July 2018 – “Middle TN Parks”

When J.L. and I began exploring the Middle Tennessee state parks, the only one of 26 parks in that area we’d ever visited was Fall Creek Falls State Park near Crossville. Even when we returned to that park in our journey across state, we found we’d only seen a section or two of this glorious park, missing many of its special attractions.

Working our way from east to west, the first parks we visited were in the northeast part of Middle Tennessee—Edgar Evins on the Center Hill Reservoir, the Sgt. Alvin C. York historic site near Pall Mall, Pickett CCC Memorial Park outside Jamestown, Cumberland Mountain State Park, the Cordell Hull Birthplace near Byrdstown, and Standing Stone State Park in Overton County. I think the most memorable among these were Pickett and Cumberland Mountain.

Pickett was full of surprises. None of the park descriptions we read in advance prepared us for the stunning sandstone bluffs, caves, rock bridges, and geological features we found. I remember spotting a sign for Rock House Trail as we started into the park. I talked J.L. into hiking down the trail—which looked nondescript at its beginning, hoping we might find the remains of an old rock settlers home. What we found instead were rock house bluffs towering over our heads and a narrow passageway twining along underneath them. This proved to be only the first of many similar incredible trails like this throughout the park, which often began like woodsy pathways, but then led to rocky stairs, bridges, bluffs, and other fun “finds.” In addition, the CCC museum, lake, and picnic areas around the park were scenic—and we learned this was the first park in the southeast to be listed as a dark sky viewing location, making us wish we could stay  to look for stars and constellations later that night.

Cumberland Mountain State Park, near Crossville, we remember mainly for its scenic beauty. It’s tucked around serene, picturesque Byrd Lake, and J.L. and I loved the long, arched stone bridge with seven arches across the lake built by the CCC, as well as the winding lake trails, rustic cabins, and gorgeous golf course. Near the park entrance we loved exploring the Homesteads Tower and Museum, too, and learning about the early history of this area.

Moving across state we began to hit what we later termed “The Waterfall Parks”—a series of  glorious parks with rushing cascades and tumbling falls. Among our favorites were Cummins Falls with its 75 ft curtain of water falling over a rocky bluff, Burgess Falls with its multiple waterfalls spilling over rocky ledges, all viewable from a riverside trail, and Rock Island with a glory of stunning falls scattered all around the park.

As we neared Nashville and the center of the state, J.L. and I found ourselves continually delighted and entertained by the diversity of parks we discovered. Many times, traveling down the interstate and highways around this area, we’d seen park signs but never driven back to visit them—missing so much! Surprisingly, one state park sat right in the middle of downtown Nashville, the Tennessee Bicentennial Capital Mall State Park. Even with the city skyline all around it, the park still provided an oasis of green and offered an interesting glimpse into Tennessee history.

South of Nashville, we explored parks like Tims Ford sprawled around the banks of beautiful Tims Ford Lake, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park with its rich history and stunning waterfalls,  Mousetail Landing, and the David Crockett State Park.

Beyond Nashville we especially enjoyed our visit to Montgomery Bell State Park and spent the night at the inn looking out across Acorn Lake. This large park offered many scenic spots, historic areas – like the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church above, beautiful lakes and picnic sites, making it easy to see why the park is so popular. Nearby, we had fun visiting Dunbar Cave, Port Royal, and Johnsonville State Historic Park on the Tennessee River. This park had a great museum and many Confederate structures, old cannons, battlefields, and monuments.

Two unusual parks in Middle Tennessee each spread out over a long area, versus being on a single site. The Harpeth River State Park consisted of segments along 40 miles of the Harpeth River—and it was like a scavenger hunt finding each one. Similarly, locating the most interesting sites to visit at South Cumberland State Park had us driving sometimes 30-45 minutes between each section in this vast 25,539-acres park, spanning four counties. Our favorite spot in this park was the Stone Door area in the Savage Gulf section of the park near Beersheba Springs south of McMinnville. From the Stone Door Ranger Station off Hwy 56, we walked to Laurel Falls and then took the two-mile round trip hike to the Laurel Gulf Overlook and the Stone Door, where rocky bluffs create a deep slit, or door, between them. The views across the gorge and mountains here made a great finale to our day.

Honestly, it never dawned on J.L. and I what treasures we’d see and what wonderful times we’d have exploring the parks in Tennessee. After completing the Middle Tennessee parks, we eagerly began planning longer trips to see what we might find moving further west toward the Mississippi River. In my August blog next month I’ll talk about the parks in West Tennessee—and spotlight more memory photos, too. I hope you’ve been enjoying this summer journey around Tennessee’s parks.

If you have not picked up our guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS, you can order it at any bookstore near your home or find it online at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. It describes all 56 parks and is loaded with over 700 color photo illustrations. If you buy and enjoy it, please consider writing a short review about what you liked on Amazon. See you next month!