Tennessee parks offer some of the most outstanding scenery in the nation, a wide variety of recreational activities, and many historical sites. There are both state and federal parks to explore here in East Tennessee.
Tennessee State Parks offer some of the loveliest scenery in the state along with plenty of amenities for visitors. The parks include places for hiking, biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, fishing, boating and camping. Some of the parks feature outstanding golf courses, and some have rental cabins and other resort type facilities like swimming pools and restaurants. At the historic sites, you'll find special events and historical re-enactors that make history come alive.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the biggest and most famous of Tennessee parks, although in fairness we do have to share it with North Carolina. The park is famous for its amazing diversity of plants and animals, its beautiful mountains and streams, and its rich history. No wonder this is the most visited of America's national parks. Plus, there's no entry fee. The park features over 800 miles of hiking trails (550 of which are also open to horses), over 700 miles of fishable streams, 10 developed campgrounds and numerous backcountry campsites, many historic buildings, and plenty of places for sightseeing and picnicking. There are also ranger guided programs, bicycle rentals, and guided horseback tours.
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is located on the rugged Cumberland Plateau straddling the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. This place is a delight for horseback riders, as it features 180 miles of horse trails and numerous stables and horse camps both in and around the park. Hiking, mountain biking, whitewater sports, hunting, and fishing are also popular activities. Big South Fork is most famous for its scenic gorges and sandstone arches and rock formations. There are two campgrounds, one in Tennessee and one in Kentucky. The park is maintained as a natural area, so only the major roads are paved; smaller roads are well-maintained gravel, perfectly safe if a bit bumpy.
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park straddles three states: Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The Cumberland Gap was an important route through the mountains, first for the Indians and later for the early pioneers. There are two Visitor Centers where you can view exhibits and learn more about the history of the Gap. The scenery is outstanding, especially at the Pinnacle Overlook (elevation 2,440 feet) which offers views of all three states. The park also features unique rock formations, caves, waterfalls, over 70 miles of hiking trails, historic structures, campgrounds and backcountry camping. The park offers guided tours and occasional special events.
The Cherokee National Forest includes 640,000 acres of the Southern Appalachians. The forest runs the entire length of Tennessee's eastern border, interrupted by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which splits the forest into two sections. There's plenty to do and see here, including fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, camping, sightseeing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, swimming and whitewater rafting and kayaking. The Ocoee Whitewater Center, located in the southern Cherokee NF, was the site of the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom Events, and offers world-class whitewater rapids.
The Appalachian Trail stretches through 14 states from Maine south to Georgia, a length of over 2,175 miles. In Tennessee, the trail starts in the northeast corner of the state, just south of Damascus, Virginia. From there, it winds its way south to the mountain balds and rhododendron gardens at the Roan Highlands. It then closely follows the state line through the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and from there heads into North Carolina. Many sections of the trail are easily accessible for day hikes. Your best bets are the Roan Highlands, accessible from Carver's Gap and the Great Smoky Mountains, accessible from Clingman's Dome and Newfound Gap.
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is located in the charming city of Greeneville, which was Johnson's home both before and after his Presidency. The Historic Site includes a Visitor Center and museum, which houses Andrew Johnson's Tailor Shop. Across the street, his early home features more exhibits. A few blocks away, you can join a guided tour of the Homestead, which was Johnson's residence and includes many of the original furnishings. Johnson is buried in the National Cemetery on Monument Avenue. While you're in Greeneville, you can also enjoy a walking tour or guided tour of its historic downtown.
The Obed Wild and Scenic River is a great spot for outdoor adventure. Located on the rugged Cumberland Plateau, the river offers canoeing, kayaking and rafting with Class II-IV rapids, which swell seasonally. The Obed's many sandstone rock and boulder formations are a challenge for rock climbers. Fishing, hiking, and birdwatching are also popular activities. The Rock Creek Campground offers 11 primitive campsites, and other lodging is available in Wartburg and Oak Ridge. The Visitor Center is located in Wartburg, 39 miles west of Knoxville on Highway 27.