One of the Best Kid-Friendly Cabin Getaways in Middle Tennessee

November 10, 2022  |  Permalink

Since 2019, my family of four has been on a mission to visit all fifty-seven State Parks. Currently, we’ve checked twenty-two off our list, and what I’ve learned from exploring these parks so far is that every one of them has its own story to tell.

We were excited to discover the story of Edgar Evins State Park during an extended October stay. In my family of two full-time educators and two children under five, by the time Fall Break rolls around, we’re ready for a disconnect into nature with the right amenities that won’t leave us exhausted at the end of our vacation. Located just 65 miles east of our home in Nashville, Edgar Evins checked all the boxes to offer us just that.

THE STAY

We are a family that loves to tent camp, but staying in a cabin can make a trip so much less stressful–the amenities help keep the unexpected (but guaranteed) setbacks and inconveniences from becoming full-blown disasters. Edgar Evins has thirty-four cabins tucked into the woods at the far south end of the park. They sit in groups with up to six connected, similar to a row of condos. Most are one bedroom and split level–step up from the entrance to access the living room, kitchenette, and balcony; step down to reach the bedroom. [Cabins C-5 and C-6 are two-bedroom, single level, and fully ADA compliant.]

We arrived at our cabin, D-3, shortly after check-in at 3 p.m. I love arriving at a new vacation home–exploring the space and settling in. The arrangement inside was perfect for us. Having packed a travel crib, we could keep our one-year-old sleeping comfortably separate, and the two double beds would provide enough space for the rest of us; the bathroom was large and recently updated; and the upstairs was equipped with a (brand new) couch that can pull out into a full-size bed, a couple of lounge chairs, and satellite TV, as well as a 4-person dining table and most standard kitchen utensils and appliances.

As dinnertime rolled around, the temperature started dropping; fall was in the air! It inspired us to use the outdoor grill and really get that camp-life feel; cooking dinner outside is just THRILLING to our kids. After dinner, we wandered to the back side of the cabins where a clearing in the woods gives space for a circle of two-seater swings surrounding a fire pit, perfect for bonfire chats and S’more making. Within eyesight is the park’s pool, open seasonally, and the lakeshore. As the sun began its early descent, we returned to our home away from home with the scent of campfire in the air, hearing the crackling in the distance.

A big advantage of the cabin’s layout is having the bedroom located on a whole different floor than the living space. The grown-ups can feel comfortable enjoying a movie and conversation upstairs at a normal volume after the kids have gone to bed!

THE LAKE

Rested and ready for our first full day of exploration, we started the morning with a Fall Color and Waterfowl Cruise. According to Park Manager Brad Halfacre, the lake is the park’s main attraction. Without a doubt, a journey out on the lake is the best way to explore it. The park offers frequent ranger-led cruises and tours open to the public, often seasonal and thematic in nature.

Rangers Mark and Holly Taylor led our party of thirteen on a three-hour tour through the lake’s creeks and coves. Most boat rides are open to all visitors over the age of one, but I’d recommend contacting the park’s specific tour guide regarding young children. All passengers under the age of 16 must wear a life jacket (available at the marina), but sizes for small children are limited.

Typically, the fall colors don’t begin to peep out for another couple of weeks, but Ranger Mark shared that the unseasonable dry spell alongside consistent cool nights was bringing them out early. In typical Tennessee fashion, the morning autumn chill burned off quickly, and we enjoyed a long ride on the water under a bright, blue sky. With binoculars and field guide in hand, the Rangers quickly stopped the boat and pointed out the wildlife crossing our path. The lake’s depth (nearly 200 feet!) attracts mostly diving species, such as common loons and grebes. Located in both the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, Center Hill sees guests from each of these zones as they migrate south for the winter. We had a rare spotting during our tour: a Surf Scoter visiting from the Pacific Northwest.

A boat cruise is a can’t-miss-it experience of visiting the park, and it’s a way to get an insider perspective you would otherwise miss; the Rangers possess an unmatched expertise of the park’s history, details, and stories. Park Manager Halfacre even urges visitors to take another cruise, even if they’ve done it before; the season, the weather, the wildlife, and the guide each play a role in creating a totally unique experience every time. [And at the trip’s end, when we asked our eldest daughter her favorite part of the week–her answer? Boat ride!]

Another perk of being a cabin guest: access to the courtesy dock with sixteen boat slips available for use on a first-come, first-serve basis. But even if you’re boatless, as we were, this dock on the park’s most southwestern point offers the best spot to catch a sunset. A peninsula juts out beyond the rest of the shoreline for an unencumbered view. On two of our four nights, we headed down to this point, bringing a picnic to enjoy among the rocky shoreline, feeling inches away from the sun lowering into the water.

