Tennessee is a lively state full of history, music, culture, barbeque and volunteerism. Beyond the urban centers of Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, however, lie thousands of acres of preserved and protected land that are also among the chief attractions offered within the state. The Tennessee State Park System is spread across historically and culturally important Native American and pioneer-era sites and within rich natural environments that are home to numerous species of local flora and fauna. Started in 1937, the parks are home to forests, mountains, rivers, lakes and water basins that offer endless opportunities to explore and enjoy outdoor recreational activities. In total, there 56 different parks, 1,100 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, 365 cabins and 36 campgrounds for overnight visits and more than 80 waterfalls. Whether you are a resident Tennessean or an out-of-state visitor, the state park system of Tennessee offers something for everyone to enjoy.
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park: Nashville
The Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is situated on 19 acres just to the north of the Capitol Building in Nashville. It was formally opened in 1996 to commemorate Tennessee’s 200th year of statehood. Among the attractions on the Capitol Mall are gardens full of native plant species, a World War II Memorial, the Rivers of Tennessee Fountains, a 200-foot Tennessee state map, a 2,000-seat amphitheater, a 95-bell carillon and the Pathway of History. The Tennessee History Festival is held at the park each fall, during which time historical interpreters reenact scenes from the 19th century.
Cummins Falls State Park: Cookeville
Cummins Falls State Park is located nine miles north of Cookeville in the Cordell Hull Watershed. The park land was purchased by the state from the Cummins family, who had owned the land for over 180 years and once operated two large mills on the property. Now, the park is famous for its 75-foot waterfall and scenic gorge. The main viewing point can be easily accessed by foot from the visitors’ center. There are also two paths that lead down into the gorge to view the waterfall from below. These are steep and rugged trails that are best handled by adventurous hikers.
Roan Mountain State Park: Roan Mountain
Roan Mountain State Park is a 2,000-acre forest at the base of the peak from which it takes its name. Accessible by state highway 143, the park is an ideal location for camping, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and cross-country skiing. The park offers both tent and RV campgrounds, and has 30 on-site cabins equipped with full kitchens and bathrooms. Hiking trails range in difficulty from easy to strenuous and are home to numerous local species of flora and fauna. Doe River runs through the park and is home to three different species of trout all year round.
Warriors’ Path State Park: Kingsport
Warriors’ Path is a 950-acre state park situated next to the Patrick Henry Reservoir in Kingsport. Its name remembers the Cherokee Warriors whose trading path ran through the region. The park offers several outdoor recreational activities, including boating, fishing and hiking. Additionally, the park’s 12.5-mile system of National Recreational Trails for mountain biking is recognized as one of the best in the world. The park also offers inclusive attractions for people of all abilities, including the Boundless Playground and the Lions Narnia Braille Trail.
Cumberland Mountain State Park: Crossville
Cumberland Mountain State Park is located on the largest forested plateau in the United States, and the park was originally founded in the 1930s as part of a New Deal initiative to provide a recreational area for relocated poverty-stricken families. With 1,720 acres situated around Byrd Lake, the park offers activities such as swimming, picnicking, hiking and overnight backpacking. There are also cabins and campsites available for multi-day visits. Additionally, the 72-par on-site golf course is a popular attraction and was designed by Jack Nicklaus to lead golfers through the natural landscapes of trees, brooks and elevation changes.
Burgess Falls State Park: Sparta
Burgess Falls is a day-visit state park located on the Falling Water River and is known for its four water falls, which range in height from 20 to 136 feet. The falls can be viewed by hiking the 1.5-mile river trail, or by taking a steep and strenuous path into the gorge. The park is also a popular location for picnicking and fishing. Every summer, the park celebrates the Butterfly Garden with an interpretive and educational day-program for families. There are also Junior Ranger week-long camps held during the summer to educate local youth about the environment and natural resources.
Rock Island State Park: Rock Island
Rock Island State Park covers 883 acres of scenic waterfalls and hiking trails. The biggest attraction, Great Falls, is a 30-foot horseshoe cascade that once powered a cotton mill in the 19th century. The deep water natural pools around the park are ideal for swimming and fishing. The Collins and Rocky Rivers attract international visitors who freestyle whitewater kayak. Center Hill Lake is also a popular boating spot. The park also boasts some of the nicest cabins in the state for overnight stays, which are open year-round and are located near the sandy lakeside beach. RV and tent campgrounds are also available.
David Crockett Birthplace State Park: Lawrenceburg
David Crockett Birthplace State Park commemorates the famous Tennessee-born pioneer, who fought for settlers’ land rights in the 19th century and died at the Alamo in 1836. The park sits on 105 acres near the Cherokee National Forest and maintains a replica historical cabin and exhibits at the visitors’ center. With 88 campsites for both RVs and tents, a swimming pool and a playground, the park is also popular for overnight stays. The Nolichucky River runs through the park and attracts fishing enthusiasts with its numerous aquatic species. Public picnic pavilions are also available, and the park is supported by the non-profit organization Pioneer Friends of Davy Crockett Birthplace.