Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Trail Review: Burgess Falls State Park

Burgess Falls framed by wildflowers

Location: 4000 Burgess Falls Drive; Sparta., TN 38583
Trail Length: Apprx. 2.5 Miles Round Trip (for River Trail, spur to falls, Ridge Trail loop, and return to parking lot)
Difficulty: Moderate (with somewhat strenuous and slick descent to base of falls, which is optional)
Solitude: Moderate to crowded depending on season

Trail Map for Burgess Falls Hiking Trails
Click map for larger image.
Burgess Falls is kind of a "pocket" state park. It was obviously designated to preserve the beautiful falls along the Falling Water River, and the park's property does not extend too far from the roughly 3/4 mile section of river where the falls lie. The main trail is the River Trail, which is only 0.8 miles (plus an extra 0.3 mile optional section to the base of the falls.) As you would think, the River Trail runs just along the Falling Water River offering views of cascades and water falls ranging from 20 feet to the spectacular main falls with a drop of 136 feet.

The short trail has a few elevation gains and drops, but for those in modest health, it is fairly easy given its short length. It offers two overlook areas, one for the 86-foot middle falls and one for the big falls already mentioned. For those who want to see the base of the falls, you can take a short trail from the last overlook to descend about 250 feet in just over a quarter mile. A large metal stairwell was also installed by the park to help with one section of the descent (which, I can report, was easy for my dog to negotiate.) The large falls emit a lot of mist, so be prepared for slick rocks for the final trek down to the lowest ground at the base. Photographers should come with cloths at the ready to wipe the mist from their lenses if taking shots from the center of the falls. This mist blows several dozen feet past the falls. 

View from overlook of Middle Falls at Burgess Falls State Park
Middle Falls from overlook (in harsh sun, unfortunately.)
Once returning from the falls, you can take a short trek on the Ridge Top trail. This trek is a simple loop that offers a few more views of the river gorge below before dipping into the woods atop the ridge for a short section. This trail will spit you out on a gravel road, and from here you can take a right and head south to walk back to the parking area on flat ground. (This gravel road is also a good option for those with health complications to reach the overlook directly from the parking lot.) Of course, you can also take a left to reach the River Trail and retrace your steps back along the river to the trailhead.

From the parking lot trailhead, you can also wander east, opposite the direction of the falls, on a short trail that takes you to a dam close by. This section of river offers some nice wading and swimming areas. Several picnic tables and grills are also close by for those who might want to pack a picnic. In fact, Burgess Falls would make for a great family or date picnic given the short, quick hikes and huge payoff in terms of scenery. 

NOTE FOR EASY ACCESS TO MAIN FALLS OVERLOOK: Those with health complications or very small children can simply take the gravel road from the parking lot for 0.8 miles on fairly flat ground to reach the big falls overlook. See map above.
View of Burgess Falls from overlook
Big falls from overlook.
Burgess Falls, large falls
Big falls from spur trail to base.
Burgess Falls from base with natural pool
Detail of big falls from base.
For more information regarding Burgess Falls State Park, including directions, contact information, and a park map, CLICK HERE FOR THEIR WEBSITE.

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