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11 Best Waterfalls Near Chattanooga You Can't Miss

Introduction to Chattanooga's Waterfalls

Lace up your boots and delve into the remarkable hiking trails that crisscross the scenic region of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and surrounding areas. Nestled between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, Chattanooga is a haven for hikers—from the most experienced trekkers to families looking to introduce their kids to the wonders of nature.

Chattanooga is known for its scenic views of the Tennessee River, but slightly beyond the beaten path lie many more water features waiting to be discovered.

From the cascades of Lula Lake Falls to the rocky swimming holes of Foster Falls, Chattanooga’s waterfalls are not to be missed. Chattanooga offers waterfall hikes for all skill levels.

Whether you’re looking for a quick trek for a dip in the springs or a full day hike, or if you’re looking for a place to take your kids, Chattanooga has it all. What are you waiting for? Let’s dive in:

1. The Unmissable Fall Creek Falls

Located roughly an hour and a half from downtown Chattanooga, Fall Creek Falls State Park is home to one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States, clocking in at a breathtaking 256 feet. As one Tennessee’s largest state parks, it is also one of the most popular, featuring many amenities including a lodge, cabins and traditional campsites.

The nature center is a must-see for families, and the Canopy Challenge Course features zip-lines and rope bridges for adventure-seekers.

Of course, while the golf course and playgrounds may be a draw, most visitors at Fall Creek Falls are there to see the tallest free falling waterfall east of the Mississippi River, Fall Creek Falls.

best waterfalls near chattanooga

With over 26,000 acres of park to explore, you may stumble across a cascade in a creek, or find yourself on a scenic overlook with breathtaking views. The scenic trails, waterfalls and overlooks offer an abundance of photo opportunities.

Fall Creek Falls State Park also has five other notable waterfalls, including Cane Creek Falls and Piney Creek Falls, meaning an avid hiker can see six waterfalls in one day of hiking. Most trails range from moderate to difficult due to elevation changes, and there are few accessible options.

Most hiking at Fall Creek Falls is available year round, but some additional activities are limited to the summer months. Check the Falls’ website when choosing a time to visit to ensure the activities you are interested in are available.

2. The Secluded Beauty: Foster Falls

Located only 40 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, Foster Falls is nestled within South Cumberland State Park. This 60-foot waterfall is surrounded by towering rock cliffs, making it an Instagrammer’s dream.

Even better, the rock pool beneath the waterfall is a popular swimming spot in the summer, promising a refreshing dip in the pool to all those who reach it. The trail to reach the falls is 2 miles, and offers scenic overlooks as well as a viewing platform to see the falls from above. The trail is rocky and even, and can be slippery in places—while rated as moderate, ensuring you have the proper footwear and a bottle of water is recommended.

Beyond Foster Falls, the trail continues to a rock climbing area, which is especially popular during the summer months. For hikers who bring their dog everywhere, Foster Falls is a great location to explore with your pet. However, all dogs must remain on a leash.

Foster Falls is best explored in the summer, when additional activities such as swimming and rock climbing are available, but the trail remains open year-round. South Cumberland State Park offers many additional amenities, from camping and fishing to the opportunity to explore a wild cave. Permits are required for caving, fishing and hunting.

Additional hiking trails include Fiery Gizzard Trail, which connects Grundy Forest and Foster Falls. This 12.5-mile trail has been rated one of the top 25 trails in the country by Backpacker magazine, and should not be missed.

3. A Hidden Gem: Lula Lake & Falls

Lula Lake and Falls, situated on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a testament to conservation efforts, with the Lula Lake Land Trust dedicated to preserving the area’s ecological integrity. This 8,000 acre watershed in North Georgia is home to over eight miles of trails and two waterfalls, including the eponymous Lula Lake Falls, which is a 110-foot free falling waterfall.

Lula Lake is open to the public on the first and last Saturday of the month from December through April, and the first and last weekend of the month from May through November. Saturday hours run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Sundays are from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The entrance closes at 2 p.m. on both days to allow hikers to ensure they have time to explore the miles of trails. You must book a reservation for the day you would like to visit, and reservations are rain or shine. The cost of a reservation is $16, which is a “conservation fee” that goes directly back into the preservation of Lula Lake.

As it is a preservation site, amenities at Lula Lake are limited to onsite parking, a picnic area, and public restrooms. However, events are hosted onsite and can be booked in advance. These include regular guided hikes on the Out and Back, available on most weekends during Open Gate Day and costs $40 per person. Other activities can be found on the Land Trust’s website, and include things like Fossil Digs.

