Discover Tennessee's Top 10 State Parks for Your Next Outdoor Adventure

When thoughts turn to nature in Tennessee, many will immediately think of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the country where over 14 million people visited in 2021. However, for those seeking a different way to explore Tennessee’s natural wonders, the state is home to 56 state parks and a plethora of outdoor activities to enjoy, from kayaking and hiking to camping and golfing. Here are ten of the top state parks to visit in Tennessee.

Located in central Tennessee at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake, there is an abundance of waterfalls to marvel at in this park. Of particular interest, Great Falls, a 30-foot cascading waterfall overlooking a 19th century textile mill is a must-see, along with the popular swimming spot, the Blue Hole. Ten cabins and sixty campsites are available for overnight stays.

Radnor Lake State Park is a natural oasis outside of Nashville, where visitors can revel in a peaceful setting. The 1,368-acre park is a protected nature preserve, home to numerous plant species, animals, and birds. As the site becomes crowded due to its eight-mile proximity to Nashville, it is recommended to visit during sunrise or sunset to stroll solo around the lake and bask in the serenity.

For a family-friendly adventure, Cumberland Mountain State Park on the Cumberland Plateau is a great choice. The 1,720-acre park has 14 miles of hiking trails, four miles of biking trails, and many recreational activities, including swimming, kayaking, rowing, fishing, and a par-72 golf course. After a long day, visitors can choose between staying in one of 140 campsites or fully furnished cabins and dining at the onsite restaurant.

Constructed during the Middle Woodland period 1,500-2,000 years ago, Old Stone Fort at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is a historical park. Interestingly, it’s believed the Indigenous people held ceremonial gatherings in the 50-acre hilltop enclosure of mounds and walls built directly into limestone cliffs. Hiking the 1.4-mile trail will take you to three waterfalls where interpretive signage teaches visitors more about the area’s rich history.

Fall Creek Falls, a nearly 30,000-acre park spanning the eastern part of the Cumberland Plateau, is a popular destination. The stunning gorge and accompanying 256-foot waterfall are memorable sights, surrounded by verdant forests. Other waterfalls not to be missed include Cane Creek Falls, Piney Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. Adventurous souls can try their hand at fishing, rock climbing, a canopy ropes course, hiking, or golfing on an 18-hole course.

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Situated in the northwestern corner of Tennessee, a mere two-hour drive from Memphis, Reelfoot is the state's sole natural lake. Due to a series of fierce earthquakes that led to its formation, the lake is essentially a submerged woodland with majestic cypress trees protruding above its surface. One of Reelfoot Lake's most significant selling points is its proximity to the Mississippi River, making it a popular destination for migratory birdwatching. While you can witness white pelicans migrating during the autumn season, the park is also home to a hefty 240 bird species, giving visitors ample opportunities for observation. February sees the annual bald eagle festival taking place here.

Chris M. Rogers

Although this park may not be extensive, it packs a punch. Ideal for a day trip that will make you feel as though you've escaped to a far-off location, Burgess Falls is all about waterfalls. To be precise, four waterfalls that span 250 feet of elevation. Take the steep 1.6-mile loop trail, admiring smaller cascades before making your way to the grand finale: a 130-foot waterfall that drops straight down into a gorge. Prepare for your day of splendid views by packing a picnic and plenty of water. This destination is only one to two hours away from Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

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Located on the flanks of the Tennessee-North Carolina boundary lies a park boasting unrivaled viewing vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Discover a plethora of trails winding through densely wooded areas, and past a number of babbling creeks. Keep your eyes peeled for blooming rhododendrons and abundant wildflowers that pop up every spring. At the park's heart lies Miller Farmstead, an authentic Appalachian settlement constructed in 1908 that is now open for tours.

Courtesy of Tennessee State Parks

Situated in central Tennessee, this park came into being through FDR's New Deal. It celebrates the essence of the Old Natchez Trace, a route that once served as a common thoroughfare for indigenous people, explorers, and traders, extending from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Today, the park spans 48,000 acres inclusive of the Natchez Trace State Forest and boasts trails ranging in length from half a mile to forty miles. Furthermore, it's home to three lakes, a horse camp, cabins, campsites, an inn, a restaurant, and more.

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Water enthusiasts who can't decide between a lake or beach vacation will find their dream destination in this state park. Once a popular riverboat stop on the Tennessee River, Pickwick's location at the confluence of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi makes it readily available to visitors from all over. At the park, guests can choose from three swimming beaches, book a room at the luxurious 119-room inn, and dine in the restaurant. Additionally, the park offers a golf course, extensive hiking trails, and plenty of opportunities for water sports.

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