Cummins Falls State Park features one of the premiere swim spots in the Southeastern United States. I expected to make a quick visit and be on my way. But then I fell in love with the beauty and fun of this hidden Tennessee gem.
And you will too! It’s an amazing place (one of the best waterfalls in Tennessee), but it’s also a challenging and slippery hike. Being the pseudo-klutz that I am, I was fortunate to leave with only five abrasions at the end of the day. For those of you counting, that’s a couple fingers, my left forearm, one of my knees, and my toe…you know, basically anything and everything to which I could afford to say, “Oh, what the fruit salad; let’s just rip some flesh there too.”
I’m glad you’ve stopped in to prevent yourself from exasperatingly uttering the same. Here are some of my top tips for an enjoyable and safe trip to Cummins Falls!
Cummins Falls Travel Tips
- For weekend adventurers, come early if you want to beat the crowds! And by early, I mean Cummins Falls State Park opens at 8:00 a.m. So be there at 8:00 a.m. I arrived around 9:30 a.m., and many people were already at the falls. Hiking and then enjoying the area is a full day event so ensure you have your fair share of time at the falls in peace…and then with a ton of other people. And be aware that this issue will only continue to grow as the word is spreading about this natural hot spot!
- For weekday adventurers, feel free to be a little more lax about when you arrive. Because everybody else is workin’ for the weekend. Insert guitar riff and dive into a less crowded weekday. Seriously, if you can visit on a weekday (NOT a holiday like Memorial Day), you will thank yourself.
- Be very careful because it is not a 100% safe hike once you reach the river! The terrain is rugged. You better be rugged too. I like to think I’m decently coordinated, but I fell down three times due to terrain and slippery rocks. Be careful and make sure you have good footing with each step.
- Avoid taking small children. Listen, this may not be a popular tip, but as I mentioned previously…I fell down THREE TIMES. Ouch! I saw plenty of children traveling to the waterfall as well as playing in the waterfall area; but if I had children, I would not consider bringing them to this place until around 10-12 years old. This is strenuous terrain with a ton of boulders and jagged rocks, and caring for an injured child in the middle of this kind of trek is not going to be fun.
- Bring water shoes or at least wear shoes you do not mind getting wet and dirty. This isn’t like the short and easy land jaunt to Cumberland Falls in Kentucky! I wore sneakers/socks for the land hike and brought water shoes for the river hike. However, my older water shoes were also open toe with Velcro which resulted in A) a toe injury mid-water hike and B) the shoes almost coming off in the water multiple times (one of those would have been the last time I saw that shoe). Try to find snug closed toe shoes that have some degree of padding to prevent yourself from a toe stub injury!
- Wear swimwear and prepare to get wet. I didn’t do this because I was on a mission to see multiple waterfall parks the day I visited. That was dumb. Don’t be dumb. You are not going to want to leave once you reach Cummins Falls. It’s just too fun. Needless to say, my goal mentioned in my video didn’t happen. Rookie mistake. (For full disclosure, it also didn’t happen because of my injuries…but those other waterfalls are features on some future posts coming soon!)
- Bring waterproof cameras or waterproof camera housing. I cannot emphasize this enough for several reasons. The water, especially at the base of the falls, is very swiftly moving and splashes and mists a wide area. Couple that with the fact that practically every water-covered rock is slippery, and you have a recipe for a camera disaster from a variety of sources. Will it be the area moisture seeping into the camera’s cracks or accidentally dropping the camera into water? I’ll take the worst possible decision of smashing the camera into some rocks, Alex.
- Do not bring large camera equipment (lens kits, etc.). Stick to smaller cameras unless you want to photograph the waterfall from the overlook…which may be a decent place for a drone launch as well.
- Prepare to be without cell phone service. No Instagram. No Snapchat. No problem! I was out of network with T-Mobile intermittently after exiting the local highway, I-40. Subsequently, I lost total service as I hiked to the river leading to the falls. Perhaps you’ll fare better, but I didn’t. And like I mentioned, waterproofing is key. If you have a waterproof cell phone which is a newer trend, you’ll be fine as long as you also have a strong case and some protection against shattering. Given how much fun the swimming area is, I doubt you’ll miss being connected.
- Come as part of a group so one person can watch your belongings. Naturally, a group will be more fun here. It also helps with watching belongings that you won’t have with you while swimming and exploring the nooks and crannies of the waterfall.
- Stake out an out of the way, hidden crack to stash any belongings. If you don’t have a group with which you can visit the waterfall, make sure to search for a place to stash your goods. I met an awesome new friend while hiking down the falls, and we joined forces to use this method successfully. If you do have a group, this can still be helpful to you. The earlier you arrive; the more places there will be.
- Wear clothing you do not mind getting dirty. Wet as things are, there’s a fair amount of dirt as well. (Hey, that’s nature, right?) So be prepared to embrace a little dirt in addition to the loads of water. For reference, my socks were filthy; and my racerback tank had a few dirt stains after a few hours.
- Ensure you have energy and are prepared for a strenuous hike when leaving. Because it is a very steep uphill climb, gauge your energy level throughout the day (as well as others in your group if needed). If you’re tiring, consider leaving early because you have a 45-60 minute downstream and uphill hike out of the park ahead of you.
Recommended Packing/Bring List
What should you bring? Pack light is the name of the game. Here are the eight items I recommend you bring, and I would not bring much beyond this list.
- Water (1-2 liters) with additional water packed in a cooler in your vehicle
- Swimsuit (wear underneath your clothing; there are no places to change…save maybe the bathroom at the very beginning of the hike to the waterfall)
- Hiking shoes & water shoes (one for land, one for sea…er…river…)
- Waterproof camera and/or cell phone for photography
- Lunch/snacks in waterproof/sealed containers or Ziploc bags (good options could be protein or granola bars due to the sealed package)
- Keys (so you don’t lock yourself out of your car)
Nice To Have But Not Necessary Packing List
- Ziploc bags for any additional things you bring that you want to remain dry
- Camelbak (I know they’re popular; I just carry reusable water bottles!)
That is about all it takes; pretty simple, right? And completely worth the careful prep for a view like this, right?
Have you visited Cummins Falls State Park? Would you add anything to this list? I’d love to hear your comments below. Until next week…toodles!