Looking to ditch the crowded public pool and venture into one of America’s finest natural swimming holes? Look no further than Cummins Falls in Tennessee!
Cummins Falls State Park, nestled in the middle Tennessee town of Cookeville, is a baby-sized 306-acre day-use park that features mammoth-sized recreation. One of Tennessee’s newest state parks, Cummins Falls is widely known for its 75-foot waterfall and epic swimming hole.
While visitors can certainly enjoy a picnic, hike the land trails, and venture to the scenic overlooks, the best thing to do in Cummins Falls is the Cummins Falls hike. The Cummins Falls trail is a steep descent into the gorge and involves hopping boulders and scrambling through the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River to reach Tennessee’s eighth-largest waterfall, Cummins Falls.
This guide features everything you need to know to plan your trip to Cummins Falls State Park and exactly how to complete the Cummins Falls hike! Continue reading to learn how to score your gorge permit, get directions to the park, find out what to know before you go, safety information, a packing list, and exactly how to get down to the falls featuring detailed mapped routes.
Cummins Falls State Park Guide
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Cummins Falls Fun Facts
- Cummins Falls was established as a Tennessee State Park in 2011, making it one of the newest parks in the state.
- Cummins Falls is the eighth-largest waterfall in Tennessee in terms of water volume. It is 75 feet tall!
- In 2021, Cummins Falls was named State Park of the Year in Tennessee.
- The gorge that Cummins Falls spills into is 200 feet deep.
How to Get Your Gorge Permit
⚠️ Permits are required to enter the gorge and hike to the base of the waterfall.
In 2020, Cummins Falls State Park began a permit system that allowed 200 people to trek through the river gorge to the base of the waterfall each day. Though the pandemic prompted this change, the permits continue to this day to preserve the park’s natural resources and limit excessive foot traffic.
Only 200 people are permitted to hike the gorge every day, so try to reserve your Cummins Falls tickets online ahead of time! Weekends and holidays sell out the quickest. Usually, you can find permits even a day before for weekdays or off-season dates.
Permits can be obtained for $6 here. You can purchase a maximum of 12 permits at one time.
❗️IMPORTANT: You must have a printed or digital (email) copy of this dated permit with you if you enter the Cummins Falls Gorge area. One permit per person entering the gorge is required. Rangers will be checking permits at the trailhead!
What to Pack
Try to pack lightly, and secure your belongings in a dry bag. If you have to wade through deep water, your bag could get dunked, so you’ll want to ensure your valuables stay dry.
- Dry bag
- Small towel
- Sturdy water shoes with traction
- Waterproof camera
- Life jacket (if needed)
- The 10 Essentials
Getting to Cummins Falls
Type in Cummins Falls State Park into your desired map app (Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, etc.) or manually type the address: 390 Cummins Falls Ln, Cookeville, TN 38501. You will be directed right to the gravel parking area in front of the visitor center and trailhead.
Access to Cummins Falls State Park is via Blackburn Fork Road. Cummins Falls Lane, the park road, is right across from Old Mill Camp and General Store. Click here for driving directions on Google Maps.
There is only one parking lot, and it fills up quickly on the weekends and daily during the summer. Arrive as close to the gate opening as possible: 8 AM.
Know Before You Go
You need a permit to enter the gorge and access the base of the falls. A ranger will ask to see your permit at the trailhead, so don’t skip this step!
There are no refunds, exchanges, date transfers, or rainchecks issued for permits.
You do not need a permit to access the overlooks or hike the land trails.
Park hours are 8:00 AM to 6 PM in-season.
Park hours are 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM off-season.
The gorge area closes at 5:00 PM in season. Anyone at the base of the falls must start making their way out of the gorge by 5:00 PM in order to exit the park by 6:00 PM.
The gorge is only open during fair-weather days. The gorge will close in inclement weather. Check the Facebook page or call a ranger for the most up-to-date information on closures prior to your visit.
The river threat level is rated each day on a 1-5 scale. If the rangers deem the conditions unsafe, swimming and gorge access could be restricted or shut down. (More about that scale down below).
Leashed pets are allowed in the park. Always clean up after your pet and keep them under control.
Entering the gorge requires a strenuous hike, swimming or wading through water, climbing rocks, and crossing slippery boulders.
Flash flooding is a threat anytime rain is present in the gorge.
Emergency evacuation paths are marked by yellow signs and are scattered throughout the length of the gorge. In the event of a flash flood, use one of these exits.
Children 5 and under are not recommended to enter the gorge. Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult and must be wearing a life jacket.
