Couple Visits all 56 Tennessee State Parks
May 27, 2021 | Permalink
For Tennesseans Randy and Mary Scott, what started with a few casual hiking trips turned into a six-year journey visiting all 56 Tennessee State Parks.
The couple made their first visit to a Tennessee State Park in February 2015. They traveled from their home in Middle Tennessee to Reelfoot Lake State Park in the northwest corner of the state for an Eagle Tour. This first visit spurred some sporadic day trips over the next two years until finally Randy looked at Mary and asked, “What do you think about hiking in all the state parks?” To which Mary replied, "Well that sounds good.”
R: "We didn't set a time frame on it or anything and we started out slow. When we retired in 2018, I bought a camper, and we visited around 26 state parks. During the pandemic in 2020, we started making trips and getting them done. We've visited 19 this year alone!"
They started knocking out parks in West Tennessee during trips to visit family in Memphis. Most parks in Middle Tennessee were close enough to their home in the outskirts of Nashville that only a day trip was required. When it came time to visit East Tennessee, they pulled out the map and planned to set up “base camps” at parks like Warriors Path, David Crockett Birthplace, Cove Lake, and Harrison Bay. For them, setting up camp at one park and visiting others nearby was the most efficient and relaxing way to visit. This method allowed them to hike at all 56 state parks and camp at 12.
Randy standing in Hazard Cave at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park in February 2018.
Do you always camp when you stay overnight at a park?
R: "We stayed in a cabin at Rock Island, and it was a really really nice cabin, but we like to camp in our pull-behind camper. We like to build a campfire and just sit out and relax and grill. That’s what retirement is all about! Just slowing down and enjoying nature.”
What was your favorite State Park?
M: "I have different favorites for different reasons, but I’d have to say my all-time favorite was Cove Lake State Park. We had to reschedule the trip three times because of COVID. However, we actually got to stay there the week before parks formally reopened because they were honoring existing reservations. We used Cove Lake as a base camp while visiting some East Tennessee parks and it was just so peaceful. The restrooms had been redone, there were plenty of showers, and we loved the accessibility of the park."
Randy and Mary with their granddaughters Savannah and Maisie on an annual hiking trip at Rock Island State Park in March 2018.
What are some life lessons you’ve learned during your journey?
R: "So we're 63, we've raised our families, and we have time to sit back and enjoy. But in the everyday life, there's so much that comes at you and people don't slow down. No matter how busy you are, you just need to take time to slow down and enjoy. Stress plays a big factor in a lot of people's lives, and it can make you very unhealthy. Like the old saying 'stop and smell the roses'. Well, we might say stop and hike the trail.”
M: "Mine is going to be more practical. Once we were hiking at Montgomery Bell State Park, on a beautiful day with no wind, when a tree fell about five feet from us. That’s never left my mind. There was no breeze that day, and that was a well-maintained park, the tree just fell. Hiking is fun, but you need to do it responsibly. You need to have good shoes, you need to have water with you, and you need to stay aware."
Randy and Mary's son Joe with their granddaughter Hannah fishing at Chickasaw State Park in August 2018.
You mentioned traveling during the pandemic, how did that affect your experience?
M: "I think the state parks have been our saving grace for dealing with COVID, and we struggled during the short amount of time that the parks were closed. We’ve gone on lots of day trips just to get out and see something different. It’s a great reminder of all the beauty around us."
R: "Being retired, we have the luxury of being able to travel during the week. We try to stay out of the way of those who have to work during the week and want to use the parks as a place to get away on the weekend. All the parks have signage about keeping safe distances and I think they've done a really good job. I have found that people at the park seem to be very courteous and generous."
Randy standing by the fountains at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in May 2018.
How do you navigate parks during your visit?
R: "We always go into visitor centers and talk with the Rangers about the hikes, what they recommend and anything going on at the park. I think they're a wealth of information. We've used the employees and the Rangers quite a bit during our years of doing this."
What kind of hikes have you done during your journey?
R: "We’ll hike up to eight miles in a day. We hike mostly moderate trails but we'll take some strenuous trails now and then. We're both 63, and we're in good health, but age will catch up with you! I'm going to try and keep going as long as I can."
Mary on a snowy trail at Frozen Head State Park in February 2020.
What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to visit all 56 state parks?
R: "If you have something you want to do and you strive and stay after it, you can reach your goal. When we tell people our goal is to do all 56 of the state parks, they just go 'oh gosh, they're not close together!'. However, goals take effort and planning, not just in hiking the 56 state parks.
Also, plan ahead. If you've got a camper or even if you're staying in the cabins or facilities, find your central location and knock out four or five parts at a time. Just a little bit of planning will go a long way."
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your journey?
R: "There was one other thing that I would like to share that really touched us. Once while we were getting our parks passport stamped, the lady at the front desk told us a story about this older gentleman.
The man had come by the visitor center a week or two before we got there. She said that he came by wanting to get his passport stamped. His passport was older, worn, and tattered. With a tear in his eye, he told her that he and his wife had set out to visit all 56 state parks but she had just passed. He said he was determined to finish.
He had even attached pictures of their park visits inside the parks passport. To me, that was a unique story because my wife has also documented what parks we’ve visited and trails we've hiked in our passport."
Start Planning Your State Parks Journey
Ready to visit all 56 Tennessee State Parks? Start by finding a park near you. You can browse parks by location, activities, and overnight accommodations using our park map.
During your park visit, stop by the visitor center and pick up your very own Tennessee State Parks passport. This free booklet will hold stamps from each park you visit. You can stamp your passport at each park's visitor center during your journey.
You can also download the free Tennessee State Parks mobile app and automatically earn digital badges for each park you visit. The app also provides offline access to park maps and other helpful information you need need to plan your next trip and have a great time visiting our parks.