Cascading water, plunge-worthy swimming holes and wooded trails may not be the first things that come to mind when you think about Nashville. But believe it or not, there are actually several places where you can enjoy all of these things not far from the city. So why not take a break from Nashville’s hustle and bustle (and the current deathly heat), and start enjoying some natural beauty with these 7 nearby waterfall hikes and swimming holes. At the very least, you can reward yourself with a refreshing swim post sweat-inducing hike.
Tullahoma Make sure you bring your swim trunks to this popular swimming spot. Just over an hour from Nashville, Rutledge Falls is the perfect place to cool down during the summer because of its refreshing pool. The waterfall is tiered, so we don't recommend trying to jump off of it, but the swimming is serene. The falls can be a little tricky to find, but you’ll know you’ve made it when you see Rutledge Falls Baptist Church.
White County You’ll have a hard time finding a more breathtaking, calming destination — especially in driving distance from Nashville. About 2 1/2 hours from downtown, Virgin Falls is located between Sparta and Crossville. The main attraction is the stream that flows from a cave, drops down a 110-foot high cliff, and flows into yet another cave. The result is a near infinity-pool look; glassy, gorgeous and never-ending. That alone is enough to attract people, but there are also various other waterfalls and caves to enjoy. The area’s 1,157 acres cover some pretty strenuous hiking trails, so you’ll want to come prepared for the approximate 9-mile trek.
Rock Island State Park
Rock Island Enjoy a little bit of everything the outdoors has to offer at Rock Island. The state park has 883 acres with plenty of areas for swimming, canoeing, walking, camping and just enjoying the natural views. The majority of these activities take place in and around the Caney Fork Gorge, which is below Great Falls Dam. Beyond providing the perfect spot to cool off and relax, Rock Island is also the place to stay if you want a rustic cabin experience -- their two-and three-bedroom cabins are open year round, and there are also campsites if you prefer to spend more time in the great outdoors. All of this is a little under 2 hours from Nashville.
Old Stone Fort State Park
Manchester Take a walk through history and enjoy some of the same sights the Native Americans witnessed at Old Stone Fort. Just an hour from Nashville, the park’s main hiking trail will take you by an old ceremonial gathering place and even the fort’s original entrance. There’s also a museum on site for history buffs, but if connecting with the past isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to do throughout this 50-acre park. From enjoying the picturesque waterfalls that pour into a swimming hole to exploring the wooded trails, you'll be overwhelmed by the range that mother nature can display.
Jackson County If the sights and sounds of a tranquil waterfall are what you’re after, you'll need to prioritize Cummins Falls. It has the eighth largest waterfall (by volume of water) in the state, standing at an impressive 75 feet tall. However, reaching the waterfall and swimming hole can be a bit tricky, so be ready to brave some rough terrain. The park spans 211 acres and is only open during the day.
Fall Creek Falls
Spencer It’s easy to see why Fall Creek Falls is the state’s largest and most visited park. The breath-taking outdoor space includes luscious waterfalls, streams, trails and other natural features. No matter your fitness level, there are trails for you: The walking, biking and overnight trails range from 2 to 13 miles and cover 26,000 acres. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also check out their aerial course, which includes things like wobbly bridges, zip lines and rope swings. A two-hour drive from downtown, Fall Creek Falls is located in Spencer, Tenn.
Short Springs Natural Area
Tullahoma Why not go on a lively hike surrounded by colorful foliage to kick off the weekend? Short Springs is known for being one of the best wildflower locations in the state, making it a must-see spot. The area also features a creek, waterfall and a variety of wet-weather seeps that are even more impressive during the winter and spring. A little over an hour from Nashville, Short Springs covers 420 acres with plenty of natural features to enjoy.
Need a well deserved break after all that swimming? These incredible chicken wing spots should do the trick.