Backpacking at Burgess Falls in Sparta, TN
Photo Credit: Sean Fisher

Set Out on These 10 Backpacking Trails in Tennessee

Follow these backpacking trails to see mountain vistas, rock formations, wildlife and more.

Tennessee’s natural playground is truly something unique, beloved by many who come to experience outdoor activities within these borders. Reconnect with nature in Tennessee along these backpacking trails that lead to incredible views.

Cove Lake State Park – Caryville 

Take in the view that inspired the popular Tennessee State Park patch by setting off on the Goose Island Trail in Cove Lake State Park. The half-mile, easy section leads to a fishing pier with views of the Cumberland Mountains and also is dotted with the park’s Story Book Trail. Kids can see excerpts from “Little Owl’s Moon” along the trail. You can continue the paved trail system for another 2.5 miles if you’d like a few more miles to stretch your legs. 

Snoopers Rock – Chattanooga

Photo Credit: @_sunflowerbella_

This 5.9-mile trail near Chattanooga is considered a moderate route and is popular for hiking and birding. Visit from March to October for seasonal views at the stunning overlook. Inside Prentice Cooper State Forest, Snoopers Rock Trail follows the Cumberland Trail and has natural features like a cave, numerous rock formations and small water crossings. The view at the end of your hike is worth it. Spend a few moments soaking in the view and spotting wildlife. 

Buzzard Roost – Cherokee National Forest

This challenging route offers beautiful vistas once you reach the overlook. Head out on the 3-mile trail located within the Cherokee National Forest. The trail head can be difficult to spot. Once you arrive, it is located on the opposite side of the street from a pull over area. It is 50-100 ft. to the right of the parking area if your back is to the river. The trail is regarded as difficult by hikers and can take an average of a little more than 2 hours to complete. You can camp as well and may not encounter other people, perfect for a chance to reconnect with nature.

Cummins Falls State Park – Cookeville 

Grab your water shoes and your Gorge Access permit for a day at the base of Cummins Falls in Cummins Falls State Park. The adventurous trail is rugged and USCG approved life jackets are advised if you plan to swim the falls’ waters. It is also recommended to only bring snacks and water to the gorge, then eat a picnic in the designated picnic area. Once you get to the gorge, the thundering Cummins Falls is awe-inspiring and is a favorite for hikers and photographers alike. Trails such as the Delia Bell Meadow Trail, a 3-mile moderate hiking trail, does not require a permit to visit. Follow this trail for an overlook of the Blackburn Fork River.

Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Gatlinburg

The Alum Cave Trail is a popular trail in America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 4.4-mile moderately difficult trail includes beautiful mountain views and geological formations as you make your way to Alum Cave. On the way, stop for an Instagrammable location at Arch Rock, the first formation along the trail. Walk across log bridges, through hardwood forests, beautiful displays of mountain laurel and rhododendron and Inspiration Point which provides a great view of the rugged valley outstretched before you. Once you reach the Alum Cave Bluffs, you can continue on to Mount Le Conte for even more mountain views.

Buffalo Mountain – Johnson City

How many cities own a mountain? Well, Johnson City is one. Buffalo Mountain Park is a 725-acre natural resource area and functions as a nature preserve primarily for hiking, picnicking, and nature programs. The park offers several hikes for varying skill levels, but White Rock offers the most stunning, panoramic views. Gain 3,217ft. in elevation on the 4-mile White Rock Loop. You'll hit two overlooks on this trail: Huckleberry Knob and Sunset Point. You can add an extra mile of hiking and include Tip Top overlook as well. The most unique part of Buffalo Mountain is its location. Its incredible hiking trails are just 10 minutes away from the heart of downtown Johnson City. After your hike, head downtown to find six craft breweries, dozens of local restaurants, boutiques, coffee shops, murals and parks.

Urban Wilderness - Knoxville

Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness has a collection of 50 miles of natural surface trails that lead you to a variety of terrains, views and other adventures like rock climbing and mountain biking. Choose your own adventure along trails such as the ones found at Ijams Nature Center & Quarries for stunning rock formations, sunflower fields, wildflowers and views of the Tennessee and French Broad rivers at Forks of the River Wildlife Management & Hunting Area or William Hastie Natural Area which has 6.5 miles of natural surface trails through heavily forested areas and wildflowers. 

