The state of Tennessee is known for its vibrant cities including Nashville and Memphis. But, if you’re looking to connect with nature, the towns in the southern part of the state, home to the Appalachian Mountains, beckon with incredible experiences. Whether you’re looking for hiking trails, rock climbing, mountain biking, or caving, you’ll find it all here.
The city of Chattanooga, in the southeastern corner of the state, is an active destination, set on the Tennessee River. Visitors can enjoy boating on the calm sections of the river or traverse the 16 mile paved riverwalk by bike or foot. Further out of town, Stone Fort is one of the region’s most popular bouldering spots. Lookout Mountain and Raccoon Mountain also have plentiful hiking trails. Bring snacks, sunscreen, and other essentials in small daypacks. You can also check out the caves in this area at Raccoon Mountain and Ruby Falls.
Set to the northeast of Chattanooga, Cleveland was the home of the Cherokee Nation before the removal on the Trail of Tears. Many of these ancestral lands are now protected, including Red Clay State Historic Park and Cherokee National Forest. The national forest has a section of the famed Appalachian Trail. And, the nearly four-mile Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway is a beginner-friendly biking option.
The rural area south of Nashville is home to South Cumberland State Park, one of the most visited in the state. It boasts multiple locations and miles upon miles of hiking trails and stunning waterfalls. One of the most popular places to explore is the Stone Door, a steep stone staircase tucked between two massive rock faces. This area is also open for rock climbing. If you’re staying the night at one of the park’s campsites, pack light with a small duffel or crossbody bag. The Caverns in nearby Pelham operate cave tours but also has an incredible underground music venue well worth visiting.
Maryville and the Great Smoky Mountains
While there are many small towns in the Smokies, Maryville is one of the best for mountain biking. Not only are there a number of bike shops in town for gear and repairs, but there are also trails like the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway, which winds nine miles through the mountain scenery. Pistol Creek Mountain Bike Trail in neighboring Alcoa is another option, ideal for all skill levels. Don’t miss the places within the national park, including hikes to Cades Cove—an 11-mile road that closes during parts of the year just for cyclists, Mount LeConte, and Clingman’s Dome—the highest point in Tennessee.
To the northwest of Chattanooga is the town of Petros, the gateway to the 24,000-acre Frozen Head State Park. Here you’ll find 1800s homesteads, 50 miles of hiking trails, a nine-mile fire road for mountain biking, and seasonal trout fishing. The park is also home to many species of birds, so bring your binoculars. Once you’ve had your fill of adventure, head to Brushy Mountain, a former prison that once held James Earl Ray, now operating as a moonshine distillery and restaurant. They even have ghost tours.
The next time your travels take you to the Smoky Mountains, why not try glamping, with these top recommendations