You know you live in a perfect location when you and your dog can’t decide which waterfalls in middle Tennessee to visit next weekend!
Did you know Tennessee boasts over 500 waterfalls? And some of the most beautiful are within an hour or two drive of Nashville. Okay, so we don’t have the highest, most majestic falls in the nation (although Fall Creek Falls is one of the highest east of the Mississippi) – but we do have waterfalls that offer something better. We have waterfalls in Middle Tennessee that let you get up close and personal. Some provide perfect swimming holes with cool, clean, sparkling water and flat rocks perfect for sunning or picnicking.
If you have a water-loving dog like we do, then take advantage of the beautiful late summer weather to get in some last-minute swimming and splashing.
We’ve been checking off some new falls this summer and last week decided to visit a new one in Tullahoma, TN. And what the heck, the weekend was so nice, we added one more. These are perfect day-trips for you and your pup. Plus you get the added bonus of logging in some hiking miles as well.
Our first new waterfall in middle Tennessee visited (on a whim…it was a Tuesday) was Machine Falls. Located in the Short Springs Natural Area in Tullahoma, it’s just a little over an hour’s drive down I-24 from Nashville.
And wouldn’t you know it, you just happen to pass right by The Celtic Cup Coffee House on the way through town! Stop and pick up a take-away lunch before your hike.
Although not a dog-friendly location, we had wanted to give them a try for the longest while. My hiking partner (aka middle daughter) stayed with Chloe while I went inside to look around and order lunch to take with us. The Celtic décor and the beautifully re-purposed craftsman-style home, complete with dark wood trim and cushy arm chairs had me feeling instantly all warm and cozy. I ordered a sandwich for each of us; chicken salad wrap with apples, grapes and walnuts and a grilled cheese sandwich made with sharp cheddar. The coffee and drinks menu was extensive – but coffee and hiking aren’t the best mix so we’ll give that a try on a return visit. And we definitely WILL return.
From there, it’s just a quick drive out to Short Springs Natural Area. The trailhead is not recognizably marked, but when you see the very large water tower, you’ve reached your destination. The parking lot is next to the tower and the trailhead across the road.
Keep in mind this isn’t a state park. There are no bathrooms or trash cans at the trailhead and no rangers who monitor the area. Whatever you pack in you’ll need to pack out. In your vehicle.
The 1.6 mile Machine Falls Loop is not that remarkable of a trail, as hikes go. If you take the loop going clockwise, you’ll have the trickiest part out of the way earlier in your hike. The moderate rating is most likely for the steep climb down to the gorge (there are some handrails to help with balance.) Once you reach the bottom, you can go across the footbridge to continue the loop – but what you want to do is stay to the right and follow Machine Falls branch.
Depending on the water level, you’ll be walking right in the creek – so a pair of water shoes/sandals is best.
But oh – when you get to the falls! The hollow is peaceful and serene and the falls are simply enchanting. And oh – if your dog loves water, she is going to be in splash heaven!
There is a lovely pool at the bottom, perfect for swimming and wading.
We were gifted with a miraculous 20 minutes or so of privacy – Machine Falls was all ours to enjoy before anyone else showed up.
Visiting as we did during a weekday, we saw only one other hiker and their dog. Many people say this is not heavily trafficked, but I can image on the weekends this waterfall would be buzzing with visitors and locals.
When you’ve had your fill of cool water, you can continue on with the loop, crossing over the bridge and climbing out of the gorge on a less steep path which will take you back to the trailhead. There are a couple other trails to hike in Short Springs Natural Area which you could choose to explore. But after the beauty of the falls, who needs more?
If you have time, there is another waterfall nearby you can fit in. Rutledge Falls is just a short drive away between Tullahoma and Manchester. You might have seen it in the Hannah Montana movie. Although it is privately owned, the landowners graciously allow visitors to take the short hike down to the falls. Keep in mind that you are a guest on private property. Please take all trash with you, meticulously pick up after your dog and be respectful of the neighborhood.
We didn’t visit Rutledge Falls on this trip. But if you do, you’ll also get to see The Lady of the Falls. Directions and info can be found here.
Want a slightly longer hike and even MORE waterfalls and swimming holes? Read on….
Waterfalls at Grundy Forest and Fiery Gizzard Trail
Grundy Forest State Natural Area is the place for you. Five waterfalls on a single 2 mile loop make for a very refreshing day. We love this loop, but since we were keen to see new waterfalls, we decided to also add in the short trek to Sycamore Falls off the Fiery Gizzard Trail.
Located in Tracy City, Grundy Forest is just a short drive off I-24 at Monteagle, TN. Trailhead is complete with restrooms, picnic areas and usually very heavily visited on the weekends. If the parking lot is full, you can park along the fenced side of the road leading in.
You can start the Grundy Day Loop in either direction. We chose to start on the right to get the majority of the hiking out of the way and let Chloe use up some energy before we stopped for a splash at Sycamore Falls. The first mile along the plateau top reveals a wide variety of plant life and fungi.
The trail will soon descend and you’ll follow along the Big Fiery Gizzard Creek, taking in waterfalls such as Blue Hole Falls and Hanes Hole Falls.
Not long after you pass the convergence of Little Gizzard and Big Fiery Gizzard creeks, you’ll come to a bridge on the right where the Fiery Gizzard Trail crosses the creek and continues on towards Sycamore Falls. The trip to the falls will add a little over 1 mile to your entire hike. Fiery Gizzard Trail, however, goes on another 13 miles if you’re really up for some extra hiking, but it is one-way. You’d need a ride back when you reached the end.
The hike to Sycamore Falls spur is not terribly difficult but the footing can be a bit slippery if the trail is wet. Your dog has four-on-the-floor, so she’ll race thought just fine.
Once you get to the spur that leads to Sycamore Falls, follow the trail leading to the bottom. To reach the falls, you’ll need to hike across the stream, so be sure and bring some sturdy sandals or water shoes. There is a fallen log across the stream that some of the more daring hikers use to cross!
Sycamore Falls is perfect for a quick splash and wade or bring your lunch to have a picnic on the rocks.
When you’re finished appreciating the falls, return up the trail the way you came and connect back to the Grundy Day Loop. Turn right over the bridge to finish the loop. More waterfalls remain to be seen on your return journey – and the impressive Cave Spring Rock House. Did you know the ceiling is stained from the campfires of Native Americans who used it for shelter? And next to the rock shelter is a 500 year old hemlock.
Back at the trailhead, return to your car and marvel at all the waterfalls you’ve seen in one day!
If you’re an experienced hiker, you already know this. But if not and you’re going to be visiting some waterfalls, keep in mind that water levels can vary. A rainstorm miles away from where you are can cause creeks to rise. Always check the weather forecast before you plan your hike.
Keep an eye on your dog and don’t allow them to jump from the top of waterfalls, no matter how small they seem. Underwater dangers can be present.
Bring along water and a collapsible bowl for your dog to drink and discourage them from lapping up creek water. I know, it’s nearly impossible to prevent, but if you offer your pup water at regular intervals during a hike, they’ll be less likely to try a taste of stream water. If they do, they do. It’s called being a dog.
Do you have a favorite Tennessee waterfall? Feel free to post a photo in the comments or tag #godognashville on Instagram.