There are some life jackets available at the falls, but it’s recommended that you bring your own just in case they run out.
You’ll need to wear sturdy shoes ideally with mesh and traction to scramble across the slippery boulders and trek through the water.
Alcohol, coolers, and pool floats are not allowed in the gorge or at the falls.
How to Get Down to the Falls
✨ There are two routes that descend into the gorge.
- One is approximately 2 miles out & back and the other is approximately 3 miles out & back. I’ll map them below.
- Both routes are steep with uneven terrain and have significant elevation drops.
- Natural trail surfaces are varied and include water crossings, boulders, and other obstacles.
- Trail Length: 2 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Short Description: The shortest route to the falls.
What is this route? This is the shortest route to the falls.
Who should take this route? Take this route if you are in a hurry to get to the bottom or you don’t want to see the waterfall overlook.
How to hike the trail: Begin at the Cummins Falls Trailhead just beyond the visitor center. Follow the trail for 0.1 miles until you come to a fork. Turn right and follow the signs for the shortcut trail down to the gorge. Once you reach the river, turn left. You’ll cross through the river, hop boulders, and navigate obstacles for a little over a half-mile before you’ll round the corner and glimpse the 75-foot Cummins Falls!
- Trail Length: 3 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Short Description: Adds scenic overlook.
What is this route? This is the scenic route to the waterfall.
Who should take this route? Take this route if you aren’t in a hurry or you want to see the scenic waterfall overlook before descending into the gorge.
How to hike the trail: Begin at the Cummins Falls Trailhead just beyond the visitor center. Hike for 0.1 miles. When you come to the junction, continue straight. (The right turn is for the short-route hikers). In about a quarter-mile, you’ll come to the Cummins Falls Overlook, where you’ll get a nice birds-eye view of the falls and the gorge that you’ll be descending into. Once you’ve scoped out the overlook, continue on the River Trail for about 0.3 miles. Here you’ll reach the junction where the short-route hikers are coming down, and you’ll continue straight on the trail down to the river. Once you reach the river, turn left. You’ll cross through the river, hop boulders, and navigate obstacles for a little over a half-mile before you’ll round the corner and glimpse the 75-foot Cummins Falls!
In order to have a safe and enjoyable experience at Cummins Falls, you need to know the risks and understand what you’re getting into when you descend into the gorge.
- The journey down to the gorge and to the falls requires a strenuous hike, many water crossings, copious boulder hops, and lots of obstacle maneuvering.
- If you’re unsure whether you’re fit or able to conquer the river hike, stick to the overlooks. The view is still great from the top!
- Flash flooding can occur any time rain is present in the gorge.
- In the event of an emergency evacuation, please respond immediately to ranger instructions and proceed to the areas marked by yellow signs along the path through the gorge.
- The trail is unimproved and rugged. You shouldn’t attempt this if you’re under 5 years old or in subpar physical shape.
- Wear sturdy shoes. Avoid flip-flops.
- Pack light and keep your hands free. You’ll want to be able to move around the river with ease, not with a heavy load on your back or things in your hands. (Plus, if you fall, you’ll be able to catch yourself with your hands, not your face or knees!)
The gorge is only open during fair weather. Forecasted rain could cause the gorge to close without warning.
In the event of a gorge closure when you’re at the trailhead:
- You won’t be able to enter the gorge or hike to the base of the waterfall.
- You can request a raincheck to get a date transfer on your permit.
In the event of a gorge closure when you’re in the gorge and/or at the falls:
- Sirens, loud noises, lights, or warning messages will sound in the gorge. Basically, something will alert you of the immediate closure.
- Immediately exit the gorge. Follow the emergency evacuation paths marked by yellow signs that are scattered throughout the length of the gorge.
River Threat Level Scale: 1-5
The river threat level is rated each day on a 1-5 scale by the park rangers.
Here’s what each rating means:
- 1: Low Hazard. Water level conditions are within normal range. Gorge Open / Water Access / Swimming Allowed.
- 2: Medium Hazard. Water level can be above normal. Possible rain and storms in the forecast. Gorge Open / Water Access / Swimming Allowed.
- 3: High Hazard. High water level. Swift moving water. Possible rain and storms in the forecast. Gorge Open / Restricted Areas / No Swimming Below Waterfall.
- 4: Severe Hazard. Dangerous conditions. Gorge Closed / No Access to River / No Swimming.
- 5: The park has never issued a level 5. I imagine that a pretty wild and unusual circumstance would have to warrant this serious rating.
