You’ll Fall for These Fall Hikes 

October 4, 2022  |  Permalink

Location | Seven Islands State Birding Park

Tennessee State Parks serves up some fantastic views, especially during the fall. The leaves are changing, temperatures are cooling off, yet the fall season will be gone before you know it.  

Many park visitors are drawn outdoors and want to experience Tennessee in all its glory. This is the perfect opportunity to walk through the woods and bask in the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn. Tennessee has no shortage of scenic trails, many that you can tackle in a few hours. If you’re looking for a new place to discover this season, we’ve collected some of our favorite, lesser-known hikes that we’ll think you’ll fall for (not literally, please). 


For Incredible Views

Frozen Head State Park’s East Lookout Tower Trail 

Frozen head - tower

East, TN • An hour west of Knoxville 
Round Trip Distance: 5.3 miles out-and-back
Estimated Hiking Time: 4 hours
Closest Parking: Armes Gap  
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Frozen Head State Park is comprised of 24,000 acres of wilderness and is just an hour west of Knoxville

The East Lookout Tower Trail begins on the east side of the park, starting from Armes Gap. Visitors can hike to one of the highest points on the Cumberland Plateau–3,324 ft above sea level. Here an observation tower allows a 360-degree view of the mountains. It is well worth the hike!  With more than 50 miles of trails, visitors have plenty of other adventures to go on throughout the park. Hike to see Emory Gap Falls, choose a more strenuous hike to the observation tower via the West Lookout Tower Trail, or take a stroll on Flat Fork Creek Trail, which includes newly installed park benches to sit and take in the sights.  

Overnight Options: 

Plan Your Trip

 

Montgomery Bell State Park’s South Loop

Middle, TN • 40 minutes west of Nashville 
Round Trip Distance: 7.7-mile loop
Estimated Hiking Time: 3 hours 
Closest Parking: Visitor Center 
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Montgomery Bell is located 40 minutes west of Nashville in Burns, Tennessee. The park offers over 16 miles of easy hiking trails, paddling rentals, an 18-hole golf course, a swim beach, park programs, and mountain biking trails. While there are several good routes to choose from, the South Loop is a top-notch hike.  

From the parking lot at the visitor center, head down the road briefly to reach the Wildcat Trail. This trail circles the campground and leads you to Ore Pit Loop Trail. Once started on the Montgomery Bell Trail, the hike will get a bit more remote. The trail swings by the southern end of Lake Woodhaven where you’ll have some nice views of the lake before continuing. The short Woodland Trail takes a detour to the Woodland Shelter which makes for a perfect lunch spot. About a half mile after the Woodland Trail, take a left onto Creech Hollow Trail heading north. You'll follow the Creech Hollow Trail along the southern shore of Creech Hollow Lake, past the dam and then follow the creek back to the visitor center. 

Overnight Options: 

Plan Your Trip

 

Natchez Trace State Park’s Cub Lake Trail

West, TN • 1.5 hours west of Nashville; 2 hours east of Memphis 
Round Trip Distance: 4.8-mile loop
Estimated Hiking Time: 2.5 hours 
Closest Parking: Beach Area 
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A remote wilderness getaway, Natchez Trace State Park encompasses more than 40,000 acres of land. The park offers trails ranging from a one-mile nature walk to a 14-mile overnight adventure. 

Toward the north end of the park, the Cub Lake Trail is a scenic trail loop following the shoreline of Cub Lake. Access the trail from near the public swim beach or behind the park’s standard one-bedroom cabins. This is a popular trail for birding, hiking, and walking, and offers a variety of landscapes with spectacular fall colors. Campsites, picnicking, and fishing are all available close by.  

Overnight Options: 

Plan Your Trip

 


For Intermediate and Advanced Hikers

Norris Dam State Park’s Marine Railway Loop 

East, TN • 30 minutes west of Knoxville 
Round Trip Distance: 4.4 miles out-and-back
Estimated Hiking Time: 3+ hours 
Closest Parking: Highway 441 or Harmon Trailhead 
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With over 21 miles of trails, Norris Dam offers spectacular views of Norris Lake and the surrounding hills and valleys. 

The park’s Marine Railway Loop covers a wide terrain, varying from gentle slopes to steep hillsides. Hikers can get close-up views of the lakeshore, as well as climb up to the ridge tops, making for a moderately strenuous hike.  

Start the trail just off Highway 441. Visitors can also access this trail from Harmon Trailhead or behind deluxe cabin 8, if staying overnight. If entering from the Harmon Trailhead, visitors will first take the Harmon Loop and Marine Railway Spur trails.   

