In these times when life is quieter, and we are all staying closer to home, I want to encourage you to still find time to get out-of-doors in nature. It has been proven to be healthy and healing physically and emotionally. Even if you can’t travel abroad, take cruises or long trips, you can still head out for a day to one of your state parks.
J.L. and I discovered the joy and pleasure of our parks in Tennessee while visiting all 56 of them to write our guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. For my August blog post I thought I’d tell you a little about some special places to take a walk or hike in the wonderful parks in each TN area. If you don’t live in Tennessee, I’m sure your state’s parks offer an equal diversity of beautiful and interesting places to see, along with lovely trails and quiet pathways to enjoy. We’re already finding that to be true as we work on a second guidebook to state parks in South Carolina.
In planning our Tennessee parks guidebook we decided to divide the book according to the three divisions of TN: East, Middle, and West. We started our visits in the eastern tip of TN, visiting all the east parks first, then moved on to Middle and West TN until we reached the last park near the Mississippi River border. In the guidebook, and in others we’re working on or have published, like our Smokies trail guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, we tell you clearly how to get to each location, detail the best things to do and see, and include color photos to enhance the discussion.
There are 18 wonderful parks in East Tennessee. Since we live in Knoxville, we could easily drive to these, enjoy a day exploring, and come home to sleep in our own bed at night. We discovered mountain parks like Frozen Head and Roan Mountain, lakeside parks like Warriors Path and Harrison Bay, and parks celebrating historic sites like Red Clay and David Crockett’s Birthplace. Some of our favorite walks and trails in the East Tennessee parks that we especially enjoyed are:
(1) The 2-miles Round Trip (RT) Mountain River Trail along the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals State Historic area in Elizabethton. This is a pretty walk and easy for anyone to enjoy, and of course we also explored the park’s historic fort and museum.
(2) At Big Ridge State park in Maynardville you’ll find a beautiful park with many amenities, but also with several scenic hiking trails. Our favorite is the 2-miles RT Lake Trail that winds around the perimeter of the lake and back. If you start at the eastern end of the trail you can see the old Norton Gristmill, too.
(3) Panther Creek State Park on Lake Cherokee in Morristown offers panoramic lake views, many amenities, and a number of interesting trails. We especially enjoyed the 0.6-mile Seven Sinkholes Trail and the mile long Old Wagon Trail along the creek.
In Middle Tennessee there are 26 state parks, more than any other region, and our biggest delight in exploring these parks was in finding interesting caves and rock formations and a plethora of stunning waterfalls. We hadn’t expected to find so many glorious waterfalls or caves and rocky bluffs so far away from the mountains of East Tennessee. Some of our favorite walks and trails in Middle Tennessee were:
(1) The short Indian Rock House Trail in Pickett State Park in Jamestown, and the Hazard Cave and Hidden Passage trails, all leading to high rocky sandstone bluffs, unusual geological formations, and natural rock bridges. This park isn’t far from the Big South Park Recreation area either.
(2) Closer to Nashville the Cedars of Lebanon State Park also has trails leading to sinkholes, caves, and bluffs and on the half-mile Cedar Glades Trail, with interpretative signs, you’ll spot endangered plants and the rare cedars this park is named for.
(3) To spot some truly stunning waterfalls, be sure to walk the 1.5-miles River Trail at Burgess Falls in Sparta, TN. The path winds along the river side to overlooks at four different waterfalls, each falls bigger and more beautiful than the last.
(4) At Rock Island State Park, you’ll discover another interesting park to explore with more glorious waterfalls. Stop at the Great Falls Overlook to view the falls there, trek down a portion of the Caney Fork River Gorge trail, walk the 0.5-mile Blue Hole Trail, and don’t forget to drive over to the Twin Falls Down River Trail to see two glorious falls rushing out of the rock wall before dropping 80 feet to the river below.
Moving on to West Tennessee, the terrain begins to flatten out more, but we still found a rich diversity among the 12 parks here with more fine walks and hikes to enjoy:
(1) At Natchez Trace, a vast state park, we stayed overnight in the beautiful park lodge and walked a number of the park’s trails, especially enjoying the long footbridge leading across Cub Lake and the quiet trails along the lakeside at Pin Oak Lodge.
(2) At Pickwick Landing on the southern border of West Tennessee at Counce, TN, we discovered several lovely scenic trails winding along beautiful Pickwick Lake. We especially enjoyed the 1.2-miles Nature Trail behind the park’s fabulous inn and the Island Loop Trail near the park cabins.
(3) The Reelfoot Lake State Park at the far northwest end of the state at Tiptonville was another favorite spot, and we loved exploring the boardwalk trails leading out into the lake. The first, only a half mile, starts at the visitor center where you’ll also learn the history of this unusual lake. Taking a tour around Reelfoot we also discovered and walked several other trails we found at the campground at other scenic points along the lake’s 22 miles of picturesque shoreline.
I hope you noticed, while reading this blog post, that all the park trails I mentioned are “short” ones. I wanted to stress that in the state parks you’ll find many short, easy, and well-maintained trails. All the family can enjoy these walks while also having a fabulous day exploring the parks and their many historic and natural sites.
Do plan some days this last month of summer to visit one of your nearby state parks. Take a picnic, enjoy the August sunshine, and have fun getting out-of-doors.. Also, if you live in, or plan to visit in Tennessee, pick up a copy of our state parks guidebook or our Smokies hiking book at your favorite bookstore or order either of them online through Barnes & Noble or on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Lin-Stepp/e/B0028OJMPA%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Also, If you bought and enjoyed our TN state parks book, please considering following the link above to leave a short review on Amazon about our book. Thank you!
Enjoy this last wonderful month of summer and I’ll see you in September! … Lin
[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]