Best Hikes in Tennessee

The majestic Appalachian Mountains in the east and extensive river systems across the state make Tennessee a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts. With everything from short and easy day hikes for the family to rugged and strenuous backpacking trips for more adventurous hikers, the stunning trails around the state offer something for everyone. Plus, the variable topography, numerous rivers and plethora of waterfalls create remarkable scenery to enjoy while out exploring. 

Chickasaw Park Loops

  • Location: Henderson, TN in Chickasaw State Park, 80 miles northeast of Memphis
  • Length: 3.3-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate
  • Best For: Family outings and easy strolls
  • Dogs: Leashed

Chickasaw State Park is a small park nestled in the heart of the Chickasaw State Forest. Despite its small size, there is plenty to do, including camping, hiking, park events, boating and horseback riding; there are even horses at the park available to rent. Additionally, the interpretive programs about the history of some of the older buildings are a fantastic way to learn more about the park, plus kids can enjoy the birding or school programs. And with its proximity to the state forest, there is even more hiking, biking or riding to explore nearby.

At a little over 3 miles long, the Chickasaw Park Loops hike utilizes many of the trails in the park and is welcoming to hikers of all ages. From the main parking area off Cabin Lane, take the Forked Pine Trail, staying left at the fork, before jumping onto the Friends Trail, a well-worn trail that meanders through the woods, crossing several small streams. As the trail loops back toward the lake, take a left and briefly follow Lake Shore Loop to reach Owens Spring Trail. The Owens Spring Trail extends a little ways south of the lake and is a nice option to get away from some of the crowds. Before you know it you’ll be back at the Lake Shore Loop which you can follow either direction. To follow the hike as mapped on Hiking Project, take a right to continue along the shoreline, and at the four-way junction, head onto the small connector that leads to the Forked Pine Trail. Enjoy the old-growth forest as you head back to the parking area.

Henry Hollow and Ridgetop

  • Location: Nashville, TN in Beaman Park, 11 miles northwest of Nashville
  • Length: 6.7-mile round-trip loop with out-and-back add-on
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate
  • Best For: A mellow hike in the woods
  • Dogs: Leashed

Beaman Park, located just northwest of Nashville, is a peaceful place to visit if you’re looking for a quick jaunt into nature. If you’re looking for a longer day out, the Beaman Park Nature Center offers plenty of things to do in addition to your hike—check out the event schedule on their website to find an educational program. With programs such as night hikes, yoga, campfires and scavenger hunts, everyone from kids to adults can learn something new.

The Henry Hollow and Ridgetop hike starts at the nature center and heads north into the woods along Sedge Hill Trail following the yellow blazes. The trail descends a moderate but manageable grade as it nears the junction with Henry Hollow Loop. Though you can hike Henry Hollow Loop in either direction, take a right to follow the white blazes for the route mapped on Hiking Project. This trail is generally wide—roughly 3 feet—and is mellow enough for kids of all ages. Enjoy the views of the creek, and if it’s springtime, the assortment of wildflowers along the trail. When you reach the Ridgetop Trail, take a right to follow the red blazes out to the hilltop. Taking this trail to its end and back will add roughly 4 miles to your hike, so if you aren’t feeling up to the task, simply take the Henry Hollow Loop back to the trailhead. Otherwise, follow the red blazes of the Ridgetop Trail as it weaves along a series of old logging roads to a hilltop with nice views. Since this is a one-way trail, you’ll have to head back the way you came, and when you reach Henry Hollow Loop, take a right to follow it back to Sedge Hill Trail. A short, but somewhat steep climb up Sedge Hill Trail leads you back to the nature center and your car.

South Loop

  • Location: Burns, TN in Montgomery Bell State Park, 34 miles west of Nashville
  • Length: 7.7-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate
  • Best For: An easy but seemingly remote hike that can conveniently be made longer
  • Dogs: Leashed

Montgomery Bell State Park is a superb place to visit with the family. The camping, boating, fishing, hiking and biking trails and swimming beach will keep you entertained for the whole weekend. Since there is a separate trail system for mountain biking, you don’t have to worry about other-use traffic while you’re out hiking the trails. The park is rich with history, and there are numerous events throughout the year to participate in including hikes, races, educational programs and holiday happenings.

