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20 Scenic Tennessee Trails, Hikes and Waterfalls You Need to Explore

With its beautiful blend of rustic scenery, smoky mountaintops, rolling hills and countryside, it’s pretty clear Mother Nature has made a bed in Tennessee.

It isn’t difficult to stumble upon a closeby hiking trail, find a swim-worthy waterhole  — even though the state is considered landlocked — or capture some of Tennessee’s picturesque waterfalls. As one of the Appalachian Trail’s highlighted states, Tennessee is home to Clingmans Dome —  the highest summit east of the Mississippi — and the state has plenty of hot spots for black bear sightings.

Here are 20 must-see hiking trails and waterfalls in Tennessee.

1. Laurel Falls Trail — Great Smokey Mountains National Park/Elkmont

Flickr/Michael Fitzpatrick
Flickr/Michael Fitzpatrick

Difficulty Level: Easy

Roundtrip, The Laurel Falls hike is a short 2.6 miles and takes about an hour to complete. The hike’s beautiful 80-foot-high waterfall — named after the evergreen shrub known as mountain–laurel — has become a popular attraction for visitors, so plan on bringing along that tripod for your camera, and be ready to park like you’re going to see fireworks on the ‘Fourth of July’. One of just three paved trails in the area, Laurel Falls is great for families, but be aware that the first half of the trip is uphill (3.14 elevation).

2. Alum Cave Bluffs — Great Smokey Mountains National Park/Gatlinburg/Mt Leconte

Flickr/ Dustin_J_Williams
Flickr/ Dustin_J_Williams

Difficulty Level: Difficult

The roundtrip hike to Alum Cave Bluffs is roughly 4.6 miles, and takes approximately three hours to finish. A little over a mile into the trek features arch rock — an earthly rock formation — and an Inspiration Point right before the bluff. The elevation points along the trail can make the trip seem a bit chilly, so be sure to bring along a sweater. For those who plan on continuing their quest to Mt. Leconte — one of Tennessee’s most highest peaks in the Great Smokey Mountains — be aware that you’ll be soaking in the terrain for another 2.8 miles.

3. Cotton Field & Boundary Trail — Stones River National Battlefield/Murfreesboro

Flickr/ Ron Zanoni
Flickr/ Ron Zanoni

Difficulty Level: Easy

Perhaps it’s Stones River National Battlefield’s rich history that separates it apart from other trails. Commemorating the 1862 fight during the Civil War, the path — which is a little over three miles — highlights battle moments on poster boards, and displays giant cannons along the way. While there are no particular elevation points, this scenic path welcomes families, bicyclists, dogs and joggers, and shares a historic side trail that leads to The Slaughter Pen — one of the bloodiest meetings during the battle as well as a closeby cemetery honoring several american war heroes.

4. Sewanee Perimeter Trail —  South Cumberland State Park/Monteagle

Flickr/ Michael Hicks
Flickr/ Michael Hicks

Difficulty Level: Moderate

If you’re not an avid hiker, don’t expect to walk the entire Sewanee Perimeter Trail, because it’s 20 miles long. Home to the University of the South, there are camping restrictions to outsiders who come from other parts of the state. For those who want to hike shorter distances, there are a total of 10 smaller routes to choose from. Guided along the the bluff line of the Cumberland Plateau, the path is friendly to all hikers, bikers and runners.

5. Fall Creek Falls Trail — Fall Creek Falls State Park/ Spencer

Flickr/ Michael Boylan
Flickr/ Michael Boylan

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Roundtrip, the Fall Creek Falls hike is 3-miles long and takes about an hour to complete. The park’s main attraction is it’s impressively majestic 256-foot plunge free standing waterfall, which offers a variety of views from different trail sections. Home to a number of other smaller waterfalls, Fall Creek Falls is the perfect place to swim in the summertime. The scenic oak and hickory forest adds to the parks beauty, but be sure to stay on the trail to avoid any run ins with poison oak.

