See the sights of Tennessee up close by getting on the trails in the 54 state parks found across the state of Tennessee. From the mountains of east Tennessee to the bottomland forests of the Mississippi River in west Tennessee, there are many opportunities to experience nature. See the big trees, walk along beside creeks and rivers, view waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife at a state park close to your house. You will find walking, hiking, backpacking, mountain bike and even some horse trails in the parks.
The other key factor of the 382 trails totaling 1,018.2 miles found in Tennessee State Parks is the connection to physical activity. Governor Haslam’s new Healthier Tennessee Initiative, announced in July 2013 speaks to the need for the citizens of Tennessee to get out and start exercising. So join the staff of Tennessee State Parks to go Explore the Outdoors.
The trails found in Tennessee State Parks range from an easy walk on a paved trail to strenuous outings that can last several days and nights.
Easy trails are generally short in length, 1-2 miles and are relatively flat (1-3% slope).
Moderate trails have gentle slopes (3-5%) and can be 2-5 miles in length, generally with soil as the surface.
Difficult trails tend to be found in middle and east Tennessee and have steep slopes (greater than 6%), are over 5 miles in length and can be located in rocky areas and may include climbing up or down hillsides.
There are even a few trails that are Strenuous and these should only be traveled by experience trail users who are properly equipped and are wearing boots.
Essential Trails across Tennessee:
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Ride a bike, go for a hike or ride a horse, this park has a little bit of everything. Bike trail is paved and at the edge of the Chickasaw Bluff looking down into the Mississippi River Bottomlands. The hiking trails range from short nature trails or longer day hikes taking you through the big trees of the bottomland forest. And the horse trail is 8.0 miles long at travels through an upland hardwood forest.
Fort Pillow State Park
Head to Fort Pillow State Historic Area and visit a Civil War site that was a key location on the Mississippi River. Remains of the fort are still visible and be sure to check out the new video at the park visitor center. Other sights include wildlife and the exhibit on the interpretive trails.
Reelfoot Lake State Park
In northwest Tennessee, you will find Reelfoot Lake State Park with a boardwalk through the cypress trees bordering Reelfoot Lake. The lake was created in 1811 during the New Madrid Earthquake and the ground dropped down and Mississippi River flowed backwards filling in the low area and creating the 11,000 acre lake. Go fishing, or in the winter, watch the Bald Eagles which come to overwinter there at Reelfoot Lake.
Almost directly across the Tennessee River is the Johnsonville State Historic Area, another Civil War park that has remnants of the Railroad that ran to Nashville and was a critical supply for the federal troops in Middle Tennessee. Stop by the new Visitor Center to see the display and watch the video presentation.
Going south takes the trail user to David Crockett State Park, one of the many homes to this early Tennessee pioneer who made his way across the state looking for adventure. Hike the hike by Shoal Creek, where Crockett built a mill and learn about his life at the Nature Center which features a replica water powered overshot mill. This park is also home to an historic Original Route section of the Bell Party of the Trail of Tears, which occurred in 1838-39 when the Cherokee Nation was forced to leave its ancestral home in East Tennessee and the Nation was moved to present day state of Oklahoma.
Moving east toward the foot of the Cumberland Plateau, you will find another water based park on Tims Ford Lake. Tims Ford State Park has lots of trails, both paved and natural surfaced that take you by the lake and over the hills and hollows. Hiking and mountain biking are the featured activities.
Working your way up the Cumberland Plateau, this flat table land holds many interesting features that trails take you to in the South Cumberland State Park. Buggytop Cave, the Sewanee Natural Bridge, Black Canyon and Sycamore Falls in Grundy Forest State Natural Area, Grundy Lakes Day Use Park is a great swimming hole in the summer and you can take a hike along the historic Coke Ovens where coal was converted to coke and shipped down to South Pittsburg to help make iron and steel. Be sure to stop by the 107 year old Dutch Maid Bakery in Tracy City to stock up on goodies to eat on your hikes. Head north to the Savage Gulf State Natural Area and chose from over 50 miles of trails which take you by big trees, waterfalls and great views of lots of scenery.
Fall Creek Falls
Want some comfort at night after your day hike? Head for Fall Creek Falls State Park, home of the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The park inn and cabins are adjacent to the lake and trail users can bicycle to the high falls overlook. For the more adventurous, try the trail to the base of Fall Creek Falls or the cable trail at Cane Creek Falls. Plenty of wildlife and wildflowers in season. You need to check the high falls out during winter, as when the temperature dives to below freezing, the falls begin to ice over to form a frozen waterfall with ice volcanoes at the bottom.
A visit to Cumberland Mountain State Park will bring back memories of lean times and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These two depression era (1930’s) programs resulted in numerous structures build in state parks across Tennessee. The dam that forms the lake, park cabins, the boat dock and picnic shelters were built as are lasting examples of the skills and tenacity of the people of those times.
Booker T. Washington
Heading down to Chattanooga, Booker T. Washington State Park was developed in the 1950’s as part of the development of the Chickamuaga Reservoir by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The park has a multiple use trail for both hiking and mountain biking that has views of the lake.
Red Clay State Park is the location of the Cherokee Nation Council grounds from 1830-1837 after the tribe was driven from the state of Georgia. See the park visitor center and learn about the Cherokee Nation and the Removal of the Nation to the present day state of Oklahoma, a trip know a the Trail of Tears.
Hiwassee / Ocoee
The Hiwassee-Ocoee River State Park featured all types of water trail activities and in the Gee Creek campground, there is a short trail by the Hiwassee River.
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area is a replica of the early British Fort constructed in 1756, forty years before Tennessee became the 16th state in 1796. The original fort location was adjacent to the Cherokee Nation and was abandoned in 1760. The current day fort includes the wood log palisade walls and reconstructed barracks for the soldiers, blacksmith shop and doctor’s office. Come for the history, but be sure to walk back through time on their trail system.
Norris Dam State Park is located on Norris Lake and Norris Dam was the first dam built by the Tennessee Valley Authority for flood control and to generate electrical power. The trails take the user through the park and also the east side of the park connects with the Norris watershed property and feature both hiking and mountain bike trails.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area also features early American history and was the muster point for the Overmountain men on the travels to the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina, a turning point in the American Revolutionary War.
Recommendations when going out on the trails
- Travel with family, a friend or buddy, and be sure to take food and water.
- Wear the proper footwear and clothing such as closed toe shoes or boots and have a rain jacket in your daypack.
- Be sure to stop at the park office to pick up or purchase a trail map. Talk to the park staff or rangers to ask about the trail conditions and any tips you need to be aware of on that trail.
- Be sure to let others know what your schedule is, where you will be at on the trail and when you should be back.
- If needed, log in at the trailhead or secure overnight permits if backpacking.
For more tips on being safe, see page 18 of the Tennessee Trails Association’s Hiking Handbook, The 10 Essentials at http://www.tennesseetrails.org/pdf/HikingHandbook200807.pdf