While there are several good routes to choose from, the South Loop is a pleasant hike, though it might be a bit long for young kids. From the parking lot at the visitor center, head down the road briefly to reach the junction with Wildcat Trail and take it heading west. This trail circumnavigates the campground and leads you to Ore Pit Loop Trail. There are large old mine pits and remnants of the 1815 Laurel Furnace along the trail. Once you get on to the Montgomery Bell Trail, the hike will get a bit more remote. This segment is not always well marked but is an extremely quiet and pleasant part of the hike. The trail swings by the southern end of Lake Woodhaven where you’ll have some nice views of the lake before continuing on. The short Woodland Trail takes a detour to the Woodland Shelter which makes for a perfect lunch spot. About a half mile after the Woodland Trail, take a left onto Creech Hollow Trail heading north. If you want to add some miles onto your hike, you can deviate from the suggested route and go right to continue on the Montgomery Bell Trail. The Creech Hollow Trail follows the southern shore of Creech Hollow Lake, heads past the dam and then follows the creek until it meets the northern end of Montgomery Bell Trail, which you will follow north back to the visitor center. Though segments of this hike may be a bit remote and not as well marked as other areas of the park, the gorgeous views make it well worth the effort.

The trail winding along Creech Hollow Lake. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Mike Coleman)

Abrams Falls Out-and-Back

  • Location: Maryville, TN in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 46 miles south of Knoxville
  • Length: 5.1-mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A fun and gorgeous hike to a popular waterfall
  • Dogs: No dogs

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the gem of eastern Tennessee. With abundant opportunities to learn about the history of the area, view wildlife and hike, you could easily spend more than a week exploring the park. Cades Cove is a particularly interesting area of the park with old buildings from early 1800s European settlements that are worthy of investigation; swing by the visitor center to learn more about the area before heading out on your hike. Keep in mind this area sees a lot of traffic and the parking at the trailhead could fill up quickly.

Abrams Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From the Abrams Falls parking area, the hike heads out on the Abrams Falls Trail which you will follow all the way to the falls. As you head out, the trail parallels Abrams Creek on a gradual descent through the woods. In the springtime, the creek can be quite high, and the blooming rhododendron bushes scattered about the woods give the trail a magical feel. Due to its proximity to the creek, the trail can get a little muddy, but don’t let that dissuade you from heading out on this hike. After about 2.5 miles, you will reach Abrams Falls, a 20-foot tall waterfall that plunges into a large pool. Though climbing the falls is extremely dangerous, swimming in the pool below is common and makes for a relaxing way to cool down on a hot day. The area around the falls is a great place to sit, relax, break for lunch and explore. Use caution when exploring near the falls, however, as the rocks can be extremely slippery. When you have had your fill, simply head back the way you came.

The cascading Abrams Falls in summer. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor David Hitchcock)

Laurel Falls to Cove Mountain Fire Tower

  • Location: Gatlinburg, TN in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 40 miles southwest of Knoxville
  • Length: 8.4-mile round-trip
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: An enjoyable but robust day hike to waterfalls and a tower
  • Dogs: No Dogs

Another popular area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Stop by for more information about the area and activities. If you’re looking for a day hike, head out to the Laurel Falls parking area to start the Laurel Falls to Cove Mountain Fire Tower hike. Be aware that the parking area can get a little crowded as Laurel Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park, so get there early. Starting out, take the Laurel Falls Trail as it follows a mellow climb along a paved path. This segment of the hike is fairly accessible for many people (though not suitable for strollers or wheelchairs) and is a great place to come with the family. The paved trail extends all the way to Laurel Falls, an 80-foot tall waterfall. Due to its accessibility and picturesque setting, this area is extremely popular and can get crowded, especially on hot summer weekends. However, once you push on from the falls, the trail becomes a dirt singletrack, and the crowds fade away. The trail begins to ascend a more moderate grade, but it is still manageable and not too strenuous. You’ll have sporadic views along the way as the trail climbs along the ridgeline toward Cove Mountain. This area is absolutely stunning when cloaked in its autumn colors. Once you ascend the ridge, you will reach a junction with Cove Mountain Trail. Take a left to make your way to the summit and the fire tower—a great place to take a break and have a snack before returning the way you came.

