The horseshoe shaped Burgess Falls has thundering curtains of water flowing down so you seem to feel it through the soles of your shoes.
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Breathe in the Fresh Air at Burgess Falls State Park

Are you aware how good it feels to find yourself flooded with negative ions? Aren’t sure what negative ions are? Me either, but researchers say some of the highest concentrations in nature are found near waterfalls, along beaches and on top of mountains. Many years ago, I was a medical researcher so I headed to Burgess Falls on the Cumberland Plateau about eight miles south of Cookeville to run a little non-scientific experiment for myself. And, you know, I think they’re on to something!

The horseshoe shaped Burgess Falls has thundering curtains of water flowing down so you seem to feel it through the soles of your shoes.

Turns out negative ions are believed to result from air molecules breaking apart due to sunlight, air currents and moving water. Best of all they are credited with increasing oxygen flow to your brain. As they are absorbed into your bloodstream they boost serotonin levels, elevate your mood and generally make you feel like you’re walking on air. There’s nothing like a big breath of negative ions to get your juices flowing.

I parked in the main parking lot where the picnic area, playground and restrooms are. Within a mile are 20-foot cascades, 30-foot upper falls, 80-foot middle falls, and 136-foot lower falls. As I looked in the car trunk for my favorite walking stick, I could hear the sounds of the Falling Water River.

Burgess Falls waterfalls

Falling Water Cascade is a series of stair-step falls spanning the river and the first of four waterfalls ranging from 20 to 136 feet tall.

The trailhead for the 1.5-mile round-trip River Trail begins at the parking lot. And the water I was hearing, a beautiful 20-foot stair step cascade, was about 100 feet away. I walked to the river’s edge and took my first big breath of negative ions. Wow! As the name suggests, River Trail follows the river as it erodes the limestone bedrock and the softer shale beneath it, and the water drops about 250 feet. The farther I walked, the better I felt.

In order of appearance, Falling Water Cascade tumbles 20 feet; Upper Falls has a bit more drop; and Middle Falls, a few hundred feet down the trail, spans a wider section of the river with a 70-foot drop. The final waterfall, Burgess Falls, is the most dramatic as it plunges over the edge of the riverbed and plunges more than 136 feet into a gorge with limestone bluffs rising on each side and a curtain of fine mist rising from the base. A large platform overlooks the falls with spots for hikers to rest, enjoy the view and, of course, breathe in all those wonderful negative ions.

Burgess Falls water

A wooden walkway and deck leads from the Butterfly Garden to a view above the dam at the water’s edge.

From this point a steep trail leads to the top edge of the falls and an even steeper stairway leads into the gorge. Or take the Ridge Trail along the bluff line until it intersects with the gravel maintenance road. The easiest option is taking the same gravel road from the overlook at Burgess Falls back to the parking lot if you’re so inclined. Or you may choose to return the way you came on River Trail. The 200-acre natural area includes trees more commonly found in East Tennessee like eastern hemlock, umbrella magnolia and the cucumber magnolia tree. The moisture rich environment is home to a showy display of spring wildflowers.

The Burgess Falls picnic area below the dam has 16 picnic tables, including 12 with grills available on a first come, first serve basis. One covered picnic pavilion accommodates 80 people and may be reserved up to a year in advance. The pavilion is equipped with tables and grills. Restrooms and a playground are nearby. A lovely 20,000-square foot Native Butterfly Garden lies adjacent to the upper parking lot above the dam. An annual Butterfly Garden Celebration is held during June.

Burgess Falls Butterfly Garden

Take along your butterfly identification guide and camera when you visit the Native Butterfly Garden Burgess Falls at Burgess Falls State Park.

Burgess Falls State Park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 30 minutes before sunset but may be closed on occasions when the river is high or snow is on the roads and trails.

For more information contact 931-432-5312 or click here. 

Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on

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