6. Ganier Ridge Loop Trail  — Radnor Lake State Natural Area/Nashville

Flickr/ Michael Hicks
Flickr/ Michael Hicks

Difficulty Level: Easy

Radnor lake is open to just about any skill level and offers plenty of animal sightings like deer, turtles, birds, squirrels and turkeys. Semi-crowded on the lake trail, the park’s 2.4 mile loop that includes the Ganier Ridge is a bit more peaceful and gives fitness gurus an extra sweat with a more challenging climb. It is not allowed on the trail itself to walk those furry friends or bike, but those who choose to do so, can use the road surrounding the beautiful lake.

7. Trillium Gap Trail (Grotto Falls) — Great Smokey Mountains National Park/Gatlinburg/Mt Leconte

Timothy Wildley
Flickr/ Timothy Wildley

Difficulty Level: Easy

Following the Trillium Gap, the route to Grotto falls takes a little over two hours to complete, and is 3-miles roundtrip. Surrounded by a forest occupied by Hemlock trees and trillium, visitors can walk directly behind the waterfall while on the trail itself. Be sure to keep an eye out for salamanders in this area.The Trillium Gap continues for another few miles for those who want a more strenuous hike, and is one of five trails that lead to the Mt. Leconte massif.   The hike is located near Gatlinburg and is in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

8. Burgess Falls Trail — Burgess Falls State Park/Sparta

Flickr/ Mr. Nixter
Flickr/ Mr. Nixter

Difficulty Level: Difficult

Do not be fooled by this 1.5 mile loop, because you will get a workout. The laborious trek has hikers jumping rocks, taking on steep pathways and walking along high cliffs. Features for this location include the majestic 136-foot high waterfall where hikers will reach after climbing a rustic staircase before they continue onto  the gorge, and several other beautiful and small cascades.

9. Abrams Falls Trail — Great Smokey Mountains National Park/Cades Cove Trailhead

Flickr/ Sriram Ramanathan
Flickr/ Sriram Ramanathan

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Located in Cades Cove in The Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Abrams Falls Trail takes roughly 4 hours to finish. The 5-mile roundtrip hike passes slippery rocks and a strong current waterfall, so this is not the best place to bring along those swimming trunks, instead pack those hiking boots. Surrounded by a pine-oak and rhododendron forest, the trek begins with a wooden bridge cross above the Abrams creek. Be sure to keep an eye out for black bears in this area.

10. Bays Mountain Tower Loop — Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium/Kingsport

Flickr/ M Fletcher
Flickr/ M Fletcher

Difficulty Level: Easy

If you’re in the mood for a quaint and peaceful walk, the Lakeside Trail at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium is highly recommended; especially for families with toddlers. Surrounded by other nearby trails that add up to 38 miles and contain possible wolves, the Lakeside Trail features 2.3 miles of beautiful scenery. If you hike the trail during daylight hours, be sure to visit the planetarium to see some stars before dusk.

11. Caney Fork Gorge/Downstream Trail — Rock Island State Park/Rock Island

Flickr/ Michael Hicks
Flickr/ Michael Hicks

Difficulty Level: Easy

Rock Island’s Downstream Trail is known as a Lollipop hike and takes a little over an hour to complete. The 1.7 mile long journey showcases a series of cascades that fall into the Caney Fork, 80-foot high twin falls and a 30-foot great falls dam which makes this a great fishing destination and a great place to get several different point of views. At the end of the trail, which meets the Blue Whole, you will stumble upon a small beach. Be sure to pack the camera for this hike.

12. Waterfall Overlook Area — Cummins Falls State Park/Cookeville

Mike_tn
Flickr/ Mike_tn

Difficulty Level: Moderate

When the summers are hot, this is a great place to take a dip. It generally takes around 3.2 miles for a roundtrip to Cummins Falls. Visitors have a choice between intersecting routes depending on what scenery they want to catch. Be sure to wear boots in case you end up dipping your feet into muddy areas.

13. Garrison Creek Loop Trail (Old Trace) — Natchez Trace State Park/Franklin

Flickr/ Scott Lipsey
Flickr/ Scott Lipsey

Difficulty Level: Easy

Located near Franklin, Tenn., the Garrison Creek Loop Trail is a 6.3 mile loop. You’ll be met by small hills, quaint fields and a double creek crossing. This trail is best on a good sunny day, because rain will bring muddy trail parts and watery tall grass. Be sure to pack bug spray and pants for this hike.

