oxbow bend of Cane Creek and it was beyond words! After taking photos (but forgetting a selfie), I sat and stayed a while to drink in the view. Ok, and to catch my breath.

I stopped at the overlook on my way back and could not believe the sight of the cliff from a distance. This is where you can really see where the cliffs got their name. According the website, “Window Cliffs is a prominent geological clifftop feature that consists of a very narrow, elongated ridge that lies in the neck of an incised meander of Cane Creek.” Basically that means that erosion has eaten away the cliffs so they look like natural bridges or “windows.”

Most of the hike back was a breeze and I got very good at the water crossings.  Then I hit the last part, remember the one that was a very steep downhill descent coming in? Yeah, my prediction was right—it sucked going up. Still, I’m so glad that I made this completely unplanned detour. It really was one of the best hikes I’ve ever done!