2.5 hours or less drive from Knoxville
For those of us who are more than ready to get out of the house, go for a drive, and see that spring has indeed sprung, we have found twelve “road side” (or close to it!) waterfalls in our area that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family. Having been cooped up has been a challenge mentally and physically. We didn’t want to create any additional challenges in your life so the majority of these waterfalls are less than a mile walk – some are at the end of the parking lot! Think of these as being more of a road side stop than a “hike” and get out there to explore our beautiful mountains in the one of the prettiest times of the year.
So gas up the car, pack a snack or lunch, take plenty of water, some sturdy shoes, and maybe even the dog (check waterfall websites for guidelines) and head out!
1. Burgess Falls
Sparta, TN – 1.75 hours from Knoxville
Located on the Falling Water River, this day-use park is noted for its natural beauty and four waterfalls that cascade down from over 250 feet in elevation. Burgess Falls is the last of these falls and the most spectacular, plunging more than 130 feet into the gorge. The falls can be seen from the overlook adjacent to the parking lot. There is also a 1.6 mile hike that goes along the edge between the parking area and the gorge that can be taken all the way down to the river. Because it is so accessible and has many picnic areas, Burgess Falls State Park can get very crowded on weekends and holidays. Photos cannot capture the size and the incredible amounts of rushing water that cascade over the edge of this very impressive waterfall!
2. Twin Falls
Rock Island, TN – 2 hours from Knoxville
These falls are the centerpiece of Rock Island State Park and can basically be seen at the end of the parking area. Although this view is pretty great, there is a wide, level trail that travels downstream so a front and center view of the falls is possible. Twin Falls is actually an “accidental” man-made waterfall that was created when the damn was put in.
3. Lost Creek Falls
Sparta, TN – 2 hours from Knoxville
Lost Creek State Natural Area is at the very northern end of Fall Creek Falls State Park, the falls are an easy quarter mile “hike” from the parking lot. The falls drop over 40 feet, and then disappears underground. There is a large cave behind the waterfall that is periodically closed for bat habitat protection. Disney filmed parts of their live action “Jungle Book” movie here in this very scenic spot!
4. Fall Creek & Cane Creek Falls
Pikeville, TN – 1.75 hours from Knoxville
Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of the most visited parks in Tennessee with Fall Creek Falls claiming the highest water plunge east of the Mississippi at 256 feet. Look for the suspension bridge that leads to Overlook Loop Trail then visit the Cane Creek Falls & Cascades Overlook that come in at a little less than half a mile out and back. The whole area is laced with cascades, gorges, waterfalls, and streams.
5. Stinging Fork Falls
Spring City, TN – 1.25 hours from Knoxville
The first section of the trail is relatively flat with little elevation change until about half a mile in when the trail splits. Stay left to continue on to the falls overlook or go right to climb down (and don’t forget, back up!) to the base of the falls. Some call it the prettiest waterfall in Tennessee!
6. Northrup Falls
Jamestown, TN – 1.5 hours from Knoxville
Located in the Colditz Cove State Natural Area these falls have been referred to as a “hidden gem” more than a few times! The loop trial is less than 1.5 miles but can get rocky as you approach the base of the falls. Staying to the left at the split keeps you from needing to climb over a few rocky outcroppings and leads to many miniature waterfalls along the way with the trail coming out behind Northrup Falls.
7. Emory Gap & Debord Falls
Wartburg, TN – 1 hour plus from Knoxville
One of the nicest walks in Frozen Head State Park, the trail to Emory Gap Falls is a 2.5 mile out and back trail. After about a mile and a quarter, you’ll pass Debord Falls on your way to Emory Gap Falls at the end of the trail. This is a “heavily trafficked” trail with problematic parking when it’s busy so plan accordingly.
8. Triple Falls
Caryville, TN – Half an hour+
On Bruce Creek, this 1.8 out and back trail actually has Triple Falls – also known as Little Egypt Falls – near the beginning of the trail, so stop there or keep going for a little more challenging hike. Beautiful scenery such a short distance from Knoxville!
9. Cataract Falls
Gatlinburg, TN – 1 hour from Knoxville
This easy-to-get-to waterfall is located on the nature trail just outside of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It is a short walk – around a mile round trip – crossing the creek on a wooden bridge to get to the base of the falls. Because it is so conveniently located, there are usually many others there but the timing cycles with the ins and outs of the visitor center and it’s a very pretty site!
10. Tom Branch Falls
Bryson City, NC – 2.25 hours from Knoxville
Access to the Falls is an easy 0.3 mile flat walk along GSMNP Deep Creek Trail from the trailhead located at the parking lot. This is one of the first trails constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Stop there and sit on the benches to enjoy the beauty or continue on to Indian Creek Falls about a half mile farther down the trail.
11. Looking Glass Falls
Brevard, NC – 2.5 hours from Knoxville
This might be the most popular waterfall in NC because it’s right beside a major US highway and anyone who can fit inside a car can see it so time your trip accordingly! In the Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Falls is a majestic site where the Davidson River free falls over an open rock face into a shallow pool. There is a large rock wall opposite of the viewing area that really amplifies the sound of the falls.
12. Hooker Falls
Penrose, NC – 2.5 hours from Knoxville
Located in the Dupont State Forest, Hooker Falls isn’t that impressive in terms of height, but the Little River at this point is pretty wide, which makes for a really nice setting. There is an overlook at the top of the falls, but walk just a few yards down the trail (a little more than half a mile total) to get directly in front of the falls.
In addition to the Tennessee State Parks, and TNVacation.com sites, we found some other useful websites that provided information and tips from other like minded travelers. Be sure to check out AllTrails.com for specific trail information, EasyWaterfallHikes.com for organized, detailed thoughts and directions, and TheOutbound.com for great photos and trip ideas.
Always check the weather conditions for your destination, and specific websites for closures, and possible detours.
A big Thank You to all of our talented photo contributors and Happy “Hiking!”