The easiest hike at Lula Lake is 4.2 miles and takes 2-3 hours, although the trail is rated as “Easy.” Bug repellent and sunscreen are recommended. There are no water refill stations on site, so you will want to bring enough water for your chosen hike. Besides the Out and Back hike, Lula Lake also offers the Classic Loop (Moderate), which is the trail you will want to choose to ensure you see Lula Lake, the waterfall, and the bluff.

For the more adventurous hiker, The Adventure Loop is a 6.1-mile moderate hike that offers many of the same views as the Classic Loop, but with a more intense hike. There is also a Mountain Bike trail available.

Lula Lake is located on Lookout Mountain, making it close to many other attractions and parks. At less than 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, it is also close to lodging and food.

4. Adventure at DeSoto Falls

DeSoto Falls in Mentone, Alabama, is just under an hour from Chattanooga. At only 8 miles north of Fort Payne, DeSoto Falls is located on top of scenic Lookout Mountain. Developed by the CCC in the 1930s, DeSoto State Park has stood the test of time and remains a popular site for visitors to this day.

DeSoto Falls offers a variety of activities and amenities, with kayaking, a seasonal swimming pool, a picnic area and playground, an interpretive center with programs and live animals, a Civilian Conservation Corp museum, and an ADA-accessible boardwalk trail. DeSoto State Park’s 3,502 acres are home to many lodging facilities, including chalets, cabins, motel rooms and camping.

desoto falls chattanooga

The best times to see the waterfalls at DeSoto State Park are in spring, late fall, and winter, as many of the falls and streams dry up during the summer months. There are six waterfalls located in DeSoto State Park, with viewing ranging from easy to difficult. The easiest to reach is DeSoto Falls, which offers an accessible paved trail to the upper falls and historic dam. The lower waterfall does require a walk down 50 concrete stairs. Other waterfalls and their trails can be found on the park’s website.

If you can’t get your fill of waterfalls, Little River Canyon National Preserve is located only a few miles south of DeSoto Falls State Park and is home to one of the tallest waterfalls in the state, the 133-foot Grace’s High Falls. The flow of Little River is also dependent on local rainfall, and is best visited during spring, late fall, or winter as well.

5. An Overview of Ruby Falls

Alt: Underground waterfall in pink lights at Ruby Falls in Tennessee

Ruby Falls Waterfall - Free photo on Pixabay - Pixabay

Located deep inside Lookout Mountain, overlooking Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ruby Falls is a subterranean waterfall in the deepest commercial cave in the United States. Known as the largest underground waterfall in the United States, this 145-foot waterfall was discovered in 1928 and has become a popular tourist attraction with visitors to Chattanooga.

Ruby Falls is open year round, and often offers seasonal decor along with activities and events. As Ruby Falls is located underground, the temperature remains 60 degrees year round. Winter is a particular favorite for visitors because of the balmy temperature inside the cave, as well as the festive Christmas decor and the availability of after-hours Lantern Walks.

Visitors to Ruby Falls begin at the above-ground visitors center, where tickets to walking tours of the caverns or the zipline adventure on top of the mountain can be purchased. Once you have chosen your tour, you will descend into the cave via glass front elevator.

Once inside, a tour guide will help you explore the falls, guiding you past rock formations and to the famous falls. The most popular Cave Walk experience is a 1-mile round trip path, and ranges from one hour to one hour and 20 minutes to complete.

After your trip through the cavern, stop by the gift shop or cafe. And once you’re done? It’s a short drive to Rock City, Point Park, the Incline, or a variety of restaurants and shops.

6. Refreshing Dip at Blue Hole Falls

In the heart of the Cherokee National Forest, near Elizabethton, Tennessee, Blue Hole Falls is just under 4 hours from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Although it’s quite a drive, Cherokee National Forest and Blue Hole Falls are a must-see for any true nature lover.

There are two hikes to the falls trail, one of which is quite challenging, with steep inclines and tree roots jutting from the ground. The other trail is flatter and likely preferred for anyone looking for a more casual hiking experience.

While the best time to visit the falls for swimming is in the summer, the trails are open year round and offer a secluded natural experience during the fall and winter months. Water levels are dependent on rainfall, so be aware that you may see lower water levels during particularly dry seasons.

11 Waterfalls in Chattanooga

Blue Hole Falls offers many stunning features, from the multi-tiered falls themselves to the stunning blue water of the swimming hole underneath due to the unique mineral concentration of the water and rocks. Located right off TN-91, Blue Hole Falls offers a parking area right beside the trailhead.

There are no other amenities, so bring your own water and snacks! Once you’re finished at the falls, take a scenic drive through the Cherokee National Forest to see a vast and untouched landscape full of hiking trails and overlooks.

