Friday, July 21, 2017

Cummins Falls │ Hiking with Kids

When Daniel and I were first married we lived in Cookeville, TN. In those early years of our marriage, we spent a lot of time hiking. Partly (mostly) because we both loved it and partly because it was the only thing we could afford to do.

We hiked everywhere we could on the Cumberland Plateau, up to the Big South Fork region and over toward the Great Smoky Mountains. Our weekends were filled with endless hikes.

Cookeville has several great hikes that were pretty close to where we lived at that time. We enjoyed hikes at Burgess Falls, Cummins Falls, Window Cliffs, and rapelling at B Rock. Back in 2002-2004, Burgess Falls was the only State Park of the bunch, the other places were private property. Now these areas are all State Parks.

On Monday we had plans to meet up with my brother, my sister and her kids, and one of our cousins to do a waterfall hike. My sister had come up to Tennessee to visit family and really wanted to take her kids on a waterfall hike (Florida is not known for their waterfalls).

Our initial plan had been to visit Burgess Falls because Cummins Falls had recently been closed. I checked the website for Burgess and it said that the stairs to the bottom of the falls were closed (it currently says the stairs are closed indefinitely).

I checked with my sister and we agreed that we wanted to get wet, so we altered our plans to visit Cummins Falls instead since it was open again.

I'm so glad we did!

Among other things, the website warns that:
The hike to the gorge is not an improved trail. This is an adventurous hike and is not suitable for small children.

I initially debated if we should really take the kids there (ages 2, 5, 5, and 7), but as my sister pointed out: Our kids are not your average kids.

Point taken...

So, risks or not, we decided to go. We had a discussion about what to expect and made sure each kid had a grown up to stay with, and then we headed down into the gorge. (There were actually quite a few kids hiking with their families while we were there).

We opted for the 1.5 mile trail to the falls, and honestly, it was lovely. While the switch backs to the bottom are somewhat steep, they weren't that big of a deal, and there is a guard rail for the switchback sections as you go down. We live in East Tennessee and regularly hike on more difficult trails than what we encountered at Cummins Falls.

Once we were at the bottom, we enjoyed wading and swimming in the Blackburn Fork River as we made our way upstream to the falls. The kids loved that pretty much the entire hike was in water. And it was just as beautiful as I remember (though in my mind, back when it was private property almost 15 years ago, it was a more difficult climb to the bottom).

We kept away from rapids that had strong currents, but the kids were able to swim in several deep, calm sections along the way. We didn't think the hike was particularly strenuous (it would be different if the water levels had been higher), but you should take into account that you have to hike up a series of switchbacks to get back to the parking lot.

Once we reached the falls, we had to climb over a bunch of boulders to reach the swimming hole beneath the falls. There were a ton of people there and two rangers who were monitoring to make sure no one did anything stupid or got swept down the rapids below the swimming area.

The park provides a limited number of coastguard approve life jackets and I snagged one for Jack. The water was freezing, but we all waded out to the base of the waterfall. The kids enjoyed getting behind the bottom of the falls on a ledge with my brother.

And while I hung out with Isaac on the boulders to warm up, the rest climbed up to the first level of the waterfall... unfortunately we didn't get any pictures of that.

It was such a perfect day spent with family. I hate that Daniel and Robert had to miss out. I had forgotten how beautiful it is. We will definitely have to go back.

On our way home, we drove through Cookeville and I showed Jack where Daniel got his degree from and a few other places. It really made me nostalgic. We haven't been back in over 10 years!

Trail Stats:
Cummins Falls north of Cookeville, TN.
3 miles hiked, mostly in water.
1 large waterfall viewed.

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