Burgess Falls State Park is a gem that my wife and I discovered on our way to a family reunion at a house on Center Hill Lake near Cookeville Tennessee. We visited the park on Saturday, March 24, and Monday, March 26.
The trail leaves from the bottom of the lower parking area, immediately approaching the river and heading to the left along the river. Part of the trail follows the old water pipe route from when there was a power generation plant at the base of Big Falls, but it is otherwise a fine trail following the river all the way to the Middle falls overlook, and then through the forest to Burgess Falls – the Big Falls – overlook. The trail is moderately strenuous, primarily due to a steep set of stairs. There are also some areas where you must walk amongst tree roots, and if it has been raining recently there may be some slightly muddy areas. The trail is only three quarters of a mile from the trailhead to the Big Falls overlook; a brisk walk of 15 minutes if you really want to push it.
However, walking that fast you would miss enjoying both the several beautiful falls along the way, and the many wildflowers. These are some of the native wildflowers we saw along the trail to the falls, in addition to the Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) shown in the introduction:
- Violets – Long-spurred, Common Blue.
- Mayapples – Just beginning.
- Jack-in-the-pulpit – Just beginning
- Vernal Iris – These weren’t blooming on Saturday, but several had opened by Monday
- Star Chickweed
- Heartleaf Foamflower
- Trillium cuneatum
- Eastern Red Columbine – On the cliffs above the bottom of the stairs to the bottom of Big Falls.
- Rue Anemone
- Many Cranefly Orchid leaves along the trail, so this will be a great place to look for them later in the season.
- Azure Bluets (Quaker Ladies – Houstonia caerulea)
- In addition, Hepatica and Bloodroot were there but past their bloom.
- There is a butterfly garden in the upper parking area in which Virginia Bluebell and Wood Poppy have been planted and were blooming while we were there. I didn’t see either of these plants in the wild here, although there is an Upper Ridge Trail which I didn’t walk.
As shocking as this may be to some of you (it was to me!) many folks who come to Burgess Falls State Park are there for the waterfalls, not for the wildflowers. And you know, if I didn’t have this wildflower obsession, I would probably have been right there with them. In addition to the cascade falls right off from the parking lot, there is a “small” 30′ falls downstream a short ways. Then, after passing a couple of small streams with waterfalls, you get this view of the 80′ Middle Falls.
Then a hundred yards or so further on down the trail you come to the overlook of Burgess Falls, aka Big Falls. This falls was the site of the power generation plant that provided electricity for Cookeville until 1944. There was a pipe that carried water from the dam in the river by the present-day upper parking area (and butterfly garden) and which dropped down into the gorge here at the big falls to run the turbines in the powerhouse. There is a trail down to the base of the falls. That trail is worth the walk if you are up to the strenuous walk back up to the top – both for the view of the falls, and for the wildflowers along the trail.
In addition to the trails into the beauty of the area, Burgess Falls State Park has restrooms, picnic facilities, and a very nice playground for children. Read more about it at the Burgess Falls State Park webpage.