Updated: Jan 11
Tullahoma, Tenn. - People head down I-24E toward Tullahoma for one reason: the Jack Daniels Distillery that stands one town over in Lynchburg; but there is a hidden gem that few travelers know about, just a one hour drive from the heart of Nashville. If you head up the hills a few miles to the point where it almost feels like you're lost , you will discover one of Tennessee's most underrated waterfalls; Machine Falls. As you travel towards the trails there is an opening with signs leading you towards the Machine Falls Loop and the Busby Falls Loop Trail. To see the main waterfall you will want to take the Machine Falls Loop Trail. In total, this hike is about 3 miles long. Half of the trail is downhill and the other half a steep uphill incline. Every time that I have been to this trail I've met the nicest hikers, most of which are local to the area; there is something about southern hospitality that makes life all the more enjoyable. One of my favorite things about the initial part of the trail is that they do not add any human made steps or pave the path for stability. Every part of the trail aside from one bridge, is completely unaltered by humans and remains as mud. When you get down the hill, to the left of the bridge is a river and a water hole. The water is extremely clear and is the perfect depth to jump in for a swim! If you go right from here, you will find yourself staring up at natures miracle from the base of the waterfall. The walk to get there is a little slick. I recommended wearing waterproof hiking boots for extra traction, or if you are feeling crazy, take your shoes off and embrace connecting with nature in its purest form. If you are someone who values your alone time in nature, I would go earlier in the morning rather than mid-day. The base of the falls gets very crowded around lunch time on a sunny summer day and the crowds take away from the beauty. As pictured above, you are able to walk in the waterfall and climb the rocks on the side all the way up to the top. Unlike Cummins Falls in Cookeville, Tennessee this waterfall doesn't have enough space for people to swim at its base. Once you have gotten your fix of the falls you can head back towards the bridge and begin the uphill trek. After winding through lush forests, there comes a break in the trail that allows hikers to go see the waterfall from the top. As you walk past the brush, deeper down this side trail you will come to the very top of the waterfall.
Now you are sat where the sky meets the tree tops. This is a good place to stop and reflect as typically it sees less foot traffic. Both here, and the bottom of the waterfall are great places for nature photographers to stop and take photographs. From there, you can walk back to the main trail and soon will arrive at an open field of beautiful wild flowers. This is how you know that the hike is almost over. When you come back to the opening of the trail where it splits into two, or as Robert Frost says, where "Two roads diverge in a yellow wood" you see Busby Falls. Though the waterfall is smaller over here, this trail is interesting because it poses various terrain. The beginning of the trail leads hikers to a rustic metal bridge. If you stop here to rest and hang your feet over the edge you sit above the tributaries that flow from the river and can watch the water trickle down the rocks. As you continue on, you will pass another section of the river, here there is no bridge, only a large log that must be crossed to continue the hike towards the falls (very Naked and Afraid vibes except hopefully you are fully clothed.) The rest of the trail is fairly flat, but the scenery is still beautiful and presents the perfect place to set up an Eno and hang in the trees for awhile. I have hiked each trail in every season and must say my personal favorite trail is the Machine Falls Loop in the heat of the summer. This is a perfect time to dip your feet in the water and possibly swim in the water hole. Coming in at a close second is the Busby Falls trail in the fall. Since a good portion of the trail is on heavily forested land, at times it feels like you are walking through a kaleidoscope of leaves.
Overall, I think that there are other hikes around middle Tennessee that are more thrilling, however; one unique quality of this park, aside from the various adventures that it boasts, is the scenic route home. If you avoid the highways back to Nashville, you get to see the views of Lake Tullahoma and wind through little historic Tennessee towns to really complete a day well spent. Each town supports around 500 people and contains niche shops and cafes. Take the right route, and you will find yourself in Bell Buckle, Tennessee... and that is a blog post for another time.