Angel Falls Overlook to Grand Gap Loop

  • Location: Oneida, TN in Big South Fork National Recreation Area, 74 miles northwest of Knoxville
  • Length: 12.0-mile round-trip lollipop loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A long day hike with stunning views
  • Dogs: Leashed

Big South Fork National Recreation Area sits on the Cumberland Plateau on the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. Thanks to environmental and cultural protections, the one-time tree-stripped land is now carpeted by lush forests and is rich in recreational opportunities. Though many people flock to the area to paddle or raft the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, the area boasts a plethora of other activities including camping, hiking, biking, fishing, ranger-led programs and other special events.

The Angel Falls Overlook to Grand Gap Loop is a fantastic hike with stunning views and at 12 miles long, will take you most of the day. There are some backcountry camping spots available, so if you want to take an overnight trip, this hike is a good option. Start out from the Leatherwood Ford Trailhead parking area and follow the John Muir Trail, crossing the Big South Fork River almost immediately. Stay right once you’re across the river and follow the John Muir Trail as it winds through the forest, paralleling the northwestern riverbank. After about two miles, you’ll come to the backcountry campsites before the trail crosses the Fall Branch via a bridge detour (be sure to follow the detour signs) and climbs steeply to the top of the plateau. The trail to the top passes rock faces and cave openings, and though it is quite steep and rocky, there is a hand cable to support those who want the help.

At the junction at the top, the John Muir Trail will continue left while the Grand Gap Loop Trail will head right. Take a right and follow the trail along the bluff edge. Within about a tenth of a mile, a short spur will take you to the Angel Falls Overlook. This fantastic viewpoint makes a perfect rest stop. As you continue on the Grand Gap Loop Trail, you will find many spots boasting great views of the valley and the river below. Turning back away from the bluff, the trail then winds through mountain laurel before popping into a young hardwood forest. Once the Grand Gap Loop Trail meets the John Muir Trail, take a left to head south. At the southern junction with the Grand Gap Loop Trail, stay right to head back down the steep hill that leads to the river and follow the trail back along the river to your car.

A hiker at Angel Falls Overlook. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor John Mason Harbison)

Virgin Falls Lollipop

  • Location: Sparta, TN in Virgin Falls State Natural Area, 95 miles west of Knoxville
  • Length: 8-mile round-trip lollipop loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult
  • Best For: A pleasant though somewhat challenging hike to a waterfall
  • Dogs: Leashed

Though not a large recreation area, Virgin Falls State Natural Area is a wonderful place to visit if you’re looking for a challenging hike with stunning scenery. It was originally designated as a wilderness area in 1973 and is now maintained by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Virgin Falls State Natural Area sits adjacent to the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness which also offers numerous trails and recreation opportunities making this spot great to visit if you’re looking for a more rugged outdoor experience.

The Virgin Falls Lollipop hike is considered a strenuous 8-mile round-trip hike. However, the narrow trails on this tricky hike are worth the effort for the views along the way and the 110-foot tall waterfall at its furthest point out. Start the hike from parking area of Scott Gulf Road and head out on Virgin Falls Trail. The trail begins by winding through the forest, before meeting up with a small stream that it parallels all the way to Big Laurel Creek. There is a cable crossing of the creek, and the trail follows the creek as it descends into the ravine. The trail gets quite narrow and, at times, veers away from the creek, crossing boulder fields and gaining elevation from the creek floor. You will pass the junction for a trail that goes to Martha’s Pretty Point, an overlook and camping area (though not technically part of this hike, this can make a nice detour). After a couple miles, you’ll pass by the bottom of Big Laurel Falls which is a good option for camping if you’re doing this as an overnight trip.

