Fall Creek Falls State Park
TypeTennessee State Park
LocationBledsoe and Van Buren counties
Coordinates35°39′44″N 85°20′59″W / 35.66211°N 85.34978°W / 35.66211; -85.34978Coordinates: 35°39′44″N 85°20′59″W / 35.66211°N 85.34978°W / 35.66211; -85.34978
Area26,000 acres (110 km2)
Operated byTennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
OpenYear round
WebsiteFall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls State Resort Park is a state park in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties, in the U.S. state of Tennessee. The over 26,000-acre (110 km2) park is centered on the upper Cane Creek Gorge, an area known for its unique geological formations and scenic waterfalls. The park's namesake is the 256-foot (78 m) Fall Creek Falls, the highest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi River.



The Cane Creek Gorge presents as a large gash in the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau, stretching for some 15 miles (24 km) from the Cane Creek Cascades to Cane Creek's mouth along the Caney Fork River. Cane Creek rises atop Little Mountain — which lines the plateau's eastern edge above Sequatchie Valley — and winds northward across the plateau.

Just beyond its source, Cane Creek slowly gains strength as it absorbs Meadow Creek and several smaller streams. As the creek enters the gorge, it drops several hundred feet in less than a mile, including 45 feet (14 m) over Cane Creek Cascades and 85 feet (26 m) over Cane Creek Falls. A few hundred meters north of Cane Creek Falls, Rockhouse Creek spills 125 feet (38 m) over a plunge waterfall. Over the next half-mile, Cane Creek absorbs Fall Creek and Piney Creek, both of which enter from smaller gorges to the immediate west. During this stretch, part of the creek disappears underground into limestone sinks and reemerges at a spring known as "Crusher Hole."[1] Cane Creek continues to lose elevation before steadying near its confluence with Dry Fork. Beyond Dry Fork, the creek gradually descends to the Highland Rim, where it empties into the Caney Fork River.

The man-made Fall Creek Falls Lake, controlled by a dam, assures continuing flow of water to Fall Creek Falls. The lake dominates the park's southern section.



Rockhouse Falls
Rockhouse Falls


View of Cane Creek Gorge from the Rocky Point Overlook
View of Cane Creek Gorge from the Rocky Point Overlook


Along with waterfalls and overlooks, Fall Creek Falls State Park has the second-most caves of any park in the eastern U.S., behind Mammoth Cave National Park.[3] All Park caves are currently closed in an effort to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats.[4]


Cane Creek Falls
Cane Creek Falls

The plateau areas above the Cane Creek Gorge are characterized by poor soil and weak resource potential, both exacerbated by the area's limited accessibility (by the 1920s, no major railroads and one crude highway passed between Pikeville and Spencer). In the early 20th century, this section of Van Buren County still had only a handful of farms and no major coal mining or logging operations. Local historian Arthur Weir Crouch, referring to Fall Creek Falls, wrote, "In the beginning and for many years it was a true wilderness area."[7]

The few residents who lived in the Cane Creek area were often at the mercy of the creek, which, like most of the Upper Caney Fork watershed, was prone to flash flooding. The Good Friday Flood of 1929, the most devastating of these floods, caused the Caney Fork and its tributaries to swell to record volumes and wiped out dozens of mills, houses, and bridges. Lawson Fisher, who operated a grist mill at the head of Cane Creek Falls at the time of the flood, recalled being awakened that night by the roar of the creek's rising waters. Racing into the mill to save the mill's account books, Fisher later testified:

I had taken perhaps four or five steps when I felt that old mill building quiver. I turned and ran for the door and stepped out on solid ground, and then turned around to see what was going to happen, but folks, it had already happened. The mill wasn't there. I could just see pieces of planking and timbers going over the falls and rushing on down into the valley of Cane Creek below.[8]

Another resident recalled waking up to a cabin floor covered with several inches of water, and spending the night in the cabin loft watching helplessly as the water continued to rise.[9] Several smaller farms in the lower part of the valley were completely destroyed. The Cane Creek Mill, which had stood above the falls since 1831, was never rebuilt.[10]

State park

A swingbridge spans Cane Creek, near the nature center
A swingbridge spans Cane Creek, near the nature center

In 1937, the U.S. government began purchasing the badly eroded land around Fall Creek Falls. The following year, the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps began the work of restoring the forest and constructing park facilities. The National Park Service transferred ownership of the park to the State of Tennessee in 1944.[11][12]

Millikan's Overlook is named after Glenn Millikan, who was head of the Department of Physiology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and son of Nobel Laureate Robert A. Millikan.[13] Millikan was killed by a falling rock on May 25, 1947, while rock climbing "Buzzard's Roost," the cliff beneath the overlook.[14]

In 2006, the State of Tennessee purchased 12,500 acres (51 km2) of land along the White-Van Buren County line, in the vicinity of Bledsoe State Forest. The purchase was part of an effort to create an unbroken corridor of publicly owned land between Fall Creek Falls State Park and Scott's Gulf, a few miles to the north in White County.[15]

Park facilities and management

Fall Creek Falls State Park is open year-round and is managed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Park facilities currently include cabins, campgrounds, and a snack bar.

