Cool off in Tennessee
Photo Credit: Josh Ness

Caves, Lakes, Rivers and Waterfalls: Cool off in Tennessee

Tennessee has natural ways of cooling off this summer.

In Tennessee, cool water streams down from the mountains and summits can reach 5,000 and 6,000 ft. above sea level, naturally offering places to cool off during the warm spring and summer months. That means that even on the hottest of days, you can find a place to swim, a hike to conquer, or a waterfall to explore for a little relief from the Tennessee heat. Here are some can't miss spots to visit. 


There are approximately more than 8,350 caves recorded in Tennessee, offering plenty of chances to escape the heat above for the coolness below. Take a tour of Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville to see cool rock formations, natural chimneys, grottos and even a stream.

The famous Ruby Falls in Chattanooga is America's largest underground waterfall topping at 145 ft. high. You can explore the cave during a daytime tour or, for a more special perspective, book a lantern tour offered Friday nights January to November. 

Craighead Caverns in Sweetwater is where you can find the largest underground lake in North America, the Lost Sea. Walk through the caverns and then glide on the lake in a glass-bottom boat. 

In Townsend, travel below the earth's surface to tour the Tuckaleechee Caverns, located under the Great Smoky Mountains and estimated to be 20-30 million years old. Inside, you'll see the Big Room that can fit a football field and Silver Falls, cascading 210 ft. from top to bottom.

If you're wanting a music experience but want to stay cool while doing so, head to Bluegrass Underground in The Caverns in Pelham. Here, you can enjoy Americana, bluegrass and country music from some of the industry's top artists while enjoying the cave formations located all around you. 


Stay on the surface with hundreds of waterborne options. Norris Lake has more than 34,000 acres of water and more than 20 marinas that offer hotel, condo, home or campground accommodations along with ski boats, fishing, pontoon boats and jet ski rentals. It also has 809 miles of shoreline. Watauga Lake is the highest-elevated reservoir in Tennessee and, because of this, it's usually a few degrees cooler than similar locations. The lake covers 6,430 acres and has depths of 305 ft. at most. It's perfect for families or individuals who want to leisurely float down its 50 miles of slow-moving Class I water with occasional Class II spots. The Holston River runs 274 miles and is home to 47 species of fish, perfect for a leisurely afternoon waiting on a bite. With a large amount of rainbow trout, redline darter and smallmouth bass, you won't be waiting long. 

Take a challenging ride down the Wolf River.

For a day of non-stop river adventure, head to the Ocoee River where you'll find some of the best whitewater in the country with more than 20 continuous rapids in a gorge that flows through the Cherokee National Forest. The Duck River is the longest river located entirely within the state of Tennessee. The 269-mile river flows through Middle Tennessee and is a great spot for paddling and fishing for smallmouth bass. A challenging kayak or canoe trip can be found at the Wolf River right outside of Memphis. The sunken cypress trees and conservation efforts to keep the river as natural as possible will make the twists and turns of your expedition an adventurous one. 


Hike to waterfalls that dot the scenic, lush beauty of Tennessee:

Benton Falls, Polk County

Benton Falls

Benton Falls is popular among hikers, so get ready to make lots of friends while hiking along the 3.5 trail to the waterfall. This hike is good for all skill levels. For more of a challenging hike, head to some of the others below.

Blue Hole Falls, Grundy County

Blue Hole Falls
Photo Credit: Chuck Sutherland

Take the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park to see this beauty. The Trail is 12.5 miles long one way that eventually leads to Foster Falls, another Tennessee waterfall not to be missed.

Rainbow Falls, Sevier County

Rainbow Falls

Known for the rainbow you can see on sunny afternoons, this 80-ft. high waterfall can be accessed through a moderate hike of 5.4 miles roundtrip. Once taking in the breathtaking scene, you can continue for four miles to the summit of Mount Le Conte.

Ramsey Cascades, Sevier County

Hike 2,200 ft. in elevation over four miles for a moderately strenuous hike that bears big rewards. The water fall is the tallest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Water drops approx. 100 ft. before it collects in a small pool.

Upper Boardtree Falls, Grundy County

Upper Boardtree Falls
Photo Credit: Chuck Sutherland

Part of Savage Gulf State Natural Area, which is part of South Cumberland State Park (one of Tennessee's most scenic wilderness areas), these falls can be found just passed Greeter Falls. Boardtree Falls' waters tumble over a tiered rock hill. Be careful when you climb as steep inclines and narrow pathways weave to this natural wonder.

Tennessee is home to so many waterfalls, it's hard to choose just one to explore. Visit here, here, here and here for a few ideas. 

Places in this article

Cruise Through the Countryside: Sunny Side Trail Part II

Sunny Side Trail Part II picks up where Part I left off at Cosby, Tennessee for quiet spots and historic legends.

Read More