While the trail to Blue Hole Falls is short, the Cherokee National Forest is 650,000 acres, so you’re sure to find another hiking trail you will enjoy. Nearby campgrounds and back-country campsites provide lodging for the adventurous traveler.

7. The Grandeur of Rock Island State Park Waterfalls

An hour and a half from Chattanooga, located centrally between Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Rock Island State Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in Tennessee. Located in the Caney Fork River Gorge, this 883-acre park is known for its hiking and swimming, as well as kayaking and birdwatching.

The most popular location in the park is undoubtedly Great Falls, a horseshoe shaped 30-foot waterfall featuring a 19th century cotton textile mill that used the falls for power. Twin Falls is a larger waterfall, viewable from multiple locations in the park and a respectable 80 feet tall.

When visiting the park, it is important to recognize that not all areas allow swimming, as many are downstream of the TVA powerhouse and may receive a sudden influx of water. This includes directly above Great Falls, although swimming is allowed beneath the Great Falls.

Twin Falls does not have trail access, but can be viewed from a parking area known as the Twin Falls Overlook at the end of Powerhouse Road. The overlook has parking, seating and an observation area for viewing the falls. A moderate trail departs from the Twin Falls Overlook and travels downstream for 1.7 miles, allowing creek viewing and views of Little Falls, a smaller waterfall in the park.

Great Falls is also viewable from a parking lot and overlook area, but can also be accessed via the Upstream Trail. This is a moderate hike with a parking lot, and can be used to access various swimming holes in the Gorge. The trail is one mile long. The Old Mill Gorge Trail is also located near Great Falls, and is one mile long. This trail is considered strenuous and is not recommended for all hikers.

Visitors to the park can stay in cabins or camp in the two available campgrounds. If Rock Island State Park is booked for camping, the park system recommends visiting Edgar Evins State Park, located 55 minutes from Rock Island State Park. Edgar Evins State Park offers lakeside cabins and 60 campsites.

8. The Soothing Sound of Laurel Falls

Situated in the Great Smoky Mountains just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Laurel Falls is just under 3 hours from Chattanooga. Laurel Falls Trail was originally created in the 1930s to allow access to a fire tower. However, due to the natural beauty of the falls, Laurel Falls Trail became a popular spot for hikers and was graded and paved in 1963.

A 2.6 mile round trip trail of moderate difficulty, the crown jewel of Laurel Falls Trail is the 80-foot waterfall. It should take around two hours to complete the Laurel Falls Trail. Divided by a walkway crossing the base of the upper falls, this waterfall pours down in two distinct sections. Some parts of Laurel Falls Trail have steep cliff drop-offs, and it can be slippery on parts. While part of the trail is paved, it is not paved all the way through. Additionally, bears are often sighted in the area.

waterfalls near chattanooga

However, don’t let this deter you—Laurel Falls is a popular spot for adventurers in the Smokies, America’s busiest national park. In fact, it can be hard to find parking at this spot during peak season! The National Park service is continually working to improve the experience for travelers at Laurel Falls, so keep an eye on the website for any alerts and warnings you should be aware of when visiting.

Laurel Falls is named for mountain laurel, a flowering shrub common in the region. One of the best times to visit is in the late spring, when the trails near the falls will be surrounded by blooms. However, mountain laurel is an evergreen, so even if you’re visiting in the winter, expect to see greenery surrounding the trail and falls. If possible, try to visit on a weekday to avoid the worst of the crowds.

Once you’ve finished your hike at Laurel Falls, there is still plenty of nature to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains, including the nearby Baskins Creek trail with a waterfall feature. For an easier hike, nearby Elkmont and Cosby campgrounds offer not only lodging, but also kid-friendly nature trails.

If you don’t want to camp, cabins and hotels are available in nearby Gatlinburg and Sevierville. Make it a weekend trip and spend a day at one of the many attractions in the area, such as Dollywood, then grab dinner in Pigeon Forge.

9. A Short Hike to Piney Falls

Alt: Aerial view of waterfalls on a sunny day at Piney Creek Falls in Tennessee

Piney Creek Falls Stock Photo - Download Image Now - Tennessee, Waterfall, Fall Creek Falls - iStock (istockphoto.com)

Located near Fall Creek Falls in Rhea County, Tennessee, Piney Falls is just over an hour and 15 minutes from Chattanooga. Recognized by the United States Department of Interior as a National Natural Landmark, it is one of fourteen National Natural Landmarks in Tennessee.

