There’s something wonderful about a waterfall. From when you first hear it in the distance long before it’s visible until you see the powerful flow of water cascading over rock, the whole experience is something to remember. The Chattanooga area is home to some of the more impressive waterfalls in the southeast. So hit the trails and enjoy the beauty of these gems that are bound to impress.
1. Falling Water Falls
Located just 12 miles from Chattanooga, Falling Water Falls State Natural Area is a relatively small preserve (136 acres) with one big feature—the namesake 110-foot tall waterfall. Little Falling Water Creek empties into the Falling Water Gorge over the Cumberland Plateau, and the mist from the falls keeps the gorge moist most of the year. You’ll find second-growth hardwood forest surrounding the falls, including a mix of oak, hickory, and pine trees. Mountain laurel, rhododendron, and eastern hemlock trees are also common in the area. The falls are a short walk from the trailhead in the parking lot—less than 1,000 feet—so this is an easy spot to hit if you have limited time.
2. Greeter Falls
Located about 50 miles from Chattanooga, the South Cumberland State Park features one of the best waterfall hikes in the region. The Greeter Falls Loop Trail at Savage Gulf leads to three incredible waterfalls: Upper Greeter Falls, Lower Greeter Falls, and Boardtree Falls. Lower Greeter Falls is the highlight of your hike. After descending into a gorge so steep that the trail includes a spiral staircase, you’ll scramble down a wooden ramp to the edge of a picturesque pool at the base of a massive, 50-foot waterfall. This is one of the best swimming holes around, and you sure can’t beat the scenery.
It’s worth the short side trip to Upper Greeter Falls while you are here, and Boardtree Falls is definitely nice enough to justify the very short loop hike instead of heading back the way you came. This is classic Cumberland Plateau hiking, with beautiful bluff lines and rocky, undulating terrain.
3. Laurel Falls
This 80-foot waterfall is located in the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area in Dayton, Tenn. You can follow the most picturesque sections of the Cumberland Trail to the Cumberland Plateau, where the unquestionable highlight is the towering Laurel Falls at the end of a 2.4-mile spur trail with 900 feet of elevation gain along the way.
The trail begins by following the beautiful Richland Creek, then climbing up the hillside to cross Laurel Creek. The trail is especially rugged, weaving through and around large boulders alongside dozens of cascades along the creek. A trailside pool offers a great spot to take a break. Keep climbing, and at the top of the steepest part of the creek you’ll find Laurel Falls tumbling off of the cliff above.
4. Foster Falls
About 45 minutes from Chattanooga, Foster Falls is accessed by the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park, and it is considered one of the top 25 hikes in the country. The Foster Falls Small Wild Area includes seasonal camping, and trail access to the bottom of the falls as well as multiple overlooks. The entire area below the falls is beautiful, and a short hike combining the climber’s loop at creekside with the Fiery Gizzard Trail atop the cliffs is a great way to work up a sweat before taking a dip in the pool below the waterfall. The waterfall itself is one of the very best, and the setting is unmatched.
Bonus: Ruby Falls
While this waterfall doesn’t exactly fit in with the other outdoor experiences on the list, no article on waterfalls around Chattanooga would be complete without mentioning Ruby Falls. This 145-foot waterfall is located 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain.
You’ll descend into the cavern by elevator and then take a guided tour to explore unique cave formations as well as the beauty of the sparking underground waterfall. Once back on the surface, the mountainside deck features incredible views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee Valley.
Photo Credit (Top to bottom): Jeff Bartlett x4, Alan Cressler, Ruby Falls