When you think about Tennessee, your first thought is probably music. What many may not realize is the easy access to incredible waterfalls, hikes and scenic views within an hour’s drive from Nashville. Welcome to Cookeville, Tennessee, a place considered to be a hidden gold mine of waterfalls. Within a 40-mile radius of Cookeville’s downtown, there are over 150 documented waterfalls and many scenic overlooks. Depending on your hiking experience level, within four days, you can plan to experience seven waterfalls, four overlooks and many state natural areas and state parks. It’s the kind of trip you look forward to all year.Paul Tellefsen, also known as @technopaul on Instagram, shares why Cookeville is one of his favorite small towns in America.
Begin your adventure at the newest state natural area, Window Cliffs. A 5.4-mile roundtrip hike will take you across nine river crossings to the overlook of natural formations like windows in the limestone cliffs. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy once at the summit. Take in the incredible formations, take some photos and relax to regain strength to make it all the way back.
Hiker Tip: Watch out, that first hill on your way down to the river is a doozy to maneuver on your way back. Make sure to save your energy!
After a quick 25-minute drive back into town, check in at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott. Apartment-style suites include full kitchens, complimentary Wi-Fi, plush pillowtop beds and more. The hotel is also pet-friendly!
Nestled in the busy downtown of Cookeville, Seven Senses Food & Cheer is one of those places you come back to again and again. The quality of the restaurant is in the thoughtful staff and the incredible and ever-rotating dishes prepared by World Chef Challenge Winner Chad Combs.
Foodie Tip No. 1: Try the Bacon Cheese Grit Puppies.
Foodie Tip No. 2: Be careful, they are highly addictive.
After you finish a leisure dinner, walk down the block to one of the most famous areas in the Upper Cumberland region, Cream City Ice Cream + Coffee House. Known for its iconic outdoor sign, the ice cream here is memorable.
After a big first day, coffee is a must. Head to the local coffee shop in Sparta called The Coffee Collective. Here, you’ll not only find drip coffee and lattes but also breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, paninis and flatbreads.
After breakfast, visit the Jackson Kayak plant where they manufacture and build every kayak from start to finish. Founded by Olympic adventure kayaker Eric Jackson, Jackson Kayak ships their products around the world today out of their factory in Middle Tennessee. The amount of detail and time given to every kayak is mind-blowing. It’s like a big, happy, well-organized family, where the staff loves what they do. Visitors should call ahead to make a tour reservation before visiting.
Not only the volume of water, but the length and height of Twin Falls makes Rock Island State Park a must-visit spot on any Cookeville trip. From Twin Falls, hike the trail to the overlook of the Caney Fork, you may just stumble across a team of kayakers practicing in the waters.
The beautiful Lost Creek Falls, where the 1994 version of the Jungle Book was filmed, is a must-see. Then, head to The Rock House. This historic property was the stop of many presidents including, some suppose, Abraham Lincoln.
End the day at Welch’s Point, a overlook hidden away down an old dirt road. Make yourself comfortable on a big rock and breathe in the cool air as the sun sinks behind the rolling hills.
Now a day isn’t complete without dinner, so stop for a good burger at Father Tom’s Pub. You’ll be greeted by the town’s famous bartender, Beard named for his - you guessed it - long beard. This place is like the TV show Cheers. Adorned with pictures of the regulars, this pub is the heart and soul of the town’s WestSide cultural district. The food is great, too!
Start the day with a hike in the 20,000-acre Fall Creek Falls State Park. With amazing overlooks at Buzzard’s Roost to the iconic Fall Creek Falls, the highest waterfall in the Eastern U.S., it’s easy to tell why this is a favorite state park of locals and Americans. You can spend your entire day driving and hiking through this beautiful place.
Driving Tip: In the Cookeville area, follow the brown signs on the side of the road for the best directions.
Wake up to catch the sunrise at Bee Rock in Monterey. After snapping a few photos of the spectacular overlook of Calfkiller River, head to Broast for coffee and some of the best donuts you’ll ever have from Ralph’s Donuts.
Travel to Ozone Falls to explore the 110-foot falls. This waterfall was also the site of the 1994 Jungle Book film, and you can easily tell why. It feels like you’re in another country.
Go back to Cookeville for lunch at Char on the town square. Char makes it difficult to decide what to eat because everything sounds amazing. Photographers will love this spot because of the great light coming in the windows during the day. Come back to Char in the evenings as live bands and townsfolk dance the night away to classic tunes.
Experience an authentic slice of local Cookeville at the annual Blues & Brews Craft Beer + Music Festival at Dogwood Park, a giant green space that was recently converted from a shopping plaza. With over 60 craft beers from local breweries and beyond, people flock to the festival not only for the brews but for the ultimate sports atmosphere as football is streamed on giant TVs in the tasting area.
The Blue Pig Smokehouse is owned and operated by Kent Birdwell. Here, you can savor black angus brisket, smoked sausages, pulled pork and half rack of baby back ribs. Brisket tacos, pork nachos and 16 ounces of prime rib are waiting for you to enjoy.
It’s always memorable coming to Tennessee, especially Cookeville; this micropolitan is something special. The small town charm and the community experience so many people are looking for make Cookeville home to a lot of incredibly active and fitness-oriented, friendly and hardworking people who know how to show guests a good time. You’ll be grateful to have found a slice of solitude and oasis in the hills of the Upper Cumberland.