Piney Falls is an 80-foot waterfall, which can be viewed from trails that skirt both the base and the rim of the waterfall itself. Additional trails in the area meander through 440 acres of old growth forest. Much of the old growth forest is located beneath the falls, and includes white pines and eastern hemlocks, as well as tulip poplar, hemlock, buckeye and basswood.

Above the falls is a plateau oak-pine forest. If you are visiting in spring, you will not only be surrounded by beautiful foliage, but also a variety of picturesque native wildflowers. The trail is considered easy to moderate, but may become slippery or icy depending on weather.

Piney Falls is open from sunrise to sunset, and does not have camping facilities. Hunting is not allowed, but you are able to fish along Piney Creek. Piney Falls trails are pet-friendly, but you must keep your pet on a leash through the entire visit.

Piney Falls is located near many other trails, natural areas, and parks. Nearby Fall Creek Falls has many amenities, including camping, cabins and a lodge.

10. The Breathtaking Greeter Falls

Greeter Falls, located within Savage Gulf State Park, is an hour and a half north of Chattanooga. This Middle Tennessee park is over 15,500 acres of diverse landscape, featuring beautiful cliffs and gorges, waterfalls, and forests to explore. Savage Gulf State Park has many unique geological features for hikers to discover. And for the waterfall enthusiast, it’s home to Greeter Falls.

Savage Gulf offers 60 miles of hiking trails, four trailhead parking lots, nine backcountry campgrounds, and a gift shop. There is a picnic area, pavilion, and restrooms at the park, as well as the opportunity to rock climb.

Greeter Falls is one of seven waterfalls within Savage Gulf State Park, but it is undoubtedly the most famous. This 50-foot waterfall is considered one of the best waterfall hikes in middle Tennessee, and a short loop trail takes you to Upper Greeter Falls, Lower Greeter Falls, and Boardtree Falls.

Lower Greeter Falls is the highlight of a hike and empties into a swimming hole at the bottom. The loop trail is considered moderate, but includes a spiral staircase and a wooden ramp that can be slippery at times. For those who want a more adventurous hike, take a side trail to visit Ranger CreekFalls—but be careful, as this trail requires a creek crossing and can become difficult after heavy rains.

The basic loop only takes an hour and a half, and is best done between March and October. Leashed dogs are welcome on both trails.

Once you’ve made the trek to see Boardtree Falls, Greeter Falls, and Ranger Creek falls, take some time to explore the other waterfalls in the park. Check the calendar for additional events within the park, such as the yearly Savage Gulf Marathon and a variety of ranger-led hikes.

11. Exploring the Lesser-Known Ozone Falls

Although not as famous as many of the other waterfalls on the list, Ozone Falls shouldn’t be overlooked. Right off Interstate 40, this 110-foot waterfall is an hour and a half from downtown Chattanooga. During the 1800s, this 43-acre natural area in Cumberland County was home to grist and sawmills that were powered by the flowing creek.

The last mill was destroyed in a flood in 1900, and the creek has flowed unencumbered ever since. More recently, Ozone Falls was used to film a scene for the Disney movie “The Jungle Book.”

falls near chattanooga

This natural area is open to the public from sunrise to sundown, and is accessible by a trailhead with a small parking lot. No hunting, fishing, camping, or rappelling is allowed in the natural area. Although dogs on leash are allowed, they may have a difficult time navigating the large boulders surrounding the creek, and therefore are not recommended. There are no bathrooms, water fountains, or other amenities at this location.

Two trails take hikers to either the top of the falls, or to the bottom, where locals enjoy swimming during the summer months. The trail to the top is a short trek, but has no guardrails along the steep drop off. The hike to the bottom of the falls is steep and can be slippery, but most hikers report that it should not take more than an hour to hike down and back.

After exploring Ozone Falls, check out the nearby Cumberland Mountain State Park for even more hiking, as well as camping and other amenities.

Explore and Experience the Waterfalls of Chattanooga

Chattanooga is known for its natural beauty, and for good reason. With a mix of trails and outdoor attractions in the city and surrounding areas, it’s got something for everyone. There is a variety of terrain to explore. From the surrounding Appalachian mountains, to the nearby Cumberland Plateau, Chattanooga provides easy access to a variety of stunning waterfalls across the state.

Each waterfall featured here offers something different, from old growth forests to unique rock formations. Many of these waterfalls are located near other attractions, as well as local dining, lodging, and extensive hiking trails.

Chattanooga is a must-visit destination for nature lovers. Whether you’re looking for an accessible waterfall trail like DeSoto Falls, or something more difficult like Ozone Falls, you’re sure to find a waterfall trail to explore. No matter what season you’re visiting in, or what your hiking skill is, there’s a waterfall trail waiting for you near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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