The park is centered around the upper Cane Creek Gorge, an area known for its unique geological formations and scenic waterfalls. The park's namesake is the Fall Creek Falls, the highest plunge waterfall east of the Mississippi River (the highest vertical drop east of the Mississippi is the Crabtree Falls in Virginia).
The Cane Creek Gorge presents as a large gash in the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau, stretching for some from the Cane Creek Cascades to Cane Creek's mouth along the Caney Fork River. Cane Creek rises atop Little Mountain— which lines the plateau's eastern edge above Sequatchie Valley— and winds northward across the plateau.
Just beyond its source, Cane Creek slowly gains strength as it absorbs Meadow Creek and several smaller streams. As the creek enters the gorge, it drops several hundred feet in less than a mile, including over Cane Creek Cascades and over Cane Creek Falls. A few hundred meters north of Cane Creek Falls, Rockhouse Creek spills over a plunge waterfall into the same plungepool. Over the next half-mile, Cane Creek absorbs Fall Creek and Piney Creek, both of which enter from smaller gorges to the immediate west. During this stretch, part of the creek disappears underground into limestone sinks, and reemerges at a spring known as "Crusher Hole. Cane Creek continues to lose elevation before steadying near its confluence with Dry Fork. Beyond Dry Fork, the creek gradually descends to the Highland Rim, where it empties into the Caney Fork.
The man-made Fall Creek Falls Lake, controlled by a dam, assures continuing flow of water to Fall Creek Falls. The lake dominates the park's southern section.
Along with waterfalls and overlooks, Fall Creek Falls State Park is home to a number of caves, the most prominent of which is Rumbling Falls Cave, which has the second largest cave chamber in the United States. The cave is located in the park's Dry Fork section, near Spencer.
The plateau areas above the Cane Creek Gorge are characterized by poor soil and weak resource potential, both exacerbated by the area's limited accessibility (by the 1920s, no major railroads and one crude highway passed between Pikeville and Spencer). In the early 1900s, this section of Van Buren County still had only a handful of farms and no major coal mining or logging operations. Local historian Arthur Weir Crouch, referring to Fall Creek Falls, wrote, "In the beginning and for many years it was a true wilderness area.
The few residents who lived in the Cane Creek area were often at the mercy of the creek, which, like most of the Upper Caney Fork watershed, was prone to flash flooding. The Good Friday Flood of 1929, the most devastating of these floods, caused the Caney Fork and its tributaries to swell to record volumes and wiped out dozens of mills, houses, and bridges. Lawson Fisher, who operated a grist mill at the head of Cane Creek Falls at the time of the flood, recalled being awakened that night by the roar of the creek's rising waters. Racing into the mill to save the mill's account books, Fisher later testified:
I had taken perhaps four or five steps when I felt that old mill building quiver. I turned and ran for the door and stepped out on solid ground, and then turned around to see what was going to happen, but folks, it had already happened. The mill wasn't there. I could just see pieces of planking and timbers going over the falls and rushing on down into the valley of Cane Creek below.
Another resident recalled waking up to a cabin floor covered with several inches of water, and spending the night in the cabin loft watching helplessly as the water continued to rise. Several smaller farms in the lower part of the valley were completely destroyed. The Cane Creek Mill, which had stood above the falls since 1831, was never rebuilt.
In 1935, the U.S. government began purchasing the badly eroded land around Fall Creek Falls. The following year, the Works Project Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps began the work of restoring the forest and constructing park facilities. The National Park Service transferred ownership of the park to the State of Tennessee in 1944.
Artist Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919), who gained national acclaim for his Civil War illustrations, operated from a studio south of Spencer on land currently owned by the park.
Fall Creek Falls State Park was used as one of the primary filming locations for the Disney live action movie The Jungle Book. Scenes from the 1986 movie King Kong Lives, starring Linda Hamilton, were filmed in the area of Cane Creek Cascades and Cane Creek Falls. Part of the 1995 20th Century Fox film Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was shot here.
In 2006, the State of Tennessee purchased of land along the White-Van Buren County line, in the vicinity of Bledsoe State Forest. The purchase is part of an effort to create an unbroken corridor of publicly-owned land between Fall Creek Falls State Park and Scott's Gulf, a few miles to the north in White County.
Fall Creek Falls State Park is open year-round and is managed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Park facilities include an inn and conference center, restaurant, cabins, and three campgrounds, each with bathhouses, offering a total of 228 camping sites. An 18-hole golf course, Olympic-sized swimming pool, and several miles of hiking trails and paved biking trails are available in the park.