Last Notes on Safety
The gorge is unpredictable. It is a natural beast that requires vigilance and education. Ask a ranger at the trailhead if you’re unsure about how to safely navigate and/or exit the gorge. They’ll be happy to educate you!
When a ranger closes the gorge, it’s for an important reason: your safety. It’s not to put a damper on your plans. Please respect the rangers’ decisions and be kind!
Cummins Falls FAQs
Short on time? Here are some FAQs to get answers to your burning Cummins Falls questions FAST!
Where is Cummins Falls?
Do I Need a Permit to Hike Down to the Falls?
Yes, permits are needed for each individual who wishes to enter the gorge and/or hike to the base of the falls. Click here to snag your permit!
You do not need a permit to hike the land trails or access the overlooks.
Does the Park Have an Entrance Fee?
There is no fee to enter Cummins Falls State Park. (Fun Fact: ALL Tennessee state parks are FREE!) You just need to purchase a permit prior to your visit in order to enter the gorge and hike to the base of the waterfall.
What are the Park Hours?
- In-season: 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM. The gorge area closes at 5:00 PM.
- Off-season: 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM.
Are Pets Allowed?
Yes, pets are allowed in the park and in the gorge. It’s best to stick to the land trails when you bring your pets. If you want to take your pet to the gorge, ensure that he or she is able to endure the physical feat of hopping across all of the boulders and wading/swimming through water.
Is the Hike Down to the Falls Difficult?
Venturing to the falls involves a 2 – 3 mile roundtrip hike. The hike is steep and strenuous, and the terrain is uneven and varied. The hike to the waterfall involves a trek through the river. You will need to be able to cross slippery boulders, wade through different levels of water, navigate the river, and maneuver through unpredictable obstacles.
What Should I Do If There’s a Flash Flood in the Gorge?
Flash flooding can happen within seconds when rain is present in the watershed. While the rangers will do their best to close the gorge in inclement weather, sometimes the conditions take an unpredictable turn, and visitors will be forced to make an emergency evacuation.
In the event of an emergency evacuation, respond immediately to ranger instructions and proceed to the refuge areas marked by yellow signs along the path through the gorge.
If you’re unsure or uneasy about safety protocol, ask a ranger to guide you through the emergency process before you enter the gorge.
How Do I Know if the Gorge is Closed?
There are four ways to find out if the gorge is closed for the day of your visit, starting with the most convenient and ending with the least ideal:
- Check the Facebook page. The park is really great about updating visitors on current river conditions in real-time.
- Contact a ranger. Call the office during business hours to speak with a ranger about current river conditions and closure risks. (931) 268-7223.
- Consult the park’s webpage. Look for the Active Alerts banner at the top of the page. You’ll find current water levels, hazards, conditions, and other important information. However, they do mention on their site that their Facebook page is the most up-to-date.
- Enter the park and ask a ranger. If the gorge is closed or if there is a risk of potential closure later that day, a ranger will inform you. This option is the least ideal because it could potentially be a wasted trip for you if the gorge is closed or at risk of closing later that day. Check the Facebook page or call a ranger prior to your visit if possible.
Do I Need to Bring My Own Life Jacket?
Yes. Life jackets are strongly recommended, especially for children, due to the unpredictably strong currents that are known to occur in the swimming hole at the base of the falls and downstream throughout the rest of the river.
Life jackets are not required for adults, but they are nice to have as an added safety measure.
Can I Bring Coolers, Floats, or Alcohol?
No. Coolers, floats, and alcohol are prohibited in the gorge.
What is the Quickest Way to Get Down to the Falls?
Begin at the trailhead just beyond the visitor center. Follow the trail for 0.1 miles until you come to a fork. Turn right and follow the signs for the shortcut trail down to the gorge. Once you reach the river, turn left. You’ll cross through the river, hop boulders, and navigate obstacles for a little over a half-mile before you’ll round the corner and glimpse the 75-foot Cummins Falls!
Can I Camp in the Park?
There are no campgrounds in the park. Overnight parking and camping are prohibited.
Here are some campgrounds near Cummins Falls to check out:
- Old Mill Camp. Conveniently located directly across the entrance to Cummins Falls State Park. Features RV camping only.
- Standing Stone State Park Campground. Located 24 miles away from Cummins Falls. Features 36 tent and RV sites.
- Edgar Evins State Park Campground. Located 29 miles from Cummins Falls. Features 60 tent and RV sites and 8 primitive hike-in, tent-only sites.
Can I Picnic in the Park?
There are picnic tables near the visitor center at the top of the falls. Try to limit your belongings down to the base of the falls by eating lunch at the picnic area and bringing only snacks and water into the gorge.
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!