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3 Local Waterfalls to Hike with your Dog

Find local paradise with your pooch pal along these nearby nature trails

BY HEATHER DOWDY

Waterfalls. They amaze and delight nature lovers around the world, and there’s nothing quite like feeling the cool spray of water as you stand underneath one in the heat of a Tennessee summer... or standing in awe, surrounded by the colors of autumn. Following are three of my personal favorite TN state parks featuring waterfalls. Your pup-friendly adventure awaits!

Burgess Falls State Park
4000 Burgess Falls Drive
Sparta, TN 38583
(931) 432-5312
View Website Here

Located about an hour and a half from Nashville, Burgess Falls State Park has long been loved for its four waterfalls that cascade from an elevation of over 250 feet. Located along the Falling Water River, the day use park features a 1.5 mile round-trip River Trail that takes you past the waterfalls and into the gorge. The trail, marked moderately strenuous, also offers a steep pathway to the edge of the falls, and a rustic stairway leading to the gorge. It’s not an easy hike, so it’s recommended for advanced hikers and healthy, active dogs. Meanwhile, the mile-long Ridge Top Trail provides scenic vistas overlooking the river.

In addition to the trails, the park also features a Butterfly Garden, adjacent to the upper parking area, which is located among beautiful native wildflowers. Bird lovers will also enjoy Green and Yellow-crowned Night Herons during spring and summer, which are commonly observed along the river’s edge and on the lake.

The park is open from 8am until 30 minutes before sunset.


Burgess Falls. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Cummins Falls State Park
1081 Cummins Mill Road
Cookeville, TN 38501
(931) 261-3471
View Website Here

Less than an hour and a half from Nashville, Cummins Falls is situated on the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River and is home to Tennessee’s eighth largest waterfall at 75 feet high. The half-mile Upstream and Waterfall Overlook Trails are each rated as moderate hikes, with the 1.5 mile Downstream Trail being difficult and recommended for more advanced hikers. There is also a Shortcut to Downstream Trail, which offers easier access in a one-mile hike.

The amazing thing about this particular waterfall is its wide, shelving rock formations, which offer great spots to relax and eat a picnic lunch. It’s also a great spot for swimming. In fact, it has been rated by Travel and Leisure as one of America’s top ten swimming holes!

The park is open from 8am until 30 minutes before sunset.


Baymax, a Corgi, enjoys Cummins Falls with his dad. Photo courtesy Instagram user baymax_the_corgi.

Fall Creek Falls State Park
2009 Village Camp Road
Spencer, TN 38585
(423) 881-5298
View Website Here

One of my longtime favorite parks for a weekend getaway, Fall Creek Falls is one of Tennessee’s largest and most visited state parks, and is about a two-hour drive from Nashville. Encompassing more than 26,000 acres spread across the Cumberland plateau, the park offers hikers breathtaking gorges, streams, wildlife watching and more. Of course, the highlight of the park is its waterfalls, including Fall Creek Falls, which at 256 feet tall is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls and Cane Creek Cascades are also gorgeous water features.

The park features more than 35 miles of hiking trails, so there is truly something for everyone. Casual nature lovers can enjoy short or long walks around the lake and to and from the base of Fall Creek Falls, where you can enjoy a swim with your pooch pal. Meanwhile, more advanced hikers can opt for the two long-distance overnight trails, which include pet-friendly campsites.

Unlike some state park trails, the Upper Loop Trail also accommodates mountain biking. The park is also home to some pet-friendly cabins, tent and RV camping, and even a zipline—although we don’t recommend it for your canine companion!

To reserve one of the park’s more than 200 pet-friendly camping sites, log onto the website above, search Fall Creek Falls, then click on “campground”. From there, you can browse and make reservations online. Sites vary from park-and-camp and short walk-ins to primitive, backwoods sites along the overnight backpacking trails. Most campgrounds are also accessible to those with disabilities. And, for those wanting nature during the day and a soft pillow at night, the park inn offers a restaurant and some pet-friendly rooms to boot.

The park is open from 8am until 30 minutes before sunset.


One of the gorgeous water features at Fall Creek Falls. Photo courtesy TN State Parks.

Tips for Hiking Waterfalls with your Pooch Pal

- Keep in mind that dogs must be leashed at all times, and don’t forget to scoop the poop in order to keep our natural areas beautiful and enjoyable for all guests.

- Always have plenty of fresh water for you and your dog. We love the canine vest packs from Ruffwear.com, which allow your pup to carry his own water and travel bowl. However, you should let him get used to carrying it around the house and on shorter walks before having him wear it on a long hike! Also, a good rule of thumb is that your pet should never carry more than a quarter of his body weight, and even that should be worked up to slowly.

- Take breaks in the shade to avoid overheating. Heat exhaustion can be serious for you and your canine companion, so proceed slowly and rest when needed!

- It’s always a great idea to pack sunscreen, bug spray and some light snacks to keep you going.

- If you plan on getting wet, be sure to bring an extra pair of water shoes to keep your hiking shoes and socks dry!

- We always recommend having a small first aid kit at the ready, including a bandage roll, tweezers, small scissors, antiseptic wipes, Benadryl and other items that may help should you encounter an emergency with your pet—or yourself—in the woods.

- Remember that not all hikers will want your pup’s muddy paws on their pants, and not everyone loves and welcomes dogs as much as us. Please always exercise proper hiking etiquette by keeping your dog calm at your side as other hikers pass by. If you encounter another dog along the trail, keep in mind that he may or may not be friendly with other dogs. Always ask permission before allowing your dog to approach another pet or person.

- Finally, consider if your pooch pal is truly physically able to make the hike. Dogs who are older, are obese, or are not in optimal shape may not be able to safely make a hike. If you are not sure if your pet is healthy enough for strenuous activity, check with your veterinarian for an expert opinion. Even when given the green light, it’s best to start slowly and gradually work up to longer and more strenuous hikes.

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