Tennessee is home to some of the most amazing scenery in the nation. With the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains to the east, the vast open land to the west, and everything in between, you will never regret time spent in the Volunteer State. Here, we put together a list of 19 of the best places to climb, hike, and bike the next time you find yourself visiting Tennessee.
1. Sunset Rock
Why it Makes the List: Sunset Rock is located just a few miles from downtown Chattanooga, offering stunning panoramic views of the Tennessee River and Lookout Valley.
Best Nearby Adventure: This spot is a popular hiking destination, but the trad climbing is what really draws a crowd. At Sunset Rock, climbers can experience some of the best sandstone climbing in the state, possibly even the entire Southeast.
2. Reelfoot Lake
Why it Makes the List: Located in the northwestern corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake is home to some of the most beautiful scenery and diverse ecosystems in Tennessee. This majestic lake is essentially a flooded forest with massive Cypress trees rising above the surface—some are still submerged under the water.
Best Nearby Adventure: You’ll find plenty to do near Reelfoot Lake. You can fish or paddle out on the lake, look for wildlife, or stroll along the nature trails.
3. Clingmans Dome
Why it Makes the List: Located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the state at over 6,643 feet. That means you’ll get beautiful views of the Smokies, sometimes with visibility up to 100 miles away.
Best Nearby Adventure: Clingmans Dome is a prime spot for beginner hikers or those just looking for a great view. The path up to the tower has a pretty steep incline, but the view from the summit is worth it! You can also hop on the Appalachian Trail nearby for a day hike or longer backpacking trip.
4. Roan Mountain State Park
Location: Roan Mountain
Why it Makes the List: Roan Mountain is a stunning 6,285-acre park teeming with wildflowers and hardwood forests.
Best Nearby Adventure: vThe park has 12 miles of hiking trails and 2.25 miles of mountain biking trails that you can use to explore the old Miller Farmstead, babbling creeks, and rugged ridges. The park also has 107 campsites and 30 cabins if you want to make it an overnight or weekend trip. In the winter, the trails are open to cross-country skiing.
5. Ocoee River
Location: Polk County
Why it Makes the List: The Ocoee River is one of the most popular rivers in America (if not the world), known for its amazing whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities.
Best Nearby Adventure: The river has almost 10 miles of class III-IV whitewater with tons of features to sharpen your paddling skills. It’s such a primo paddling spot that the whitewater slalom in the 1996 Olympics was held on the Ocoee.
6. Fall Creek Falls State Park
*_Why it Makes the List: *_At 26,000 acres, Fall Creek Falls State Park is Tennessee’s largest state park. You’ll find the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls, the highest waterfall in the Eastern United States, and is filled with countless cascades, gorges, and (of course) even more waterfalls.
Best Nearby Adventure: Sitting on top of the famous Cumberland Plateau, there are more than 34 miles of hiking and biking trails at the park that lead to gorgeous views and three other waterfalls. There is also an 18-hole golf course, zip lining, fishing, and plenty of camping.
7. Snoopers Rock
Why it Makes the List: This scenic destination is just 30 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, and offers one of the most stunning panoramic views of the Tennessee River Gorge winding its way around Elder Mountain. If you’re an early riser, this spot is even more amazing at sunrise.
Best Nearby Adventure: Prentice Cooper State Forest is a popular hiking and trail running destination with over 6,000 acres of land and more than 35 miles of trails. The most popular trail in this area is Mullins Cove Loop—10 miles through the Prentice Cooper Wilderness Area with a number of overlooks with views of the Tennessee River Gorge.
8. Shelby Farms
Why it Makes the List: Shelby Farms is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Covering 4,500 acres, it’s more than five times the size of Central Park in New York City and has a variety of lakes, natural forests, and wetlands for visitors to explore.
Best Nearby Adventure: This Memphis beauty has something for everyone. Whether your favorite activity is hiking, stargazing, horseback riding, or even zip lining, it’s easy to see why this park is a favorite for Tennesseans.
9. Ruby Falls
Why it Makes the List: Located deep under Lookout Mountain sits America’s largest underground waterfall. To see the 145-foot Ruby Falls, you’ll have to venture 1,120 feet below the surface.
Best Nearby Adventure: Ruby Falls is one of Chattanooga’s most popular tourist attractions and is also host a number of seasonal activities. This Tennessee hotspot offers a unique cave adventure, scenic overlooks, and much more.
10. Ozone Falls Natural Area
Why it Makes the List: The 110-foot Ozone Falls is the centerpiece of this natural area—so beautiful and wild that parts of the Jungle Book movie were filmed here. Ozone Falls features plenty of natural wonders including an amphitheater carved out of the sandstone ridge, massive house-sized boulders scattered throughout the area, as well as old growth forest and native grasses.
