Step into Tennessee’s outdoors to experience natural wonders from waterfalls to serene fishing spots, awe-inspiring overlooks, hiking trails for all expertise levels and more than 10,000 caves. Plan your outdoor getaway with these locations in mind.
Discovering waterfalls is a popular pastime in Tennessee, with over 500 to explore on the Cumberland Plateau or in the mountains of East Tennessee. The journey provides a glimpse of unique plants and animals in the moist, protected gorges. Virgin Falls, south of Cookeville, is a hidden treasure – a 9-mile round-trip hike with several waterfalls en route to the steepest drop, where the falls plunge into one cave and emerge from another. Of course, Fall Creek Falls is the state’s highest at 256 feet and a sight to behold. Grotto Falls, a moderate hike in the shadow of Mount LeConte, is the only waterfall in the Smokies you can stand behind. Farther east near Tellico Plains, Bald River Falls offers motor tourists a great photo op.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, known for its mountains, streams, waterfalls and biodiversity, is the most visited national park in the country. Try something new like safari-style glamping near Pigeon Forge in a luxury canvas tent with all the amenities or bike the 11-mile loop at Cades Cove. Discover historic settlers’ farm sites tucked away in the forest on trails like Porters Creek, a 4-mile roundtrip wooded hike that passes waterfalls, streams, spring wildflowers and crosses a single log footbridge. The park boasts an amazing 20,000-plus species of plants and animals, including more than 1,500 black bears. The synchronized fireflies’ annual mating ritual at Elkmont around the first week of June is a rare event you should see for yourself (enter the April ticket lottery for a chance to watch this amazing sight).
Tennessee is known for its wide variety of fish. More trophy smallmouth bass have been caught at Dale Hollow Lake than any body of water in the world. The winding Hatchie River in Southwest Tennessee is rich with big-game fish. You’ll find ideal fly-fishing for trout in the scenic wilderness of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Flag Pond or in the South Holston River in Kingsport. July is a terrific night-fishing month for black bass at Center Hill Lake. Fort Loudoun Lake is has plentiful fishing ground for big cats. Family fishing lakes scattered across the state are stocked with catfish, and many have fishing piers, rental boats and excellent bank fishing.
Fire tower views in East Tennessee
Fire towers in East Tennessee provide unparalleled views of the surrounding area. The rebuilt Pinnacle Fire Tower on Buffalo Mountain near the town of Unicoi offers stunning 360-degree views of the region’s highest peaks in Northeast Tennessee. At 3,520 feet, the fire tower has been sentinel of the forest for 75 years. Other towers worth the climb include Clingmans Dome – the most-visited tower in the Smoky Mountains – Kettlefoot, Bays Mountain, Mount Cammerer, Look Rock and Bluff Mountain, to name just a few.
For a look at some of the wildest and most rugged territory on the Cumberland Plateau, venture to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The deeply carved plateau is a network of scenic gorges, sandstone bluffs, sandy beaches, rocky ridges and river valleys. Historic remains of American Indians and early settlers dot the hills and valleys, secret places to be explored by hikers and horse lovers. Water and erosion have carved out stunning stone arches and caves. The park boasts over 138 miles of fishing streams and 212 miles of horse trails. Wildlife includes wild turkey, deer and black bear. Big South Fork is a delight for adventure lovers.
Created in the winter of 1811-12 when the Mississippi River flowed backward during a series of powerful earthquakes, Reelfoot Lake is a naturalist’s paradise nestled in Tennessee’s northwest corner. Formed in a cypress swamp depression, the shallow lake is a fertile natural hatchery for crappie, bass, bluegill, bream and catfish, and one of the greatest fishing and hunting preserves in the nation. Reelfoot lies on the Mississippi Flyway, attracting over 240 species of birds, including herons, egrets and white pelicans. It’s also a nesting ground for golden and bald eagles. Plan to attend the annual Reelfoot Lake Eagle Festival, held in late January/early February, or observe wildlife on the boardwalk loop close to the Visitor Center.
Zipline Places in Tennessee
Sailing through the air and across gorges by zip line gives adventure-seekers a bird’s-eye view of Tennessee’s breathtaking mountains and forests. Experience swinging skybridges and long zips over waterfall gorges, rivers and woods for the ultimate thrill. Zip line operators such as AdventureWorks in Kingston Springs and Pigeon Forge, Ocoee Ziplines and Canopy Tour in Copperhill, Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis and Navitat Knoxville will get you buckled up and ready to step off into a high-flying treetop adventure.
Feel the thrill of whitewater rafting down Tennessee’s three most popular rivers. The Ocoee River offers half- or full-day action-packed rides down Class III and IV roaring rapids. The Nolichucky River roars through a 9-mile-long gorge in the northeast corner of the state. It’s a challenging run of turbulent rapids through the rugged beauty of steep canyon walls and lush forest. Starting deep in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Pigeon River gathers strength from mountain streams and has been named one of the top rivers in the country for whitewater rafting. Nearby outfitters offer exhilarating Class III & IV whitewater expeditions. The Lower Pigeon River moderates to the perfect float trip with gentle rapids and swimming holes.
Tennessee is an outdoor paradise for hikers, offering trails in 56 state parks and 85 natural areas from the Mississippi floodplains to the Appalachian Mountains. Join one of five annual ranger-led hikes in a state park or celebrate Natural Areas Week each April, when you can explore ecologically significant areas. Discover rare plants and animals on guided hikes and tours across the state. Take a kid-friendly walk at West Tennessee’s Big Cypress Tree State Park or marvel at the steep slopes of Devil’s Backbone in Lewis County – and lots of other places in between.
This is just a sample of all the outdoor places you can find in the state. Plan to have even more outdoor adventures in Tennessee.