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 Tennessee’s 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 and camping spots 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, but prefer to have a few more luxuries than what you can carry on your back, take advantage of 28 “rustic” campsites with onsite picnic benches, grills and even a bathhouse with hot water.
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 eight Great Depression-era cabins that date back to when Chickasaw State Park and the surrounding woodlands were part of a New Deal, Works Progress Administration project. These cabins each have their own fireplaces and televisions, making them ideally situated for the ultimate lakeside weekend. There are five other cabins available to rent. Another accommodation option in the park is the wrangler campgrounds, located near the stables for those traveling with horses.
This region was once peopled by the Chickasaw Indians, who are the park’s namesake. These 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 with a dump station and all the necessary hookups, along with 29 easily-accessible tent camping sites.
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park may be the most conveniently located Tennessee state park for camping. It’s not only RV friendly with a dump station and all the necessary hookups, but also accommodates tents and pop-up campers in a simulated backcountry setting. It's located just minutes from Manchester, situated approximately two hours south of Nashville, and all of the modern conveniences a person might want or need, including stores, restaurants and even hotels for when the going gets tough. This undoubtedly makes Old Stone Fort the ideal place to bring the whole family.
That, and the 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. They have an inn and the accompanying Governor’s Table Restaurant, making relaxation at Henry Horton a breeze. Additionally, on the park grounds 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. Soon to open are six hammock camping sites as well.
Located in Chapel Hill, under an hour south of Nashville, 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 of Tennessee.
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.
South Cumberland State Park is not one continuous park, but rather a series of nine individual mountain wilderness areas encompassing more than 30,000 protected acres. It 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 obtain maps and relevant trail and camping information. Of this list, 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 ominously-named but 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 nearly 100 backcountry campsites throughout South Cumberland State Park, as well as a primitive backcountry cabin and even a handful of tent camping sites close to parking areas. At the Foster Falls campground, there are 25 rustic campsites good for small trailers or tents.
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.