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Burgess Falls

Plan Your Visit

Hours of Operation
8:00 a.m. until 30 minutes before sundown when gates are closed.
**Park is closed when the river is high or when there is snow on the roads and/or trails.

Map of the park

From I-40, take Exit 286. Turn South off the 286 ramp onto State Highway 135. Proceed on Hwy 135 for 7 miles following the signs to the park.

Park Activities

Boating Fishing Hiking Trails Natural Area Picnic Facilities

Points of Interest

  Cookeville Depot Museum
  Circle K Horse Pavilion, Cookeville
  Historic Downtown Sparta
  Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area
  Appalachian Center for Crafts, Smithville
  Rock House near Sparta
  Edgar Evins State Park
  Rock Island State Park
Burgess Falls State Natural Area, located in Middle Tennessee, lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee's Highland Rim adjacent to the Cumberland Plateau and is noted for its natural beauty. Sheer bluffs, narrow ridges, rolling water and abundant mixed forest, characterize this area. The Falling Water River drops approximately 250 feet, providing numerous waterfalls, breathtaking scenery and overlooks. The park is home to over 300 species trees and plants and an abundance of wildlife. Park visitors can visit the large Native Butterfly Garden located adjacent to the upper parking lot.

Historical Significance

The history of Burgess Falls can be traced back over three centuries. Before European settlement, Indians of the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw tribes shared this region as a hunting ground. One of the first white settlers, Thomas Burgess, received a land grant here in 1793 as payment for his service in the Revolutionary War. By the late 19th century, a gristmill and sawmill were in operation on the river here. For the growing logging and farming communities, the Falling Water River played a key role by providing energy and recreational opportunities. Under protection as a State Natural Area since 1973, visitors today may enjoy the same scenic splendor of Burgess Falls, easily seen from the River Trail.

Learn more about the history of Burgess Falls State Park.


Boats are not allowed below the dam and fishing boats are allowed only in the shallow lake above the dam. Due to heavy silting and lack of a boat ramp this is not a desirable lake for boating. Trolling motors are the only type of motor allowed on boats.

Events and Programs

Educational programs include Hikes, Landscaping with Native Plants, Butterfly Identification Walk, Birds of Prey, Creek Studies, and Reptiles and Amphibians. The Native Butterfly Garden is the winner of the 2006 Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award in Excellence in Parks and Recreation.


Fishing is year-round. Most common catches are large and small mouth bass, brim and carp. The most popular fishing sites are along the lake, below the dam and below the main falls. The waters of Center Hill Lake reach the base of Burgess Falls. There is no boat ramp. Anglers age 13 and older must have a valid TN fishing license.
Related Links:
TWRA Fishing Regulations
US Army Corps of Engineers/Center Hill Lake


The main 1.5-mile round-trip river trail/service road loop takes you past four waterfalls on the Falling Water River. The waterfalls are 20' cascades, 30' upper falls, 80' middle falls, and 136' lower falls in height. Most people prefer to hike back to the parking lot along the service road. The 1-mile Ridge Top Trail is very scenic with views down the main canyon of the Falling Water River. Trails are moderate in difficulty. All trails are foot trails. Bikes, horses, etc. are not permitted.

From The Tennessee Conservationist's Great Hikes With Fran Wallas:
Burgess Falls State Natural Area Offers the Most Waterfalls in the Shortest Distance

Natural Area

Burgess Falls is a natural area in Putnam and White Counties and is located approximately thirteen miles southwest of Cookeville. It is managed by Tennessee State Parks. Burgess Falls lies on the rugged dissected eastern edge of the Eastern Highland Rim resulting in the occurrence of sheer bluffs, narrow ridges, waterfalls, and diverse forest communities. It was named for Tom Burgess, an American Revolutionary War veteran, who was deeded the land in 1793 by the U.S. Government as partial payment for his services. For many decades the Burgess family provided settlers with meal and cut lumber from their gristmill and lumber mill on Falling Water River above the falls. For more information about this unique natural area visit the Division of Natural Heritage.

Picnic Facilities

Burgess Falls Natural Area offers picnicking below the dam with a scenic view of the river. The park has 16 picnic tables, 12 of which are equipped with grills. None of the picnic tables are equipped with water spigots. Picnic tables are not covered and are available on a first come, first serve basis. A larger, covered picnic pavilion can accommodate 80 people and can be reserved up to a year in advance. The pavilion is equipped with tables and grills. Restrooms and a playground are nearby. It is ideal for supervised groups such as reunions and church groups.

Planned Programs

Park staff offers year round interpretive programs for adults and children. Curriculum based programs are offered for schools and are provided on and off-site. Programs are also provided for private groups upon request and availability of staff.


There is one playground located in the picnic area. Restrooms are also located nearby.

Tour Buses

Tour Buses are welcome but groups are encouraged to call in advance to insure best service. Recommended parking for buses is the first parking lot on the right as you enter the park. The first lot is designed for buses, mobile homes, and large camping vehicles.