THE HIKES

We spent our second morning in the woods on a quest for fall foliage by exploring the most-hiked trail in the park, the 2.3-mile Millennium Trail loop. The Millennium Trail is marked as moderately difficult; it has some gradual elevation change without any steep climbs or drops–very kid-friendly. In the trail’s low elevation points, the air was heavy with moisture and the ground wet with fallen leaves; higher up, we spotted deer running along the ridge, dry leaves crunching behind them. Since our eldest daughter was two, we’ve played a family game of “spot the trail marker” that continues to keep both our kids engaged during a hike, but there are other treasures to spot on the trail: If you pay close attention, you’ll run across old stone walls and the remnants of homesteads from the Wolf Creek Community.

The Millennium Trail was a pleasant, satisfying hike, but my favorite is the Highland Rim Nature Trail, a 2-mile loop that begins just behind the Visitor Center. The start of the trail is the high point; immediately, you begin a steep descent through the forest. (Due to this incline, this trail leans more moderate-difficult.) About a third of the way through the trail's loop, you run along the lakeshore where a quick trek off the beaten path leads to the trail’s viewpoint, an astounding vista view of the lake and dam with ample space to explore and large, stable rocks to climb or sit for a rest. The remainder of the trail climbs back up the ridge, zag-zagging through switchbacks when necessary. In the spring, the area is covered in wildflowers; Park Manager Halfacre boasts it is one of the best places to view wildflowers in the state.

For shorter hikes, especially with kids, the Evins Ridge Trail (.6-mile) and Storybook Trail (.4-mile) are good loop options that start just beside the Interpretive Center’s parking lot. The Evins Ridge is a moderate trail that climbs over rocks to a higher elevation and view of the lake; the Storybook Trail is an easy one that heads towards the lakeshore that guides hikers through the pages of a nature picture book, displayed on child-height panels. These trails are one of the most satisfying things our State Parks offer young visitors; my five-year-old, who’s learning to read, raced to each page, seeking out word patterns, and my two-year-old pointed out all the things from the pages that she could find in the woods.

THE HISTORY

After our hike on the Storybook Trail, we spent some time exploring the park’s Interpretive Center right next to the trailhead. I asked Park Manager Halfacre what he would like the park’s visitors to have learned by the time they leave, and he directed me toward the center’s self-guided tour through the park's history and surrounding area. “Sacrifice was made to enjoy the space today,” he shares.

The Caney Fork was a volatile river prone to frequent flooding. When Center Hill Dam was constructed in 1948 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, its primary purpose was flood control (though other huge perks included jobs and cheap electricity). Like many similar flood control projects throughout the state, the damming of the river caused the displacement of many communities located in the river’s floodplain as water levels rose to form Center Hill Lake. The photo collections in the Interpretive Center share a glimpse of the life and residents of the communities along the Caney Fork during the first half of the 20th century.

It’s conflicting to reflect on the history of these lost communities while enjoying their former space for pleasure. Some sites, like the old Cave Spring School, are even completely underwater. However, the project created many new jobs, brought power to rural areas, and built an outdoor, recreational destination that attracted visitors and tourists to the area.

Just outside the Interpretive Center was an attraction much more appealing to our kids: an aviary. Constructed as a Girl Scout Gold Award project, it is currently home to a red hawk and two shy owls. The hawk stayed proudly on display each time we passed by, but the owls, Pancho and Lefty, never showed their faces, despite our daughters’ pleas.

THE WATERFALLS

Yes, there are plenty of water attractions at Edgar Evins, but if you’re looking for water of the falling variety, there are two state parks featuring waterfalls within a 30-mile radius that are great for day trips. For the last full day of our stay, it had rained overnight for the first time in weeks. This was the best sign that the falls wouldn’t be completely dry after our unseasonable drought, so we hopped in the car for the thirty-minute drive to Burgess Falls State Park.

When we arrived, there were only one or two other cars in the parking lot. The .5-mile River Trail follows the shore for a moderate hike past three separate waterfalls before the big finale. Our five-year-old line leader had no trouble managing this hike by herself, despite a long climb of stairs, and both kids found plenty of spots to stop and view the water. The trail saves the best for last: an observation deck overlooking the final waterfall, cascading down from over 100 feet. [For an easier walk, a paved path leads directly from the parking lot to the observation deck.] By the time we returned to the trailhead, the parking lot was full. Not only does Burgess Falls offer a family-friendly hike, there’s also a first-rate playground on site.

Over the course of the week, we enjoyed adventures every time we stepped outside–a boat ride, numerous hikes, sunsets, a history lesson, bird-watching, S’more making. As we sat for a rest at the Burgess Falls playground, watching our kids run and climb and swing and slide, we reflected on how a good vacation has something for everybody.

Ready to Plan Your Trip?

Edgar Evins State Park offers multiple overnight accommodations including camping and cabins. Find more information about the park and book your stay–your next family adventure awaits!

Plan Your Trip

Thanks to Tennessee State Parks for supplying a free stay at Edgar Evins State Park to help me write this blog!

About the author

Kari is a native Nashvillian, full-time middle school librarian, and travel addict. She seeks new adventures, near or far, every chance she gets. Currently, she’s on a quest with her family to visit all 57 Tennessee State Parks. (They've hit 22 so far.) You can find her at hopsandskips.net.