The park has 30 cabins – 20 fishermen cabins and 10 landside cabins.[16] The park has 222 campsites in five different areas. All sites have tables, grills, water, and electricity and are served by six bathhouses.[17]

An 18-hole golf course, Olympic-sized swimming pool, and several miles of hiking trails and paved biking trails are available in the park.

In 2013–2014, the park underwent some minor renovations of its facilities. The landside cabins and fisherman cabins were updated, and a privately operated zip line was installed at the Village Green.[18]


The Fall Creek Falls Inn and Conference Center offered 144 guest rooms and over 5,000 square feet (460 m2) of banquet space in five conference rooms, which accommodated up to 400 people.[19] The buildings were designed with a brutalist architecture, having a combination of dark brick, and gray concrete with an exposed aggregate of smooth white, beige, tan, and brownish river stones. Built in the 1960s, with a rooms-only annex in the 1970s, they were closed in early April 2018 and demolished later that year, after Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam pushed for privatization and potential concessionaires refused to bid on serving the older facilities at the state's resort parks.

Cost overruns and underestimates, and a tight labor market in such a rural area, led to a need for more money from the Tennessee General Assembly in 2019, in turn allowing construction to resume in the autumn. It is expected to finally reopen in late summer or early autumn of 2021, with only 75 to 95 guest rooms, at a cost of slightly over $40 million (up from $29 million originally).[20] It is currently unknown how much nightly room rates will be increased.

Both counties objected to the long-term closure of the inn due to the significant loss of lodging taxes and sales taxes, as well as employees who would be left without a job or forced to relocate or commute long distances to other state parks, even when the closure and reconstruction were expected to be far shorter. Proposals to build on the opposite side of the lake before closing the original inn were declined, largely to due to the lack of sufficient sewerage facilities there.

In the arts

Artist Gilbert Gaul, who gained national acclaim for his Civil War illustrations, operated from a studio south of Spencer on land currently owned by the park.[21] The Gaul's Gallery restaurant at the inn was named for him.

Fall Creek Falls State Park was used as one of the primary filming locations for 20th Century Fox's fantasy adventure film Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, Disney's live action film adaptation of The Jungle Book[22]:13 and the comic science fiction film Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam, starring Jim Varney.[22]:16 Scenes from the 1986 movie King Kong Lives, starring Linda Hamilton, were filmed in the area of Cane Creek Cascades and Cane Creek Falls.[22]:16


  1. ^ Stuart Carroll, "Fall Creek Falls State Park Natural Diversity," 24 August 2004. Retrieved: 8 January 2008.
  2. ^ Dunigan, Tom. "Lost Cr.(Dodson) Falls 60'". Tennessee Waterfalls. Tennessee Landforms. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Omarzu, Tim (October 27, 2012). "Fall Creek Falls State Park expands, gets Lost Creek Cave and falls". Times Free Press. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  4. ^ "Policies". Tennessee Stage Parks. Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation. Retrieved February 7, 2017. Caves located on state lands in Tennessee will be closed until further notice in an effort to slow the spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) among the state’s bat population.
  5. ^ Camas Davis, "Exposing Tennessee's Titanic Cave Chamber ." National Geographic Adventure (March 2002). Retrieved: 2 September 2008.
  6. ^ Tyler (January 1, 2002). "Saving Ruby Falls Cave from Spencer Sewage Treatment Plant". Tennessee Environmental Council. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  7. ^ Arthur Crouch, The Caney Fork of the Cumberland: The Story of a River, Its History, Features, Moods, People and Places with Particular Reference to Rock Island and the Area Above Great Falls (Nashville, Tenn.: Crouch, 1973), 81.
  8. ^ Crouch, The Caney Fork of the Cumberland, 17.
  9. ^ Crouch, The Caney Fork of the Cumberland, 17–18.
  10. ^ Crouch, The Caney Fork of the Cumberland, 40.
  11. ^ Ruth Nichols, "Fall Creek Falls State Park." The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 7 January 2008.
  12. ^ Crouch, The Caney Fork of the Cumberland, 81.
  13. ^ Park information sign at Millikan's Overlook.
  14. ^ "Accident Reports". American Alpine Journal. The American Alpine Club. 7 (1): 100. April 1948. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  15. ^ The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, "Bredesen Announces Purchase of More than 12,500 Acres from Bowater Incorporated." 27 November 2006. Retrieved: 8 January 2008.
  16. ^ "Fall Creek Falls State Park". Tennessee State Parks. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  17. ^ "Fall Creek Falls State Park". Tennessee State Parks. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  18. ^ Ben Benton, "Fall Creek Falls Cabins Target of $1.4 Million Facelift," Chattanooga Times Free Press, 27 July 2013.
  19. ^ "Fall Creek Falls State Park". Tennessee State Parks. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  20. ^ https://www.thebledsonian-banner.com/2019/09/18/fall-creek-falls-inn-construction-to-resume/
  21. ^ Teresa Biddle-Douglass, "William Gilbert Gaul." The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 8 January 2008.
  22. ^ a b c "Tennessee Film/Videography" (PDF). Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission. 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 29, 2014. Retrieved February 7, 2017.

Further reading