Do you have a little winter cabin fever? Take advantage of Tennessee’s mildest temperatures, unobstructed views and least crowded trails by hiking and camping in Tennessee State Parks during the winter months. Hike through these five state parks to see that winter is one of the best seasons to get out and explore all the state has to offer.
Big Hill Pond State Park in Pocahontas, Tennessee, approximately an hour and a half east of Memphis, is potentially one of the most under-the-radar, backcountry hiking in the state. A little more than 4,000 acres of forested hills and swampy bottomlands are bordered by the Tuscumbia River and Cypress Creek in southwestern Tennessee, near the Mississippi state line. The park’s namesake may be a beautiful pond grown in with incredible cypress trees, but it’s Travis McNatt Lake which forms the very heart of the park. There are four backcountry trail shelters with bunks for backpackers, three of which definitely qualify as remote. Let the chorus of frogs lull you to sleep and listen to the whistle of the Memphis to Charleston Railroad echo through the wilderness. If you want to make camp, take advantage of 28 tent and small RV campsites. Each site has a table and a grill. The campground has a modern bathhouse with hot showers but does not have any hook-ups or dump station. Big Hill Pond’s highlights include a 70-foot observation tower with panoramic vistas of the beautiful Tennessee borderlands and the Cypress Dismal Swamp boardwalk, which winds through a lush and waterlogged landscape.
Chickasaw State Park in Henderson, about an hour and a half east of Memphis, has some of the most unique camping and lodging accommodations. On the hillsides above Lake Placid, at the very center of the park, are seven Works Progress Administration cabins. These cabins each have their own fireplaces and televisions, making them ideally situated for the ultimate lakeside weekend. There are six two-bedroom cabins within easy access to Lake Placid. You'll find full-size appliances in the kitchen and a wood-burning fireplace in the main living area. Another accommodation option in the park is the wrangler campgrounds, located near the stables for those traveling with horses. The park's 1,400 acres are a small part of the much larger Chickasaw State Forest, which encompasses more than 14,000 acres of protected lands. These woodlands and lakes are situated on some of the highest elevation landscape in West Tennessee. The main hiking trails that crisscross the hills above the lake range from easy to moderate in difficulty, making them some of the most pleasant longleaf pine woods you’ll ever stroll through. Guided horseback rides are available at the park stables. Also available to suit your camping needs are 53 RV sites along with 29 tent camping sites.
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is located just minutes from Manchester, approximately two hours south of Nashville, and all of the modern conveniences a person might want or need, including stores and restaurants. Pitch your tent at one of the recently renovated campsites - there are 50 of them with water and electric hookups, grills, picnic tables and hard-surface pads. The dump station is open year-round. While here, explore the history of Old Stone Fort itself. The name is actually a misnomer - it’s neither a fort, nor is it made of stone. It is actually an earthen enclosure which served as ceremonial grounds for prehistoric Native Americans that came here before the Cherokee, the Creek and other Tennessee tribes. Constructed 1,500-2,000 years ago, the entrance of the earthen enclosure is oriented to face the exact spot where the sun rises at the time of the summer solstice. The enclosure sits at the top of a large hill between the Little and Big Duck Rivers, which combine at the far end of the park. The two rivers create a dramatic landscape of deep gorges, thundering waterfalls and cliff overhangs, which the park’s hiking trails are designed to follow, easily leading hikers to the most beautiful spots.
Henry Horton State Park has some of the most diverse range of camping and lodging accommodations. There are eight cabins, 56 RV campsites, 19 tent campsites and three backcountry sites, the latter of which are located on the ridge above the river and the wetlands. There are six hike-in hammock camping sites as well. Located in Chapel Hill, the park is situated on the estate of former governor Henry Horton. Governor Horton’s property sat along the scenic Duck River, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the entire world and the longest river located entirely within the state. The number of unique activities available at Henry Horton State Park makes it a recreational paradise. Anglers pull several species of bass and catfish from the calm waters of the river. Golfers enjoy the championship caliber Buford Ellington golf course, also named for one of Tennessee’s governors. A trap and skeet range for shooters is here, which includes two traps fields, five skeet fields and a gun rental on site.
Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee's largest and most visited state park. It also provides a variety of lodging options. There's the newly opened Lodge Fall Creek Falls which provides a gateway to all the adventure possible in the park. Step outside the lobby and you're instantly connected to waterfalls, hiking, golfing, fishing and treetop adventures. The Lodge has 85 guest rooms equipped with modern amenities and many offer lakeside views from a balcony or patio. Lakeside and landside cabins are also available. Twenty lakeside cabins are located directly on Fall Creek Lake. Known as fishermen cabins, 10 cabins are two-story with two bedrooms and one and a half baths. The other ten are one-story, three bedrooms, two bath cabins. The landside cabins are located on a wooded hill overlooking the lake and come with a gas fireplace, patio, picnic table and grill. The park also has 222 campsites in five different areas. All sites have tables, grills, water, and electricity and are served by six bathhouses. 92 sites have sewer connections and some sites will accommodate an RV up to 65 feet in length. Spend your days challenging yourself on the Canopy Challenge Course featuring zip lines, bridge crossing and over 70 aerial obstacles. Explore the more than 56 miles of trails or go on two wheels to discover the 24 miles of mountain biking trails.
South Cumberland State Park is encompasses more than 30,000 protected acres and is a top hiking and camping destination in Tennessee. If you’re coming to South Cumberland State Park for the first time, start at the park’s Visitor’s Center in Monteagle, about 44 minutes east of Chattanooga, where you can get maps and relevant trail and camping information. The wildernesses of this park are the largest, most remote and contain the most strenuous but rewarding hiking trails. This is especially true for the park’s two largest sections. First is the Fiery Gizzard Trail, an approximately 12.5-mile, one-way trail connecting Grundy Forest with Foster Falls. Along the trails, you will hike along its namesake creek, through rocky gorges and deep woodlands. Second is the breathtaking Savage Gulf with sweeping vista views, cascading waterfalls, historic sites and the centerpiece of it all, Stone Door. This massive rock cliff split in two some eons passed. Now, you can hike straight down the cleft, right between the rock faces. There are a number of campsites to choose from like the Foster Falls Campground that has 25 rustic campsites for small trailers or tents; primitive group camping sites that can accommodate 30-60 campers depending on the site and location; and over 90 miles of backpacking trails with 93 campsites, eight group sites and one rustic lodge, the Hobbs Cabin.
Hit the trail this winter to see Tennessee in all its glory. Pitch a tent or take advantage of the more luxurious options provided by these parks for the ultimate winter vacation.