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Featured Photo by Tennessee State Parks

Incredible Tennessee State Parks Near The Tennessee River Valley

Known for Nashville and Memphis, Dollywood and Elvis, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Bourbon Whiskey, state parks are probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Tennessee. But the geographically diverse state is home to 56 different state parks featuring awe-inspiring natural attractions from rivers and mountains to rolling hills and waterfalls. A great place to hit a good number of these state parks is the Tennessee River Valley, stretching from Chattanooga to Knoxville. On or nearby the Tennessee River, these state parks capture the best parts of the river valley’s beauty, including amazing waterfalls, beautiful rock formations, and perfect Tennessee sunsets.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Named after educator and leader Booker Taliaferro Washington, Booker T. Washington State Park is located on Chickamauga Lake near the city of Chattanooga. With its phenomenal scenery, the beauty and serenity of the area is one reason to visit, but there are also many opportunities for recreational fun and ways to get outdoors. Hit the trails in your hiking boots or on your mountain bike to explore the park and venture to see the best views. If the sun is out, you can go for a swim in Chickamauga Lake and picnic at one of the sites or enjoy the Olympic-sized swimming pool within the park. The lake is also the perfect setting for catching bass, crappie, or catfish, and there are several ramps to get out on your boat or canoe. You can end a perfect day at Booker T. Washington State Park by snapping an awesome picture on the dock with a wonderful Tennessee sunset in the background.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Northwest of the Tennessee River is the popular Rock Island State Park on the headwaters of Center Hill Lake and the confluence of the smaller Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers. With over 880 acres of rugged and rocky terrain, including the Caney Fork Gorge below the Great Falls Dam, Rock Island is a great place to view some of the most scenic and significant overlooks and waterfalls in the area. Waterfall fans may want to check out each of the different falls, but a few of the best are the 30-foot horseshoe cascading Great Falls and Twin Falls. If you choose to spend more time in the Caney Fork Gorge, you’ll encounter scenic overlooks, waterfalls, deep pools and limestone paths perfect for hiking, and areas for swimming, fishing, kayaking, and exploring. The park also offers camping, with the option for primitive and RV campsites, as well as beautiful cabins located a half-mile from the natural sand beach.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Head 10 miles southeast from Chattanooga to reach the beautiful and historical Red Clay State Historic Park. This park marked the historical site of the last seat of Cherokee national government until 1838 and the true start of the Trail of Tears and consists of 263 acres of valleys formerly used as cotton and pasture land by the Cherokee people. Here you can visit The James F. Corn Interpretive Facility and learn about the history of the area and the Cherokee, before their people were forcibly removed and traveled west. Though the history of the area is the most important part of the park, the natural beauty is another reason to visit. You can view the beautiful Blue Hole Spring, a natural landmark that arises from under the limestone forming a deep, clear pool, as well as the surrounding area full of trails and Tennessee wildlife.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

West of the Tennessee River lies Cumberland Mountain State Park on the Cumberland Plateau. Stretching 1,720 acres, the park has plenty of room to explore and take part in various activities. Located around the man-made Byrd Lake, you can spend time on the water swimming, paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, pedal boating, or boating, all of which are available to rent within the park. The park also features 14 miles of hiking trails and 4 miles of mountain biking trails for you to use at your leisure and explore the beautiful Tennessee nature. Along with its natural attractions, Cumberland Mountain State Park offers a swimming pool and a very popular Bear Trace golf course within the park, giving you plenty of opportunities for fun. If you choose to stay at the park for a few days, there are many options for overnight accommodations including fully furnished cabins, 140 tent and RV campsites, as well as a designated area for backcountry camping on the overnight trail.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

One of Tennessee’s largest and most visited state parks, Falls Creek Falls State Park is one of the best in the Tennessee River Valley with more than 29,800 acres of cascades, gorges, waterfalls, and forest. Perfect for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone looking to have a fun couple of days outdoors, there are limitless opportunities for adventure. Besides the draw of the natural beauty, the amenities will sell you on visiting. Hikers will enjoy over 56 miles of trails, including 2 long-distance overnight trails and kids will love the hands-on activities at The Nature Center, four playgrounds, and an Olympic sized pool. You can also hit the links on the Falls Creek Falls Golf Course with rentals from the shop, or challenge yourself with the Canopy Challenge Course on over 75 wobbly bridges, rope swings, cargo nets, balance beams, and ziplines. To round it all off, the park features 30 cabins, 222 campsites, and backcountry camping, as well as two restaurants and a grocery camp store.

I am a student, aspiring writer, and avid reader of books. My favorite things in the world are my German Shepherds and hiking in Colorado.

Maeve Miller

Writer , River Travel Magazine