Just when it seems the last chilly days of winter will never end, we get spring in Tennessee. Before the humidity has you running for air-conditioned interiors, be sure to bask in the perfect weather outdoors.
Here are 10 ways to get out and enjoy Tennessee, wherever you are.
T.O. Fuller State Park holds a great deal of history in its 1,100 acres, starting with its creation in 1938. It was the first state park east of the Mississippi open to African-Americans, and during construction a prehistoric Native American village was unearthed. Just 15 miles from downtown Memphis, T.O. Fuller allows city dwellers to take a step back in time, whether wandering through the restored Chucalissa village or hiking one of the more rugged trails.
Tennessee’s only natural lake is filled with crappie and bluegill, bass and catfish. Bring your boat, rent one or fish from the pier or banks. Not a fisherman? The lake is also a fine place for paddleboarding, and the surrounding cypress forest is home to a variety of wildlife for hikers. Bird-watchers will find hundreds of interesting species year round, with songbirds, warblers, owls and wading birds galore in the summer.
The 1,350-year-old, 175-foot bald cypress that the park is named for was struck by lightning in 1976 and no longer stands, but the park still holds plenty of natural beauty. A picnic area and playground make for a fine family outing and a chance to learn about the scenery. Look for an easy-to-navigate tree identification trail — ADA accessible — and a stunning collection of wildflowers.
Nashville to Collinwood
Go ahead and take the scenic route! The Tennessee portion of the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway runs between Nashville and Collinwood, with explosions of showy dogwoods, bursts of colorful azaleas and miles of stately oak trees to delight the eyes. The entire length of the parkway is a National Park Service-designated bike route, closed to commercial traffic, and rangers patrol the road to keep cyclists safe. But even if you travel by car, the road has dozens of areas to explore, whether you’re looking for history, waterfalls, hiking trails or a just pretty place to picnic.
Visitors may feel that they have walked straight into a fairytale at Burgess Falls. Four spectacular waterfalls cascade down steep, sheer bluffs, surrounded by lush forest dotted with a variety of wildflowers. Butterflies flit around and land on your shoulder or hand in the large native butterfly garden. Songbirds offer a trilling soundtrack to your visit, and you might even spot a white-tailed deer along the way.
The park is built around a Native American gathering spot dating back 2,000 years, mistakenly identified as a fort by settlers who found it centuries later. The entrance faces the exact spot where the sun rises during summer solstice. History truly comes alive for visitors, who can see the original walls of the structure along the main trail. Those who are interested in learning more can visit the museum on-site for an orientation film and exhibits that delve into the history of the “fort.”
Serious hikers and trail runners will want to take on this challenging 12.5-mile trail, which Backpacker magazine once rated as among the Top 25 in the U.S. The physical effort is worth it for the incredible view of waterfalls, boulders, rocky cliffs and untouched forest. This part of South Cumberland State Park allows you to truly get back to nature, and nearly every step is awe-inspiring.
The 150-acre RiverPark stretches from downtown Chattanooga to the Chickamauga Dam, and is open to bikers, skaters, joggers and anyone who wants to take a leisurely stroll by the river. There are open spaces to run around, benches to sit and contemplate the views and public art, 6 piers to fish from and picnic tables throughout. You can canoe or kayak the Tennessee River, then pop into the Chattanooga Aquarium to find out exactly what’s happening below the water’s surface.
Head for the mountains and find the sprawling Frozen Head State Park, named for a snow-covered peak in the Cumberland range. With more than 24,000 acres of wilderness, the park has something for everyone: hiking, biking, fishing a trout-stocked creek and horseback riding (you do have to bring your own horse). There’s so much to explore you might consider reserving a spot in one of its 3 camping areas to stay a few days.
The summit that inspired the song stands in the Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains. Getting there takes some effort, but experienced hikers who make their way up the trail will see something spectacular. Looking out on the North Carolina side of the Smokies is beautiful, and in late spring the hills are covered in pink and white mountain laurel. The lyrics to the song take on new meaning to the hardy souls who climb “good old Rocky Top.”
For more hiking trails that hit their peak in spring, click here.