Twin Arches in Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area - Oneida

There are two ways to explore the Twin Arches, considered the largest natural bridge in the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The Twin Arches Upper Loop is considered easy to moderate and is about 1.2 miles round trip. The short loop goes to the Twin Arches, a beloved Instagrammable spot. Or, you could access the Twin Arches through the Twin Arches Lower Loop, classified as difficult, which takes you by a series of rock houses, Charit Creek Lodge, Jake’s Place and cliffs before ending up at Twin Arches. With either loop you choose, pack a picnic (and pack out your trash and other belongings) and enjoy the solace nature brings. Big South Fork has a number of trails to explore and backcountry camping sites (permits are required) if you want to spend a night under the stars.

Big Hill Pond State Park – Pocahontas

At Big Hill Pond State Park, you can take in the views of West Tennessee by hiking the Turkey Call Trail. The 3.5-mile loop hike leads to the park’s 70-foot observation tower as well as the half-mile elevated boardwalk in the swamp. Try to spot various birds and other wildlife while on your hike. The trail is rated medium to difficult.

Natchez Trace State Park – Wildersville

See natural transitions from ridgetop forests to bottomland forests on the Brown’s Creek Lake section of the Red Leaves Trail in Natchez Trace State Park. The 1.5-2.5-hour moderate to difficult hike will take you into the bottomland of Brown’s Creek Lake. Once you reach the lakeshore, you’ll have great views of the lake and may be able to spot bald eagles and ospreys. The full Red Leaves Trail system is 40 miles of natural surface. A permit is required for backcountry camping. There are four campsites and up to 35 people may camp at any one site.

Backpacking Gear, Guided Trips and Tips 

Tennessee has a number of outfitters ready to equip and guide you for the best outdoor experience.

Smoky Mountain Guides

From guided day hikes to overnight backpacking trips, adventure photography and more, Smoky Mountain Guides will take you through beautiful Great Smoky Mountain wilderness. For those Instagrammable photos, choose the Adventure Photography excursion where your guide will take you to some of the best places for outdoor photography Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. Spend 3 or 4 days on the longest continuous section of the Appalachian Trail where you'll go to the highest point of the trail and explore the peaks and valleys of this unique trail. Smoky Mountain Guides also provides women-only hikes including day hikes to Charlie's Bunion, mother & daughter adventures and a multi-sport adventure track.

Outdoor Knoxville

Depending on the type of adventure you want, Outdoor Knoxville can point you to the hiking trail best suites for you. Most of the parks around the city are great for paved or natural surface hiking. If you want a more challenging hike, the Outdoor Knoxville experts can suggest a variety of options. They even host group hikes throughout the year including guided wildflower hikes, night hikes, excursions with naturalists and more. 

Outdoor Chattanooga

If you're wanting to explore the rugged wilderness around Chattanooga, let the outfitters at Outdoor Chattanooga guide you in the best direction. Guided tours, programs and access to no to low-cost equipment for a variety of activities are offered. The outdoor guides can lead you through the more than 100 miles of trails in and around the city. Take part in the Chattanooga Classic Hikes Series to get acquainted with just some of the trails that lead to overlooks, rock formations and more. All hikes are free but do require reservations. When you participate in one of the hikes, you can expect to learn backpacking essentials, how to read and follow trail maps and blazes, in-depth information about the area you're hiking in and hiking and backpacking skills.

Cumberland Mountain Outdoor Sports - Cookeville

Step into Cumberland Mountain Outdoor Sports in downtown Cookeville for all your outdoor needs. They carry top outfitter brands and are knowledgeable about the Cumberland Plateau and Great Smoky Mountains (just a short drive away). You can find the National Geographic's double-sided waterproof map of the local parks and hiking destinations in the area and other outdoor experiences in Middle Tennessee, as well as guides on the Appalachian Trail.

Abundant Life Adventure Club – Nashville 

Take the stress out of planning and join a hiking adventure with Abundant Life Adventure Club, tailored for Black professionals and entrepreneurs to connect in nature. Each month, an outdoor event is coordinated so you can experience the community, adventures and refreshing atmosphere of traveling with a positive, uplifting group. Join the club for exclusive, soul refreshing nature experience in and around Nashville held every Saturday morning.

As always, let’s keep Tennessee beautiful by practicing the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace so future generations can be just as inspired by the wonder and awe found in the state: 

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare.
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly.
  • Leave What You Find.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  • Respect Wildlife.
  • Be Considerate of Others.

Additional resources:

3 backcountry campsites within 100 miles of Nashville

Great Smoky Mountains backpacking packing list

For more outdoor safety tips, check out #AdventureSmartTN. And, discover even more photo-worthy hiking trails in Tennessee. 

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