Burgess Falls State Park is located in Sparta, near the center of Tennessee, only two hours from Nashville. Originally settled by Native Americans in the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Creek tribes, the land was deeded to a white settler named Thomas Burgess in 1793 as part of his payment for serving in the Revolutionary War. The Burgess family harnessed the power of the Falling Water River by building a saw mill and gristmill on the property. These enterprises provided flour, meal and lumber for many settlers around the region.
In the 1920’s the land was sold to the City of Cookeville in order to build a dam and power plant to produce electricity for the growing city. Unfortunately, in 1928 a huge rainstorm overcame the dam and demolished the new powerhouse. It was rebuilt and remained in use until 1944, when it was replaced by newer dams on the river. The land was set aside as a State Park in 1973 to preserve its natural beauty and was named after the original Burgess family.
The Burgess Falls Dam still stands, but that is not what people who come to Burgess Falls State Park to see. Instead it’s the stunning natural scenery and breathtaking set of waterfalls in the park. This state park has the most waterfalls in the shortest distance in all of Tennessee. The four waterfalls can be accessed by hiking along the River Trail. The waterfalls vary in height: you will first encounter the 20’ cascades, then 30’ upper falls, followed by the 80’ middle falls, and finally the lower falls with a 136’ plunge. The hike to the largest set of falls is the most strenuous and is not recommended for young children or those who are not steady on their feet. You can view the falls from the top or take a large set of stairs to view them from the bottom. All the trails in Burgess Falls State Park are only for pedestrian use – no horses, bicycles or motorized vehicles are allowed.
There are other activities for your family to enjoy at Burgess Falls State Park other than visiting the waterfalls. There is a lot of forestland to explore that is teeming with wildlife and native bird species. One of the most popular times of year to visit is in the springtime. Not only will the falls be more spectacular due to the heavy rainfall but the dogwoods and red buds in bloom are very beautiful. Another popular time to visit is in the autumn for leaf peeping. As you hike along the many trails you will encounter narrow ridges and sheer bluffs. Many spots along these trails offer picturesque views of the river. This state park is excellent for photographing the beauty of nature as it surrounds you.
Camping is not available in Burgess Falls State Park. They are open every day from 8:00 AM until 30 minutes prior to sunset. The park also closes when the river is too high, or when there is too much snow covering the trails. It is best to call ahead to ensure the park is open during the winter months.
Fishing and boating is available on the Falling Water River that runs through the park. Boats can only have trolling motors, and are not allowed below the dam. The most common species of fish include small and large mouth bass, carp, and brim. You can fish below the dam as well and this is one of the most popular fishing spots. Adults and children over 13 must have a valid Tennessee fishing license in order to fish in the park.
There is a playground for young children in the picnic area located below the dam. This picnic area has 16 picnic tables and 12 grills, and offers a beautiful view of the river. Running water is available and there are also modern toilet facilities there. If you are coming with a large group there is a parking lot that can accommodate tour buses, and you can reserve the large covered pavilion for picnicking. The pavilion can hold up to 80 people, and is equipped with tables and grills. It is located near the general picnic area and playground.
Burgess Falls State Park also offers a series of nature based educational programs for adults and children throughout the year. Staff is available to conduct training either at the state park itself or off site, such as at local schools. Customized programs can be arranged by contacting the staff at the park.
For more information about Burgess Falls State Park visit their official website: http://www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/BurgessFalls/.