I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
April 20, 2021
Machine Falls near Tullahoma has been on our short list for a few years now, for two reasons: First, we’ve heard it’s an impressive waterfall by Middle Tennessee standards. Second, State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath told me a couple of years ago that Short Springs Natural Area– where Machine Falls is located– is one of his all-time favorite April wildflower hikes. If our Covid year has taught us anything, it’s that putting experiences off is a bad idea, so last Saturday, we ignored the usual weekend urges to stay in bed/ tidy up the house/ get a little work done/ watch a movie and made the 1 ½ hour drive to Tullahoma from Nashville. Was the waterfall worth the trip? Absolutely. The wildflowers just made things sweeter.
Machine Falls is part of the Short Springs State Natural Area, which has several trails and waterfalls. You’ll find the Machine Falls trailhead just off Short Springs Road. There’s not much signage for the parking lot — Instead, look for the giant water tower right beside it. The trail to the falls is clearly marked and located just across the street. We got there at around three on a Saturday afternoon and parking wasn’t a problem, but the parking lot often fills up and if it does, apparently the sheriff’s deputies will come out and ticket people who park illegally. I’d recommend going on a weekday or early/late in the day, just to be on the safe side.
The trail to Machine Falls is short and there is one brief but very, very steep section. It’s a loop trail, so you will only encounter this section once — It’s up to you to decide whether you’d rather go down a really steep and somewhat treacherous hill or up it. We went down and I was glad we did — The people coming up were huffing and puffing and one small child midway through the climb had completely given up, sat down on a step, and started wailing. My husband has a different point of view — He’d rather go up, he says, because going down is slow going and you have to really watch your footing. I’ll leave it up to you. Starting on the loop from the trailhead, if you fork left, you will encounter the steep part of the trail. If you fork right, you will make a gradual descent to the falls, then climb up the steep hill to return. No matter what you decide, wear sturdy, (and waterproof- see below) shoes. This is not a hike for Crocs.
To get to the falls, you will actually leave the trail and make your way up the creek bed — You’ll hear the falls from the pathway, so don’t worry — There’s no way you’ll miss it. Do expect to be ankle-deep water at some point during your trek, even briefly. It’s actually much easier and safer to wade through the very shallow water than to try and balance on the wet rocks and avoid getting your feet wet.
You won’t believe how beautiful this waterfall is when you see it — It’s more than 60 feet tall and almost 60 feet wide and very impressive. Even better, if you climb a stone ledge at the base of the falls (which is pretty easy to do with a helping hand or two), you can walk right up to the waterfall and even stand beneath it — The water is still only about ankle-deep at that point and it’s very safe.
After you’ve viewed the falls, you won’t want to miss the wildflower loop trail if the flowers are in bloom. The loop is right beside Machine Falls and only a few hundred feet long, but in that short distance, we saw more than a dozen varieties of wildflowers, including a few that are rarely seen in Tennessee. Expect to see see trout lilies, jack-in-the-pulpit, Dutchman’s breeches, larkspur, and Virginia bluebells, as well as rare wildflowers including southern red trillium, large flowered trillium, and barren strawberry. You can also find two state-listed endangered plant species along the trail: Nestronia and broad-leaved bunchflower.
Want to extend your hike? Short Springs State Natural Area also has trails to the Upper and Lower Busby Falls and Adams Falls. This 4.5 mile loop trail will take you to all of them. Also, Rutledge Falls is just a five-minute drive away. This is a privately-owned waterfall accessible by a short walking trail and it’s open to the public each day from dawn until dusk.
I’d highly recommend a visit to Machine Falls in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom or in summer — It’s a great way to cool off. After your hike, be sure and stop in downtown Tullahoma. This charming little downtown gets better every time we visit, and there are several shops and restaurants worth checking out. On our most recent visit, we had a late lunch at One22West, which was delicious. My BLT was superb (which is saying a lot because BLTs usually aren’t superb and whywhywhy do I keep ordering them) and my husband’s beer cheese and bacon jam burger was fantastic.