Overnight Options: 

Plan Your Trip

 

Edgar Evins State Park's Highland Rim Nature Trail

Photo Credit: @shanewarren1970 on Instagram

Middle, TN • One hour east of Nashville 
Round Trip Distance: 1.35 mile loop
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour 
Closest Parking: Visitor Center 
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Just one hour east of Nashville, Edgar Evins has incredible fall foliage views. It surrounds the stunning waters of Center Hill Lake and is just a short drive from scenic kayaking adventures on the Caney Fork River. 

Head to the park’s visitor center where you can climb the spiral staircase to top of the lookout tower. A breathtaking view awaits at the top, with golden treetops and sparkling lake waters. Behind the visitor center is the Highland Rim Nature Trail, one of the park's richest and most diverse trails. It descends into a forested gully and travels along the lake before ascending back up the ridge behind the visitor center. 

Overnight Options: 
  • The cabins sit on a hill above Center Hill Lake and offer comfortable beds, a kitchen, and a living area.  
  • The campground accommodates tents and RVs.  

Plan Your Trip

 


For Family Fun

Seven Islands State Birding Park’s Island Loop Trail 

Seven Islands Bridge View

East, TN • 30 minutes east of Knoxville 
Round Trip Distance: 2.5 miles out-and-back
Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5 hours  
Closest Parking: Park Entrance Trailhead 
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Enjoy the views at Seven Islands located on a bend of the French Broad River. The trails pass through native warm-season grasslands along the river and through wooded and wetlands areas, highlighting the park's diverse habitats and providing great opportunities to observe wildlife. Stretching from the parking area to the French Broad River, the greenway is mostly flat and ideal for bird watching as it is surrounded by open fields and farmland. 

The Island Loop Trail is one hike worth falling for! Drive to the Park Entrance Trailhead and start the trek by passing through the Bluebird Barn. Stay straight on the Bobwhite ADA wide asphalt-paved to reach the pedestrian bridge. Stop and take in the stunning views of the French Broad River on the bridge. Visitors can cross over to take the Island Loop Trail around the largest of the Seven Islands before making your way back to the Park Entrance Trailhead. 

Other Activities 
  • Check out the park's event calendar with a variety of ranger-led hikes. The park also has a small boat launch with opportunities for kayak and canoeing.  
  • Young outdoor enthusiasts can visit the newly installed slide at the Wild Yards Garden area.  

Plan Your Trip

 

Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park’s Pioneer Springs Trail

West, TN • 25 minutes from Memphis 
Round Trip Distance: 5 miles out-and-back
Estimated Hiking Time: 2.5 Hours  
Closest Parking: Nature Center 
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Located outside of Memphis, TN, Meeman-Shelby boasts over 12,000 acres of forested bluffs and cypress swamps boarding the mighty Mississippi River. 

Hop on the Pioneer Spring Trail near the park's Nature Center that overlooks Poplar Tree Lake. The trail traverses north along the base of the Chickasaw Bluffs, where it joins additional trails at the Woodland Trail Shelter. Pioneer Springs Trail is less hilly than some of the other trails, which makes it more family-friendly. The Poplar Lake entrance is also a great area for families thanks to the picnic tables, pavilions, and Nature Center. 

Overnight Options: 
  • The campsites are equipped with electrical and water hookups for RVs and tents.  
  • The cabins are situated on the shoreline of Poplar Tree Lake and offer comfortable beds, a kitchen, and a living area.  

Plan Your Trip

 


Some suggestions and reminders as you set forth on the trails this fall:  

  • Always remember to recreate responsibily.  
  • It can be tricky to figure out when and where the fall colors will peak. There are resources to determine when and where the leaves are changing. Plan according to the annual progressive changing of the leaves using a fall foliage prediction map or check out some of our favorite parks to view the fall colors.  
  • Check the weather before you go so you don’t run into any surprises. Plan for cooler temperatures by layering your clothes and packing a hat or gloves before you hit the trails.  
  • Take in the beautiful scenery. While we encourage you to take your favorite fall pictures and share your #tnstateparks experiences, remember to put away the phones and cameras and soak in the great beauty of our state parks. Pause, breathe in the crisp air, and really take advantage of this special time of year.  
  • Give back to sustain our trails. Part of what makes trails at Tennessee State Parks so special is that they’re free for everyone to access and enjoy. So, while the trails don’t require a cost to access, the use of trails does create an ongoing cost. Consistent use, misuse, and exposure to the elements can pose a threat to our trails. The good news—You can help support the maintenance of trails you love and fund the construction of new trails in Tennessee State Parks! Here’s how: 

JOIN THE TRAIL PACK 

With donations made through the Tennessee State Parks Trail Pack, you can help directly fund trail maintenance projects and new builds that will improve the future of trails at Tennessee State Parks. Plus, we'll send you some unique, annual vinyl stickers with each donation. 

SUPPORT OUR TRAILS

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