The state of Tennessee spans roughly 440 miles from the banks of the Mississippi River to the mountains of the southern Appalachians. Within those borders lie numerous parks, natural areas, and points of interest. We highlight just a few favorites. The hikes listed below are by no means a complete list, but provide the visitor with a glimpse of the diversity the region has to offer.
Shelby Bottoms Greenway
There’s something to be said about an urban trail or greenway tract. I love being able to be outside with little driving and the promise of a close restaurant or bar to enjoy after a hike. Located just 3 miles from downtown Nashville along the Cumberland River, the Shelby Bottoms Greenway is a welcome escape. Hop on the greenway near the Nature Center and travel upriver towards the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge. For a longer day combine this section with the Stone River Greenway to see the river from all angles.
Another “urban” option, Stringer’s Ridge is a trail system located 1.5 miles from downtown Chattanooga. Many of the trails in this 92-acre park are multiuse, meaning you’ll encounter bikers and hikers alike. The direction of travel changes daily to minimize the impact on the trails. I like combining the Cherokee Trail with a smaller loop to enjoy overlooks and narrower trails. After hiking, head into town to grab a beer at one of the city’s local breweries.
Located in the Cherokee National Forest near the Ocoee River, Benton Falls is a great short hike with a rewarding conclusion. From Highway 64, turn on to Oswald Road. Enjoy the twists, turns, and overlooks until you see a sign for the trailhead. The hike is 1.5 miles one way to the waterfall. If you visit in the fall expect to see beautiful foliage. I’d recommend going in the spring after the rains have made for a more impressive spray. While you are in the area be sure to visit the Ocoee Whitewater Center. This site of the 1996 Olympic canoe and kayak events also boasts a small shop, interpretive center, picnic areas, and a bridge over the river.
Located northwest of Chattanooga near the picturesque Sewanee lies one of the most beautiful state parks in the Volunteer State. South Cumberland sits atop the Cumberland Plateau and as such boasts some unique geological features. Of note is Foster Falls which can be added in on several hikes or as its own destination. Climbers frequent this area and the water at the base of the falls stays cool through the summer. Take the 2-mile Climber’s Loop to get a taste of what the park has to offer. If you have extra time take the 4-mile round trip hike on the Buggy Top Trail to one of the largest cave openings in the state. No matter what you choose this park has something to offer all visitors.
What is a list of the best hikes in Tennessee without a stop in the Smokies? Mount LeConte is one of the most well known and popular hikes in the park. Reservations for the lodge are made a year in advance and can be hard to come by without luck or a plan of action. There is a shelter available at the top for an overnight as well. The 5.5-mile hike gains almost 3,000 feet of elevation so isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll be rewarded with incredible views, geologic features, and footpaths steeped in history.