The crisp days of September and October are a great time to hit the trails on a hiking adventure, especially in the areas that are not trampled by fall-foliage-seeking tourists. Tennessee, for example, is often overlooked by tourists in general. However, in addition to being home to vibrant towns like Chattanooga and Nashville, the state is home to several incredibly beautiful parks that are just perfect for hiking.
Guest contributor and hiker extraordinaire, James Richardson, who calls Oakland, Tennessee home, has spent years exploring some of the state’s best parks and hiking routes. James is sharing some great tips for the best Tennessee day hikes including some amazing baby boomer hiking adventures.
The best Tennessee day hikes for boomer travelers
One thing I like about Tennessee is its diversity. West Tennessee is flat. Middle is hilly. And East Tennessee has the mountains. Combined with its abundance of state parks, this state is an ideal place to enjoy the outdoors. If you’re near any part of Tennessee, there are bound to be hiking options nearby. Here are a few of my favorites Tennessee hikes:
Hiking in Shelby Forest in West Tennessee
Since I live in the western part of the state and enjoy visiting the middle and eastern parts, I like to think that I have figuratively hiked across Tennessee. My favorite state park in West Tennessee is Meeman-Shelby, about fourteen miles north of Memphis.
Shelby Forest (as the locals call it) is a large park with more than 12,000 acres of hardwood bottomland that borders the Mississippi River. It has around 20 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and equestrians in lengths from 3.5 to 8 miles.
My favorite is the 3.5 mile loop Woodland Trail. It is a moderate hike that passes through hardwoods. The trailhead is behind the park office and visitor center.
If you’re interested in planning a Tennessee hiking adventure, check out the state’s website highlighting the best Tennessee State Park Hiking.
Where to stay for a Shelby Forest hike:
Since Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is within 14 miles of Memphis, use the city as a headquarters for hiking and other fun. Click here to find the best places to stay in Memphis.
Hiking in Natchez Trace State Park
Moving toward Middle Tennessee, I enjoy visiting Natchez Trace State Park. Its name comes from the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs on the opposite side of the Tennessee River.
The park is located on an alternate route of the old Natchez Trace. The 48,000-acre park’s trails range from a one-half mile up to a 4.5 mile trail. There is a 40-mile overnight trail, however.
Where to stay near Natchez Trace State Park:
If you can’t score a room or cabin within the park, there are several communities nearby that offer lodging. Check for hotels here.
Mousetail Landing is a popular day hike in Tennessee
One of my all-time favorite state parks is Mousetail Landing a 1,200-acre area that is located on the east bank of the Tennessee River. I suppose I like how it got its name.
During the Civil War, there were a number of landings for riverboats in this area and two competing tanneries were located within a half mile of each other—one larger than the other. Rumor has it that the name for Mousetail Landing was derived from one of these two river landings.
At the tanneries, animal hides were stored in outbuildings, which naturally attracted rodents and other critters. When one of these buildings caught fire, all the rodents scurried out and the sight of this large number of fleeing creatures gave the landings their names—Rat Tail Landing was the larger; Mousetail Landing the smaller. Like I said, rumor has it.
There are short easy trails and longer moderate trails in the park, but my favorite is the three-mile Scenic Trail, which begins and ends at the park office and visitor center.
Where to stay near Mousetail Landing:
There are several communities located near Mousetail Landing, including Linden. Check out Tripadvisor’s list of places to stay.
Day hiking in Middle and Eastern Tennessee
There are more state parks in Middle and Eastern Tennessee than in its western portion. Because of the more prevalent waterfalls and more rugged terrain, there are more opportunities for natural features, which are typical destinations for hiking.
In the middle part of the state, the 2600-acre Long Hunter State Park sits on the banks of Percy Priest Lake, which is southeast of Nashville. It has more than 25 miles of hiking trails through a variety of terrain and habitats. The one to six mile trails range from easy to moderate.
The Couchville Lake Arboretum Trail is two miles in length and is a loop trail. It is an easy walk because it is paved. It encircles the 110-acre Couchville Lake and is one of the most popular hikes due to its accessibility, the lakeshore scenery, and the opportunity to see the park’s abundant wildlife.
Between Middle and Eastern Tennessee, Fall Creek Falls is one of the state’s most visited. It has more than 26,000 acres and is situated on the eastern part of the rugged Cumberland Plateau.
Hiking destinations are the park’s cascades, gorges, and its waterfalls, the most notable of which is Fall Creek Falls. At 256 feet it is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States.
There are over fifty miles of hiking trails in the park from easy to moderate. I would call a few of them strenuous. This would be a good point to elaborate on MY definition of easy, moderate, and strenuous. When my bride of 52 years walks, she’s usually ahead of me. I would be walking the easy path. She is more on the moderate. We don’t do any strenuous hikes.
One of my favorite hikes at Fall Creek Falls is the Gorge Overlook Trail. It is just over one mile in length and is a moderate walk. The hike to the base of Fall Creek Falls is a more difficult trail, but is also very popular.
For more information on Tennessee’s hiking trails, check out Find a Park in Tennessee.
Where to stay near Fall Creek Falls:
Visit Cumberland Mountain State Park for beautiful day hikes
Farther east along the state-traversing Interstate 40, Cumberland Mountain State Park has more attractions that might appeal to readers than hiking. There are many options for overnight accommodations from fully furnished cabins to a campground with more than 140 campsites for tents and RVs. Also, the Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain Golf Course is one of the most popular golf courses in Tennessee.
When it comes to hiking, there are approximately 14 miles of trails around Byrd Lake and through the forested areas. The most popular hike is the Pioneer Short Loop Trail, which is a 1.80-mile easy walk that follows along the banks of Byrd Lake.
Where to stay near Cumber Mountain State Park:
The accommodations suggested for Fall Creek Falls would also work well for Cumberland Mountain State Park. Or check out this list of lodging options.
Enjoy a day hike at Roan Mountain State Park in Northeast Tennessee
In the extreme northeastern part of Tennessee the 2,000-acre Roan Mountain State Park sits on the 6,285-foot high Roan Mountain. The Doe River bisects the park and offers the fisherman a good population of trout.
The park has cabins and a 110-site campground. There are approximately twelve miles of hiking trails in the park and over three miles of mountain bike trails.
The one half mile Cloudland Trail is considered moderate. It is self-guided with numbered signs along the trail to correspond to points on the map. The loop trail begins behind the visitor center and follows the Doe River. The “moderate” part covers a couple of ridges. But it is only one half mile.
A longer trail, the Moonshiner’s Run Trail, is 1.85 miles and is a multi-use trail. It mostly follows the Doe River and consists of rolling hills with a few steep climbs.
Where to stay near Roan Mountain State Park:
Roan Mountain is located near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. You’ll find lodging in Elizbethton or Johnson City, TN. Start your search with this list at Tripadvisor. If you’re looking for luxury lodging and more hiking, consider Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock, NC.
These are some of my favorite hikes across the state, except, of course, for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is its own adventure!
More Southeast U.S. hiking adventures:
- Tips for hiking Kentucky’s Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
- Enjoy these Shenandoah National Park hiking trails in Virginia.
- Go hiking on Pilot Mountain near Winstone-Salem, North Carolina.
Looking to include hiking in your boomer travels? Our Hiking Planner is the best place to start.
Disclosure: Only one part of this article resulted from a press trip. Roan Mountain was visited during a press trip. The rest was from personal travel.
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