5 Adventures for December

November 29, 2018  |  Permalink

With holiday travel and gift purchasing, time can start to slip away. That’s why it’s even more important to make time for youself. We know that even a little time in the outdoors has positive impacts on physical and mental health. So don’t let the winter months or the holidays keep you inside. 

Here are five ideas for things to do on your December adventures:

Foster Falls - South Cumberland - Credit: Tennessee Photographs

Chasing waterfalls

One of the most popular winter attractions in Tennessee State Parks are the waterfalls. There are more than 80 waterfalls in the parks, and several factors can lead to spectacular winter experiences:

  • First, the foliage is off most of the trees and undergrowth. This means increased visibility for the falls, especially from overlooks. 
  • Second, increased precipitation in the fall and winter months can lead to heavier flow over the falls. If you notice rain in the forecast there is a good chance the waterfalls will benefit. 
  • Third, winter brings the chance of frozen waterfalls. The perfect conditions have to exist for this to happen. The temperature needs to stay below freezing for at least a week, but preferably even longer. As the temperatures remains below freezing, ice will form on the falls, and mounds of powder will accumulate at the base. It is a unique and spectacular sight to capture, especially for photographers. 

(Photo: Foster Falls at South Cumberland State Park by Tennessee Photographs)

Safety Note:

It is important to practice waterfall safety at all times, but especially during this time of year. Do not walk out onto frozen streams, lakes, rivers or other bodies of water to prevent a dangerous situation of falling into frigid water. Do not attempt to climb frozen waterfalls or alter the structures in any way. Water levels at the base of falls can rise quickly. Places like Cummins Falls can be very dangerous after rain during any time of year, so check the forecast before you go or speak with park staff about conditions before venturing out. Finally, it is important to protect your body against the cold weather. Make sure you dress appropriately before heading out into a park.

Guided Trips:

As an added measure of safety, consider registering for a guided hike or a vacation package so you can experience this beautiful time of year with a trained ranger at your side.

Fall Creek Falls Lakeside Villa

Retreating to a cabin

Take a moment to visualize yourself sitting next to a crackling fireplace, overlooking the water, winding down from the busyness of holiday shopping and family travel. Think about morning walks in the woods while you decompress and focus before the launch of the new year. 

There are more than 350 cabins in Tennessee State Parks, and winter is the best time to enjoy them. Smaller crowds means wider availability for you. Whether you’re looking for a mountain retreat or a lakeside getaway, you’ll find everything you need to relax. Plus, if you stay between Dec 1 and Feb 28, you can enjoy a 25% discount courtesy of the Winter Promotion.

(Photo: Villa at Fall Creek Falls)


Falling for a shooting star

There is a meteor shower that happens every year called “The Geminids”. It comes from a stream of particles created by the asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. These particles are stuck in an orbit around the sun, which causes them to pass by earth on a predictable rhythm. 

The best visibility should be during the night of Dec 13-14. Starting around 9pm local time, you will be able to see meteoroids shooting across the night sky. These will peak around 2am local time. While this meteor shower will be visible to most of the world, parks are some of the best places to go because there are fewer ground lights to interfere with the darkness of the night sky.

Pickett CCC Memorial State Park is actually recognized as one of the darkest night skies in the world. Couple that with cabins, campground rentals, and fantastic outdoor adventures in and around the park, and Pickett becomes an ideal place to spend the night Dec 13-14. 

Campfire by Jeremy Rasnic

Camping in the woods

The winter is a great time for tent and backcountry camping if you have the right gear to stay warm and dry. The crowds are much smaller this time of year, allowing you to enjoy some of those popular destinations in a more serene context. You also don’t have to worry as much about bugs, and there’s nothing quite like a warm fire and a bowl of piping hot chili on a cold night.


Fall Creek Falls, South Cumberland, Natchez Trace, Big Ridge and Frozen Head are a couple of great places to check out for backcountry camping in the winter. 

Tent Camping:

Of course you don’t have to backpack in order to enjoy winter camping. There are plenty of parks that offer campsites to which you can pull right up. There are also more primitive sites that lack electric and water and might require walking a short distance into the woods. 


Christmas in the Parks

Enjoying Christmas in the parks

The holiday season brings many community events to Tennessee State Parks. Visitors can peruse craft fairs, experience cultural traditions, see history come to life, and more. Most of these events are free to attend and are perfect opportunities to get children outdoors during winter break. 

Holiday Calendar

First Day Hikes 2019

BONUS: Attending a First Day Hike

This is technically in January, but it requires pre-planning during the month of December. Every year on January 1, our staff offer free, guided hikes at all 56 state parks. This is a great way to meet new people and kick off your healthy resolutions. These hikes have something for everyone. You can literally ring in the new year on a Dec 31 midnight hike, or choose your own adventure the next morning. Pick from a variety of hikes featuring waterfalls, historic sites, and a wide range of difficulty levels and distances. 


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Tennessee State Parks