From the falls, the trail veers away from the creek and follows the edge of the ravine of the Caney Fork River, passing a few caves and small waterfalls as it winds above the river. At the junction with the Virgin Falls Loop Trail, take a left to follow the loop clockwise. Though the loop can be hiked in either direction, clockwise will take you more directly to the Virgin Falls. The trail dips toward the river initially before turning away to climb back toward the falls. Virgin Falls is a stunning waterfall and is formed by an underground stream that pours out of a cave, over a 110-foot drop and disappears into another cave at the bottom of the falls. A truly unique waterfall and location, this is a splendid place to spend a night out. Continuing on from the falls, after about a half mile you will reach a side trail for Sheep Cave before returning to the junction with Virgin Falls Trail which takes you back to the start of the hike. At 8 miles, you may not think this hike would take very long, but given the narrow and rugged trail, it is worth planning on being out for most of the day and bringing plenty of water, food and layers.

Alum Cave – Cliff Top Out-and-Back

  • Location: Gatlinburg, TN in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 54 miles southeast of Knoxville
  • Length: 10.7-mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult
  • Best For: Scoping out beautiful falls and stunning views
  • Dogs: No Dogs

Though a bit more strenuous than the other recommended hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Alum Cave Trail is a fantastic out-and-back day hike. This 10.7-mile round-trip hike is challenging when done in full, but with numerous sights and viewpoints along the way, it can also be shortened to accommodate almost any length of hike. Start from the Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead parking area or the overflow parking area off Newfound Gap Road. Head up the Alum Cave Trail which immediately begins climbing, albeit along a gentle grade, paralleling Alum Cave Creek. As the trail turns north, away from the creek, the grade begins to steepen a bit as you head toward the first gem on this hike, Arch Rock, a naturally formed hole in the bedrock through which you follow the trail using stairs and a cable railing. Continue ascending the trail along the edge of the ravine to your first great viewpoint, Inspiration Point. Shortly after this, you will reach the second gem and the trail’s namesake, Alum Cave Bluffs. This bluff was mined for alum, saltpeter and Epsom salt during the Civil War and, though not really a cave, now forms an overhang about 80-feet tall and about 500-feet long. Though this hike continues, if you’re looking for something shorter, this is a good place to turn around.

Beyond the Alum Cave Bluff, you will skirt along the base of Peregrine Peak as you continue to ascend. You’ll be following a tree-cloaked ridgeline, though there are a few openings along the way where you can glimpse views of the surrounding mountains. As you reach the end of Alum Cave Trail, take a right onto Rainbow Falls Trail past LeConte Lodge. After a short jaunt on Rainbow Falls Trail, take a right onto the Cliff Top Viewpoint Access trail to reach the summit of Cliff Top and some amazing views (weather permitting). After a bit over 5 miles of hiking and exploring sites along the trail, take a break at the top for some food and to recharge before returning the way you came.

Alum Cave Trail (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Ramoun Cabuhay)

Fiery Gizzard

  • Location: Tracy City, TN in Grundy Forest State Natural Area, 36 miles northwest of Chattanooga
  • Length: 11.4-mile one-way hike
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A challenging hike worthwhile for the numerous falls along the way
  • Dogs: Leashed

This trail is a fantastic option for those looking for a long, rugged hike that rewards with stunning waterfall views. The trail passes through Foster Falls Recreation Area, Little Gizzard Creek Small Wild Area and Grundy Forest State Natural Area all of which are part of the discontinuous South Cumberland State Park. The northern end of the trail is in Grundy Forest and, as a result, is a bit more developed and popular than the middle and southern portions of the trail. Keep in mind, the mileage listed is for a one-way, south-to-north hike. You can do this as an out-and-back, but it will be quite long and you should consider overnighting at one of several backcountry campsites along the trail. If doing this as a one-way hike, be sure to drop a car at both ends or arrange for someone to shuttle you back to the start.

Starting off in Foster Falls Recreation Area, you will get to start your hike off with a view of Foster Falls, a stunning 60-foot tall waterfall. Head out on Fiery Gizzard Trail from the overlook (be sure to not take the Climbers Loop Trail), cross the bridge and ascend the trail to follow the edge of the ravine. As you wind along the edge, you will cross numerous creeks that cascade off the edge to the ravine below. Bridges over these crossings keep you safe and your feet dry. Though the trail is heavily wooded, there are places along the way with openings to stunning views, especially in the autumn when the leaves are changing colors.

