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5 Adventures Everyone Should Have in Tennessee State Parks

January 29, 2020  |  Permalink

Fall Creek Falls State Park - Cane Creek Cascades

Countless sources have found that exposure to the outdoors- time spent in the sun, disconnecting from technology, taking some breathes of clean air- can have a huge impact on your health and well-being. Yet, many people do not do it. A surprising number of people do not take their vacation days in a given year. We think that is crazy. We are talking about your health here. We are talking about your happiness, and the happiness of your friends and family!

You don’t have to spend a ton of money or travel across the country to have a great time outdoors. Tennessee State Parks are one of only seven states that do not charge entrance fees. It’s totally free to drive into our parks and enjoy a hike or a lakeside stroll.

So, what are you waiting for?  We have pulled together a list of five adventures everyone should take in Tennessee. Each of these adventures can support a wide range of physical abilities, and each could be done in a weekend trip. Dive in and discover your next adventure:

Pickett Starry Night

1. Starry Nights at Pickett State Park/Pogue Creek Canyon

Imagine yourself standing in a field looking up at a breathtaking spectacle of stars stretching across the night sky. Now, imagine experiencing this in one of the darkest locations in the country. How many more stars could you see? Could you see the Milky Way? Could you lose yourself for a moment?

Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, and nearby Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area, protect one of the darkest areas in the United States. The park is one of three dark spots in the southeast and has earned the Silver-tier designation as an International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark Sky Association. Come rent a cabin or campsite and spend your evening taking advantage of the designated night-sky viewing area or one of the interpretive programs the park offers. Of course, Pickett is equally spectacular during the daytime. It has the quaint charm of a CCC-era park and offers spectacular geological features like roc houses, natural arches, and high bluff walls. There are even some nearby waterfalls (Check out Colditz Cove).

Interested in planning a trip? Learn more about the cabins, camping, and activities the park has to offer.

Cane Creek Cascades at Fall Creek Falls State Park

2. Camping Trip at Fall Creek Falls State Park

If you could only camp at one park, then it should be a park where you can enjoy spectacular waterfalls, expansive overlooks, and all the hiking your heart can handle. Fall Creek Falls State Park has it all. The park is home to one of the tallest free-flowing waterfalls in the eastern United States. Yet, it’s also home to three more of the state’s most photogenic waterfalls (Cane Creek Cascades, Cane Creek Falls, and Piney Falls). It also has an aerial adventure course, 18-hole golf course, paddle rentals, and more.

When it comes to camping, Fall Creek Falls has something for everyone. Whether you want a backcountry excursion, a short hike into your site, or the ability to hook up your RV, the park’s 200+ campsites surround you in the best of Tennessee’s outdoors.

Bald Eagles at Reelfoot Lake State Park

3. Bald Eagle Viewing at Reelfoot Lake State Park

The 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake is one of the most remarkable treasures in Tennessee. It is the only naturally formed lake in the whole state, and offers visitors incredible experiences throughout the year. One such experience is seeing dozens of American Bald Eagles descend on Reelfoot Lake State Park during the months of January and February. It feels like wherever you turn you will see the white head of an American Bald Eagle during your winter visit to the park. The Tennessee State Park rangers host tours to view the bald eagles and the park puts on the annual Reelfoot Eagle Festival in February.

It takes several hours to drive to Reelfoot Lake from Nashville or Memphis, so it’s key to make a full trip out of it. The park offers campsites and cabin rentals. Nearby parks like Paris Landing State Park also offer campsites and cabins.

Carver's Gap at Roan Mountain during June

4. Hiking the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain or Rocky Fork State Park

If you visit Roan Mountain State Park or Rocky Fork State Park, then you have to hike the Appalachian Trial. The A.T. is one of longest on-foot trails in the world and is recognized globally among hiking enthusiasts. Roan Mountain State Park sits at the base of Roan Mountain. The top of the mountain provides easy, road-side access to the popular Carver’s Gap section of the A.T. Rocky Fork State Park actually has a connecting backcountry trail that allows hikers to jump right on to the A.T. as it moves through Pisgah National Forest. Both Rocky Fork and Roan Mountain display the range of difficulty levels involved in hiking the acclaimed trail.

Roan Mountain offers cabin and campsite rentals year-round. Rocky Fork State Park has several backcountry campsites that are perfect for overnight travelers.

Volunteering in State Parks

5. Volunteering for Trail Building

Have you ever stepped foot on a trail and wondered how it got there? Chances are high that volunteers spent their weekends and vacations helping build those paths. Every year, thousands of volunteers help with projects like this to make our park system more beautiful and accessible to visitors.  One of the best ways you can enjoy our park system is by giving back and volunteering. You’ll meet new friends, connect with the park staff, and lend your hand to an enduring project.  

Interested in finding a trail build or other volunteer project? You can find these types of opportunities on our volunteer calendar.  

Bonus: Donating to State Parks

If you want to support these projects, but cannot physically volunteer, you can always donate to the cause. Online gifts to state parks are tax-deductible and help us expand our programs and offerings. Whether it’s building a new playground or blazing new paths, your gift helps fuel our volunteers and connect more people to the outdoors.

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Tennessee State Parks