The Best Winter Hikes in Tennessee

November 30, 2022  |  Permalink

When winter rolls around, we often settle into routines that revolve around staying indoors. However, winter is one of the best times to hike at Tennessee State Parks. You'll find more solitude, fewer bugs, and beautiful views that were once hidden behind dense foliage. There’s also the chance to experience dramatic winter landscapes decorated with sparkling icicles and fresh snow. 

We’ll cover how to stay safe and warm while exploring some of the best winter hikes at Tennessee State Parks and Natural Areas! 

Trails With a View

Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park 

Whitehouse Cliffs Trail | 1.0 mile (out-and-back) 

This short, steep trail offers the highest elevation overlook in any Tennessee State Park (Elevation 3,440). Traveling beneath 200-foot quartzite Whitehouse Cliffs, the trail continues upward to a rewarding view of the park atop Whitehouse Knob. The mountains are especially beautiful when covered in a blanket of snow. 

Tip: Download or print out a map with directions to get to and from the park as well as the park map. Cell reception is very limited in and around the park.  

Plan Your Hike

Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail 

Black Mountain Section | 1 - 8 miles (out-and-back and loop) 

This section of the Cumberland Trail winds through the woods past Windlass cave, massive boulder cubes, and stone ruins to several stunning overlooks. On a good day at the southern overlook, visitors can see Mount Le Conte in the Smoky Mountain about 72 miles in the distance. 

A scenic 3.6-mile out-and-back trail starts at Brady Mountain Trailhead and connects to the 1-mile Black Mountain Loop Trail where the overlooks are located. You can also make a shorter hike by starting at the Black Mountain Trailhead which leads straight onto the 1-mile Loop Trail. 

The Cumberland Trail Conference provides detailed information about this hike on their website. 

Plan Your Hike

Photo by ©Jeremy Rasnic

Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area 

Overlook Trail | Approximately 2 miles (loop) 

During the winter at Pogue Creek Canyon, unique rock formations emerge from the forest, icicles hang from rock shelves, and amazing views are revealed atop the plateaus. The quiet overlook provides a peaceful place to sit and listen to the sounds of nature stirring from above and below. 

View a map of Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area here

Tip: Plan a cozy stay at one of the nearby cabins at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park

Plan Your Hike

Photo by ©Cumberland River Compact

Bledsoe Creek State Park 

High Ridge Trail | 1.4 Miles (out-and-back) 

Bledsoe Creek is an ideal park for a winter hike near Nashville. The High Ridge Trail offers short but steep climbs, scenic views of Old Hickory Lake, and resting spots as it winds through the woods.  

Tip: Tack on the Shoreline Trail to make it a loop with a total of 2.8 miles.  

Plan Your Hike

Savage Gulf State Park 

Stone Door Trail | 0.9 Miles (out-and-back) 

This iconic trail leads to one of the best views in the state. The Stone Door Trail at Savage Gulf State Park starts at the Savage Gulf North Trailhead Ranger Station where you’ll find clean restrooms and information about the hike ahead. It’s a short 0.9-mile walk to a breathtaking lookout at the bluffs. 

Tip: During your trip take the 0.3-mile walk from the Ranger Station to Laural Falls Overlook for incredible waterfall views. 

Plan Your Hike

 

Trails With Water Features

Photo by ©Tennessee Photographs

Frozen Head State Park 

Emory Gap Falls Trail | 1.8 (out-and-back) 

This beautiful trail runs along a stream, passing two waterfalls—Debord Falls and Emory Falls. This is a great hike for visitors with dogs. 

Tip: Bring your camera. The falls are a favorite subject of nature photographers. 

Plan Your Hike

Cummins Falls State Park 

Falls Overlook Trail | 0.45 miles (out-and-back) 

Cummins Falls is the eighth-largest waterfall in Tennessee. The powerful waterfall flows year-round and is sometimes shrouded in ice in the winter. Visitors can take a short hike to an overlook with wide views of the beautiful falls. 

Tip: Stop by the visitor center to warm up, learn more about the park, and check out the unique selection of gifts! 

Plan Your Hike

Photo by @theexplorerdad on Instagram

Savage Gulf State Park 

Greeter Falls Trail | 0.8 Miles (loop) 

One of the best short waterfall hikes on the plateau, this loop leads to three waterfalls, numerous bluffs, and a historic site. The terrain is very rocky under the bluffs and easy above. The trail begins across the entrance road from the Greeter Falls parking lot. 

Tip: Wear shoes with good traction as the rocks near the falls can be wet and slippery. 

Plan Your Hike

Photo by @shanadurdin on Instagram

Montgomery Bell State Park 

Spillway Trail | .5 mile (out-and-back) 

Take in the sights and sounds of rushing water at the iconic spillway on Lake Woodhaven. Then follow the spillway trail for a relaxing hike along the creek. 

Tip: Stop by the Lodge at Montgomery Bell after your hike to warm up by the fireplace and enjoy a cocktail or a warm meal. 

Plan Your Hike

 

Trails With Fantastic Wildlife Viewing

Cedars of Lebanon State Park 

Cedar Glades Trail | 0.5 Miles (loop) 

This trail meanders gently through cedar woodlands and past glade openings. Along the way, several educational signs explain the unique ecology of the cedar glades and identify plant and animal species found here. Interesting in all seasons, a bright array of mosses and lichens on the woodland floor take center stage in winter.  