Around 2.5 miles in, you’ll descend steeply into the Laurel Branch drainage before climbing back out. The trail here can be quite strenuous, but after this segment, it stays mostly level for the next 5 miles or so, winding through lush forest. Once you start to weave along the edge of another ravine, know that you are approaching a steep downhill. Just after passing Dog Hole Trail on your right, take a left onto Raven’s Point Overlook Trail for a quick side trip and a good view of the gorge. After returning to the main trail, take a left to follow Fiery Gizzard Trail as it drops steeply to Big Fiery Gizzard Creek. Watch your footing and take it slow. From here, the trail parallels the creek as it winds through the gorge, gradually climbing to reach Grundy Forest State Natural Area. You will pass several waterfalls as you wind through the ravine and past Chimney Rocks before reaching Grundy Forest Day Loop. Take a right onto the loop and follow it the remaining 0.6 miles to the Grundy Forest parking lot, enjoying the old growth forests and waterfalls as you finish up the hike.

Slickrock and Citico Wilderness Loop

  • Location: Tellico Plains, TN in Cherokee National Forest, 82 miles miles south of Knoxville
  • Length: 24.6-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Extremely Difficult
  • Best For: A long weekend backpacking trip
  • Dogs: Off-leash

While this trail does cross into and spend some time in North Carolina, the Beech Gap Trailhead is in the Citico Creek Wilderness Area of the Cherokee National Forest of Tennessee. With numerous trails in this area, this loop hike is just one of many options that you can venture out on. At a bit over 24 miles in length, this is a gratifying multiday backpacking trip.

From the trailhead, head east on the Fodderstack Horse Trail which for the first 1.7 miles is a forest road. At the first junction, there are three options; veer right to continue on the Bob Bald Connector which ascends the ridgeline through dense trees. As you reach the end of the trail, the forest begins to thin a bit, and you’ll take a right onto Stratton Bald Trail which meanders through deciduous woods dotted with rhododendron. Around 3.5 miles into the hike, take the short side use-trail to the grassy top of Stratton Bald and enjoy the views. Continue on before taking a left onto Haoe Lead Trail which continues to follow the ridgeline. There is some great camping along this trail at the junction with Naked Ground Trail with access to water just a short way down the Slickrock Creek Trail. Stay high on the ridge taking a left onto Hangover Lead Trail, but stay straight onto Hangover Alt Trail to reach The Hangover. At 6 miles into the hike, this is a perfect spot to stop and rest while enjoying the views.

Return to follow the Hangover Lead Trail north as you begin descending toward Big Fat Gap. There are a few places along this section that dip below the ridgeline, and you’ll have to hop a couple of seeps, but mostly the trail stays high on the terrain as it descends. Around mile 7 there are some views of the surrounding area. Don’t be fooled by the game path that descends west; instead stay right to continue on the main trail. When you reach Big Fat Gap Trailhead, you’ll take Big Fat Trail west descending, rather steeply at times, to Slickrock Creek Trail. Take a right to follow the trail as it winds along the edge of Slickrock Creek to Wildcat Falls. Take some time to explore this area as there is a series of waterfalls here and a great swimming hole at the bottom of the last one. Please use caution as you climb near the edges of the creek and falls as the rocks can be slippery.

From the falls, head back up the Slickrock Creek Trail and take a right onto the Big Stack Gap Branch Trail. As the trail veers away from the creek it begins a steep and strenuous climb to the ridge. In true East Coast fashion, there are few switchbacks to break up this climb, but there is a brief leveling of the trail near the top where you can catch your breath and enjoy some views. Be sure to stop around mile 14.4 to fill up your water at the small spring part way up the climb as there isn’t much water beyond this point. At the top of the climb is a decent campsite. Take a left at the top to follow Fodderstack Horse Trail as it heads south. You’ll still be climbing, and there may be some downed trees that you need to navigate. You’ll be staying high on the ridgeline, but the climb up to Big Fodderstack Mountain can still feel grueling at this point in the hike. Continue following the trail along the ridge as you climb over Rockstack Mountain and Chestnut Knob. Light usage and downed trees can make this section of trail hard to follow. When you make it back to the junction with Bob Bald Connector, stay straight to continue on Fodderstack to return to your car.

A quick nap on the Slickrock and Citico Wilderness Loop. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Ben King)