From the awe-inspiring Great Smoky Mountains in the eastern portion of the state to the mighty Mississippi River forming its western border, Tennessee’s diverse terrain is a dream come true for nature lovers.
Mountaintops offer unforgettable views, urban parks provide convenient nature escapes and abundant waterfalls offer stunning photo backdrops. Nature novices and experienced outdoors enthusiasts alike will find plenty of exciting things to do in Tennessee.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
All it takes is one glimpse of the verdant, cloud-topped mountain peaks to understand why Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the USA. Awe-inspiring beauty awaits from the overlooks at Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome (the highest peak in the Smokies at 2,025 meters). Lace up your hiking boots and see for yourself. Go for an early morning bike ride on the Cades Cove Loop; try bass fishing or horseback riding; hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail or look for more than 90 historic structures including cabins, schools, churches and gristmills. The park is a popular destination in autumn, when glorious fall colors paint the mountainsides shades of red, orange and yellow. You’ll find world-renowned attractions in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville nearby. A visit to the Great Smoky Mountains should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
The observation tower at Clingmans Dome
Tennessee’s Wonderful Waterfalls
An abundance of rainfall and plenty of mountainous terrain makes Tennessee prime waterfall territory. Explore Fall Creek Falls State Park, about two hours west of Knoxville, to explore gorges, streams and lush forests. At more than 78 meters tall, its namesake waterfall is one of the highest falls in the eastern USA. At Burgess Falls State Park, the 2.4-kilometer River Trail Loop treats you to four waterfalls, each more spectacular than the last. You won’t be at a loss for views here. Located within eastern Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest, the 27.4-meter Bald River Falls is actually easy to get to – you can see this picturesque cascade right from your car! It’s worth the short hike to the top of the falls for more amazing views. Greeter Falls in South Cumberland State Park is accessed via a five-kilometer trail that leads through a serene wilderness to its 4.6-meter Upper Falls and 15-meter Lower Falls.
Looking down one of the cascades of water at Fall Creek Falls State Park
If you’re visiting Tennessee to explore its vibrant city centers, you’ll still find convenient forays into nature. For Memphis-bound travelers, Shelby Farms Park offers 1,800 hectares of outdoor space for biking, hiking, horseback riding, paddling on 20 lakes – even buffalo watching! For outdoor experiences in Nashville, check out Centennial Park. The location features a scenic walking trail, volleyball courts, fitness center with a pool, a dog park, sunken gardens and several historic structures. Visitors will be pleasantly surprised to find a full-scale replica of ancient Greece’s Parthenon, complete with a 12.8-meter-tall statue of Athena – a symbol to celebrate Nashville’s nickname the “Athens of the South.” Ijams Nature Center is Knoxville’s popular outdoor hangout. It offers 19 kilometers of trails for hiking and mountain biking as well as rock climbing, wildlife viewing, boating at Mead’s Quarry Lake and a canopy adventure tour led by Navitat, a well-regarded regional outfitter.
Biking Memphis' Big River Crossing, the longest active rail, bicycle and pedestrian bridge in the USA
Tennessee offers quite a few airport choices for convenient travel. Fly into Nashville International (BNA), Memphis International (MEM), McGhee Tyson (TYS) near Knoxville, Chattanooga Metropolitan (CHA) or Tri-Cities Regional (TRI) near Bristol. To reach Great Smoky Mountains National Park, rent a car from one of the major airports.