Center Hill Lake Hiking: The Top 3 Trails You Need Hike

Middle Tennessee offers excellent adventures. Fishing on Center Hill Lake. Kayaking the Caney Fork River. And hiking the trails near the lake. In this article, we offer our overview of the best Center Hill Lake hiking.

My wife and I moved back to Middle Tennessee in 2019. We had been in Colorado for a few years while Michelle finished her degree. We had lived in Nashville before we moved to Colorado. When we moved back, we decided not to live in the Metro area. We landed in the lake community around Center Hill Lake.

While vastly different from the mountains in Colorado, Middle Tennessee offers some beautiful outdoor adventures and hiking.

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Facts About Center Hill Lake

Center Hill Lake in Tennessee
Center Hill Lake | Canva Pro License | Getty Images

Center Hill Lake covers an area of 18,220 square acres and extends 64 miles upstream. It is located between Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee off Interstate 40 in the foothills of the mountains of east Tennessee.. The Caney Fork River feeds the lake. It is about 1.5 hours from Nashville and Chattanooga by car.

At the deepest point, Center Hill Lake is 190′ deep. The Corps of Engineers maintains the lake level at a constant 423′ above mean sea level. The Corps also monitors the water quality and collects data on the lake levels.

Center Hill Lake Hiking Best Day Hikes

Center Hill Lake is a great place to vacation (and live). There are so many activities for the outdoorsman. Here are our top picks for hiking near Center Hill Lake.

1) Burgess Falls

Burgess Falls | Alltrails.com

Burgess Falls is a popular hiking destination in the eastern part of Tennessee, due to its rich wildlife and beautiful scenery—including a grand rock formation called Burgess Falls, which is over 150 feet tall. It’s named after the Burgess family, who settled in the area in the 1800s, and the falls itself is a popular destination for hikers, who can reach it by following a moderate 1.4 mile trail.

The trail starts off on the Peaks of Otter Trail, and initially leads you through dense forest that gets progressively rockier and more exposed as you go. At the 0.3 mile mark, you get a panoramic view of the surrounding area, before the trail winds back into the trees. At the

Public Notice Ongoing: The staircase at the main falls is inaccessible and the overlook is also closed as of November 21, 2020. Check the Tennessee Parks website for details.

Burgess Falls Trail Sign | Alltrails.com

For more information visit:

Tennessee State Parks/Burgess Falls

Burgess Falls

Location:

About 10 miles from Center Hill Lake on I-40 near Baxter, Tennessee. This park features a beautiful 130-foot waterfall along with some hiking and picnic areas. The trails are easy to moderate at most. A great spot for a short hike.

Burgess Falls Park Office
4000 Burgess Falls Drive
Sparta, TN 38583

Description: 

Part of the Falling Water River, it has four waterfalls. Burgess Falls is a favorite. Take a look at this aerial view of Burgess Falls by Chris Biela.

PrimoMedia | Chris Biela

The hike to the falls is nearly 3 miles, each way, and despite being one of the most popular in the area, it’s great for both beginners and experienced hikers alike. It’s a fairly easy hike through the woods, with the remaining distance all being downhill.

Steps at Burgess Falls | Alltrails.com

The path to get to Burgess Falls is well-marked, and despite being a popular spot, there is rarely a crowd.

Distance and Route: 

This is a 1.6 miles out and back trip.

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Alltrails.com marks it as easy, but the Center Hill community lists it as moderate. I would say it is more on the easy side.

Pet Friendly: 

Yes, but dogs must be leashed.

What To Expect: 

Depending on the season, the trail can be slippery and muddy. This area gets lots of water in Spring and Fall, so be prepared. Good hiking boots or shoes are recommended.

When you get to the falls you might notice kayaks (even jet skis at the bottom). That’s because the falls are accessible by water.

Restrooms:

There are restrooms in the park along with a picnic area. Grills are available.

Overlook of Burgess Falls | Alltrails.com

Other Activities:

There is a covered pavilion equipped with grills so you can make a day of it with your family.

An abundance of wildlife is present. Bird watching is very popular in the area. A few favorite local birds include:

  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Wood Thrush
  • Eastern Wood-pewee
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler

Fishing is also a favorite. Just make sure you have your fishing license up to date. Rangers frequent the area.

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2) Windows Cliffs

Window Clifss | Alltrails.com

What do you get when you have a window in the side of a mountain? Known as a window cliff, they are a pretty rare phenomenon. But thanks to the unique geology of Center Hill Lake, Tennessee, visitors can get a first-hand look at them. Given that the lake is a reservoir built on top of a mountain, the lake’s cliff faces are all man-made.