14.  Benton Falls Trail — Cherokee National Forest/ Ocoee

John W. lwanski
John W. lwanski

Difficulty Level: Easy

Another hike with a great 65-foot waterfall is Benton Falls Trail located in Ocoee, Tenn. The trip to the falls begins at Lake McCamy and is a short 1.6 miles. With it’s blue blaze trail marks, paths are easy to navigate through and the terrain is primarily flat — besides the steep climb near the actual waterfall. Every now and then, you can spot a deer or a bear roaming around the area.

15. Ozone Falls Trail — Cumberland Mountain State Park/Crab Orchard

Flickr/ Michael Hicks
Flickr/ Michael Hicks

Difficulty Level: Easy

If you are looking for a stunning scene, but you don’t want to walk very far to see it, Ozone Falls Trail is the perfect hiking spot. The .25 mile walk leads to a beautiful 110-foot plunge.

15. Fiery Gizzard Trail — South Cumberland State Park/Sequatchie

Flickr/ Stanislav Vitebskiy
Flickr/ Stanislav Vitebskiy
Flickr/ Stanislav Vitebskiy

Difficulty Level: Difficult

Although it’s considered one of America’s best hikes, this trail has been the center of a dispute regarding the decision on whether or not it will remain opened after 2015. Located in South Cumberland State Park, the 12.5 mile hike begins at Tracy city and ends at Foster Falls. The daytrips scenic sights include rock formations, ancient trees, panoramic views, streams and waterfalls.

16. VW Trail — Enterprise South Nature Park/Chattanooga

Richard Nix
Richard Nix

Difficulty Level: Difficult

Located in Chattanooga, the VW Trail is a scenic 8.2–mile trail surrounded by tall trees and is covered in red dirt. Primarily for mountain biking, the trail is made for the skilled bike rider. As for the park itself, visitors can choose from several different paved and unpaved trails, which are perfect for hikers, bikers and walkers. With a 1 mile accessible ADA Trail, picnic areas, an historical exhibits, Enterprise South Nature Park is great for a family day adventure.

17. The Honey Creek Loop — Big South Fork National Area and Recreation/Knoxville

Flickr/ Michael Hicks
Flickr/ Michael Hicks

Difficulty Level: Very Difficult

If you’re someone who wants to get off the beaten path for awhile then the Honey Creek Loop is for you.  Not recommended for children or mild hikers, the 5.6 miles of rugged terrain is very challenging. Fenced in by a thick wall of forest for some of the trek, the scenic footpath will be sure to nourish the adventure side of the novice backpacker. With withered signs and limited colored blazes, it is possible to get lost, so it’s recommended to keep up with every sign you see and to calculate the hiking time along with the mileage gained.

19. Trail of Tears National Historic Trail —Davy Crockett State Park/Lawrenceburg

Flickr/ Brent Moore
Flickr/ Brent Moore

Difficulty Level: Easy

This 4.6-mile hike is an out-and-back trail that takes about two hours to complete. With a mix of gravel, black top and dirt roads, it’s a smooth trip. The trail is filled with a unique history, and showcases an 1830s Indian Removal Act panel, which is in connection to the trail name and lends itself to a time when Native Americans were removed from the land in which they occupied by the United States.

20.  Carvers Gap to Hwy 19 E — Appalacian Trail/ Tennessee and North Carolina border

Flickr/ John Hayes
Flickr/ John Hayes

Difficulty Level: Very Difficult

This 13.4 mile hike takes place along the Tennessee and North Carolina Border and is a strenuous hike for beginners. Luckily for backpackers starting their adventure from popular landmark, Roan Mountain, Tenn., there are lodge services and shuttle stations available. The hike, which ends on Hwy 19 E, is filled with gorgeous beds of wild flowers, wide open spaces, incredible vistas and vast grasslands. Because this hike is long, be sure to plan for the weather accordingly.

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20 Scenic Tennessee Trails, Hikes and Waterfalls You Need to Explore