Tip: Book a cozy stay at one of the park’s cabins

Plan Your Hike

Reelfoot Lake State Park 

Boardwalk Loop Trail | 0.45 Miles (loop) 

The flooded cypress forest at Reelfoot Lake often freezes in the winter months creating incredible sculptures of ice on the lake and in the trees. The park is also home to thousands of American bald eagles in January and February. The Boardwalk Loop Trail is a great option for wildlife viewing on the lake. 

Tip: Book a cozy stay at one of the park’s cabins

Plan Your Hike

Photo by ©Tennessee Photographs

Radnor Lake State Park 

Lake Trail | 1.35 Miles (out-and-back) – ADA Accessible (mulch and gravel surface) 

This peaceful walk in the woods runs around the north side of 85-acre Radnor Lake. Several observation points provide excellent vistas of the lake and wildlife. 

Tip: Visit on a weekday for fewer crowds and more parking. 

Plan Your Hike

 

Trails With History

Photo by @todfrommemphis on Instagram

Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park

Mounds Great Outer Loop Trail | 2.0 Miles (loop) – ADA Accessible (paved surface) 

This paved trail makes a loop around the Native American mounds at the park. Along the trail, interpretive panels speak to the history of the area. Hikers can climb to the top of Saul’s Mound for a great view of the surrounding woods. 

Tip: Stop by the park’s museum, designed to replicate a prehistoric Native American mound, to learn about Tennessee’s prehistory. 

Plan Your Hike

Photo from the Tennessee Magazine 

Johnsonville State Historic Park 

Old Railway Trail | 0.70 Miles (out-and-back) 

The park preserves and interprets the land’s history as a Union supply depot and a once-thriving railroad town that is now mostly covered by water due to the formation of Kentucky Lake. The park’s hiking trails pass remnants of the past including rifle pits, a railroad bed, and an African American cemetery. In the winter, along the Old Railway Trail, visitors can see remnants of the old town of Johnsonville due to the lake’s lower water levels. 

Tip: Stop by the visitor center to warm up and check out the park’s interpretive exhibits. 

Plan Your Hike

Bicentennial Capitol Mall 

Pathway of History 

While this suggestion is more of a short walk than a hike, its uniqueness makes it worth visiting. Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park provides the opportunity to walk in a green space right in the middle of downtown Nashville! The park’s pathway of history features a wall engraved with significant events in the history of the state from its founding until the bicentennial. 

Tip: Tack on a visit to the Tennessee State Museum or one of the delicious restaurants inside the Nashville Farmer’s Market for a full day of activities. 

Plan Your Hike

 

Photo by @hmgrant on Instagram

Tips for Staying Safe  

Carry the 10 Essentials 

The “10 Essentials of Hiking” are always important to have on any hiking adventure, but definitely in winter when the risks of exposure can be higher. 

Layer Up 

Dress in layers and carry extra insulating layers and an outer shell to protect from wind and dampness. You should feel cool when you start a hike, so you won’t overheat as you warm up with exertion. Over-dressing and warming up too quickly will lead to excessive sweat that will dampen your clothes and make you colder.  

Add a layer when you stop moving or when the wind picks up to prevent a chill. A warm hat is also important to prevent radiant heat loss. Protect your extremities with warm gloves, socks, and boots. A neck gaiter can also be nice to pull up and warm your nose as needed.  

Sun Protection 

Less shade from trees means that sunscreen and sunglasses are also still important on sunny days, especially in the snow. 

Fuel Up 

Fuel up and carry plenty of high-energy snacks, as your body needs to burn more calories to stay warm.  

Hydrate 

Don’t forget to take water. Even if you are not hot and sweating, you still need to hydrate. Cold air contains less moisture, which means we lose more water with breathing. Consider an insulated hydration pack or water bottle. For a warm treat, pack a thermos full of hot tea, broth, or cocoa. 

Pack a Light Source 

Don’t forget that the days are much shorter in the winter, so plan your hiking routes to avoid getting caught in the dark… and carry a headlamp and extra batteries just in case. 

Know the Signs of Hypothermia 

Know the warning signs of hypothermia—shivering, confusion, trouble speaking, and stiff muscles—to ensure you can prevent a mild case of the shivers from progressing into something more serious.  

Keep an eye on your trail buddy. When folks start to get the cold “umbles”—mumbles, fumbles, stumbles, and grumbles—it’s time to take steps to warm up: add extra layers, move around, use instant warming packs in gloves and breast pockets near the body, eat a snack, drink some hot liquids, etc. Cut your planned hike short if you’re just too cold… you can always try again on a warmer day! 

Keep the Traction 

It’s important to have good traction on your footwear in snow and ice. Deep lug rubber tread, instep crampons, or Yaktrax for hiking boots can be helpful, as well as hiking poles to assist with balance. 


Support Your Trails 

The Trails inside Tennessee State Parks are free to access and enjoy 365 days a year. If you enjoy these trails, you have the opportunity to support them by joining the Trail Pack. 

The Tennessee State Parks Trail Pack is a donation program that allows visitors a chance to dedicate additional resources to the trails they love. Your generous donations go directly to trails, helping us ensure they are the best they can be. 

Over 3,000 people have joined the Trail Pack and received their FREE gift. Join today! 

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