Window Cliff” is one of the most popular hiking trails near Center Hill Lake. This trail offers an incredible view of the lake with a backdrop of the Cumberland Plateau.

Window Cliffs | Alltrails.com

Location:

About 20 minutes from Center Hill Lake on US HWY 70 South of Winchester, TN. 

Description: This hike is rated difficult, but really isn’t that bad. The trail starts out across the street from the Windows Restaurant at the top of the cliff face.

Window Cliffs Website

Window Cliffs Parking Lot
8400 Old Cane Creek Rd
Baxter, TN 38544

Description: 

The trail starts out as a relatively easy ascent to the top of “Window Cliff.”

The stretch of trail right before Window Cliff is the steepest portion of the trail, which can be a little tricky in certain weather conditions. After a moderate ascent to the top, you’ll reach the Window Cliff, where you can look down at Center Hill Lake. The view is absolutely stunning, and you’ll want to stop for a photo op.

Map of Window Cliffs

Window Cliffs Trail Marker | Alltrails.com

Distance and Route: 

Windows Cliff is a 5.3 miles round trip (out and back).

Rating:

Moderate to difficult based on your fitness level. I would call it moderate to slightly difficult because there are some steep sections and a few places where you need to use ropes to climb up or down parts of the rock face.

Pet Friendly: 

No. Pets are not allowed for safety reasons.

Along the river at Window Cliffs | Alltrails.com

What To Expect:

If you visit the trailhead near Center Hill Dam in Tennessee, you’ll arrive at a parking lot with a pleasant trailhead and a big sign that says “No Drinking Water—Shelter Closed” or some such nonsense. But that might not be what you’re after. Look around, and you’ll see a small trail that angles off the main one and starts winding upward, toward a bluff that must be hiding something. When you hit the top of that bluff, you’ll be looking across Center Hill Lake toward a sign that says “Window Cliff.”

There are many creek crossings, so be prepared. At times the trail is very wet and muddy. Especially during Spring and Fall. We recommend water hiking shoes.

View from the Top Window Cliffs | Alltrails.com

No camping is permitted in this park. It is for day-hikes only,

The park also experiences closures at times. Check the Tennessee Parks website before you plan your trip.

Restrooms

Located near the Burgess Falls entrance.

Other Activities:

No camping available at Window Cliffs.

3) Cummings Falls

Cummings Falls | Alltrails.com

Cummings Falls is a beautiful falls located in the Tennessee State Park known as ” Center Hill Lake ” in Tennessee. There is a hiking trail that leads to the falls, however, you will have to walk about 2.6 miles to reach the falls.

Also, you will have to hike down the trail and back up again. But it is a great hike. As you hike down the trail, you will cross a bridge and pass a bunch of different creeks.

Gorge Access Permits are required for anyone who wishes to enter the gorge or access the base of the waterfall. No refunds, exchanges, date transfers, or rain checks will be issued for permits.

View of Cummings Falls | Alltrails.com

Location: 

About 20 minutes from Center Hill Lake on US HWY 70 South of Winchester, TN. 

Cummings Falls

Cummings Falls
390 Cummins Falls Lane
Cookeville, TN 38501
931-268-7223

Description:

This hike is rated difficult, but really isn’t that bad. The trail starts out across the street from the Windows Restaurant at the top of the cliff face.

Distance and Route: 

5 miles round trip when you include the side trail to Cummings Falls. If you only do the main trail it is about 3.4 miles round trip.

Rating:

Moderate to difficult based on your fitness level.

Pet Friendly:

Yes. Only if leashed.

Cummings Falls at River | Alltrails.com

What to Expect:

This short hike is one of the best hikes to do near Center Hill Lake. The trail has quite a bit of scenery for what it has. The hike is a loop, so if you take the right trail, you’ll be on the same trail that you started after you go all the way around. 

The trail goes over Cummings Creek, and has a few spots to sit and relax in the shade. The creek is about 30 ft. across, and there are plenty of rocks to sit on that are right next to the creek, so you can get a nice view of the falls.

Restrooms

Yes. Located 

Other Activities:

There is a picnic area at the start of the trail with plenty of parking.

You can swim once you reach the falls, but it is not recommended for young children.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Near Center Hill Lake

Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee is beautiful with lots of outdoor adventure activities. Our top hiking spots around the lake are:

  • Burgess Falls
  • Window Cliffs
  • Cummings Falls

There are plenty of other hiking locations in the area, but these three we recommend if you are visiting or new to the area.

Other Activities Near Center Hill Lake:

Kayaking the Caney Fork River

Fishing

Skiing and other sports

Camping

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