Best Nearby Adventure: This 43-acre natural area offers plenty of hiking across varied terrain. The pool below the falls is also a popular swimming hole in the summer, so bring your swimsuit.
11. Obed Wild & Scenic River
Location: Cumberland County
Why it Makes the List: Obed might just be a hidden wonder in Tennessee. The area has something for just about every nature lover—scenic overlooks, a section of the Cumberland Trail, and a river system with both whitewater runs and calmer sections.
Best Nearby Adventure: This destination has plenty of seasonal activities to check out, like kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. There are a handful of hiking trails, and the Obed is known for some of the best sport climbing in the Southeast.
12. Mississippi River
*_Why it Makes the List: *_The Mississippi River is the second longest river in America and runs along the border of Tennessee. Running 2,300 miles through the country, visiting the iconic river is a must if you are in the area, especially if you are into water sports.
*_Best Nearby Adventure: *_This historic river is a great destination for water activities, and the Memphis Riverfront area is a great place to get in a run, a bite to eat, or catch a ride on a riverboat. If you’re really into the history of the area, the Mississippi River Museum is worth visiting.
13. Twin Falls
Location: Rock Island State Park
Why it Makes the List: Twin Falls is a stunning waterfall that cascades down sandstone ridges and into the Caney Fork River. This destination is truly unique—when the water is low enough, you can actually hike on the riverbed to get a closer look at the falls.
Best Nearby Adventure: Rock Island State Park is a good place to take the whole family. Hiking on one of the park’s nine trails is a popular activity in the area, and Center Hill Lake is a hot spot for swimming, fishing, and flat water paddling.
14. Starr Mountain
Location: Polk County
Why it Makes the List: Starr Mountain is located in the Hiwassee Ocoee State Park, and is rarely crowded. Take the short, but steep hike, up to a stunning overlook.
Best Nearby Adventure: It’s all about the views here, and even less-experienced hikers are welcome to take on the challenge. The steep terrain is tough, but at about two miles roundtrip, the short length makes it less of a burden. On a clear night, bring a tent to the top and stay overnight on the mountain for the full Starr Mountain experience.
15. The Lost Sea
Why it Makes the List: This spectacular cave adventure is known for its massive underground lake. It’s actually the largest underground lake in the nation, and second largest in the entire world.
Best Nearby Adventure: The Lost Sea has become increasingly popular for the ¾-mile hike through the cave, followed by a glass-bottom boat across the famous lake. If you happen to be with a group of 12 or more, sign up for a Wild Cave Tour that goes into the depths of the cave. Be prepared to get dirty as you crawl through some areas.
16. Twin Arches
Location: Oneida (Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area)
Why it Makes the List: After a short, 0.7-mile walk into the Big South Fork National River and Recreation area, you’ll find the Twin Arches. These two towering sandstone arches are situated end-to-end to create the largest natural bridge complex in Tennessee. The North Arch stands at 62 feet tall while the South Arch rises to a staggering 103 feet.
Best Nearby Adventure: If you decide to check out the Twin Arches, you’ll find plenty of other activities, too. The recreation area has just about anything you can think of—hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking, or whitewater paddling.
17. Foster Falls
Location: Tracy City
Why it Makes the List: You can catch a glimpse of Foster Falls from the viewing platform near the parking lot, but dropping down into the canyon and seeing the falls up close is highly recommended. The descent is a bit rocky and steep, but that’s all part of the adventure!
Best Nearby Adventure: It will only take you a few minutes to get down to the falls, but continue on the Fiery Gizzard Trail for a more challenging hike. It’s about 12.5 miles one-way if you go all the way to the end, and the trail is consistently ranked among the best in the United States. There is also some solid rock climbing a few more minutes up the trail.
18. Cades Cove
Why it Makes the List: Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in Smoky Mountains National Park. Surround yourself with beautiful mountains and rich Appalachian history in this scenic valley.
Best Nearby Adventure: You can drive, run, or bike the 11 miles of winding roadway through the picturesque valley. There are a few trails that start off the loop and head into the park, like the popular five-mile round-trip out to Abrams Falls.
19. Urban Wilderness
Why it Makes the List: The Urban Wilderness is only three miles from downtown Knoxville, giving locals and visitors alike easy access to more than 50 miles of multi-use trails for hiking and biking. Explore the 1,000 acres near the waterfront, or hit the trails to connect to one of the nearby nature areas.
Best Nearby Adventure: The 12.5-mile South Loop is a good place to start, and connects many of the best nature spots in the area (Ijams Nature Center, Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, Anderson School Trails, William Hastie Natural Area, and Marie Myers Park).
Written by Lauren Brooks for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of Tennessee.
Featured image provided by Lauren Brooks