Once you visit the outdoors of Tennessee, you can’t help but think that the land was molded just for hikers. The state’s landscape goes skyward, then deep back down, upward again, then down in the rolling hills. Even the so-called flatlands offer woodland and river hikes of satisfying beauty. The vegetation changes, as does the animal population, but from end to end, the state presents hiking enthusiasts with a wealth of choices.
From This Story
In the east, what is called the Blue Ridge area takes in the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest. An hour drive west toward the middle of the state puts you in the Cumberland Mountains, with their flat tops and steep valleys. Even further west, you’ll find scenic trails through Land Between the Lakes and Reelfoot Lake (home of the bald eagle in the winter), and, of course, there are lots of surprises sprinkled here and there.
Near the middle of the state, the Tennessee Wildlife Refuge along the Tennessee River offers nature trails throughout its 80-mile-long stretch. Beautiful during the spring, the area really comes alive in the winter when migrating waterfowl sweep into the area.
Hiking in Tennessee is not interstate-traveling to get somewhere the fastest way possible. It’s a leisurely journey to enjoy the sights, the sounds, the solitude. Hikes can range from less than an hour to a few days, depending on your skill level. Many of the hiking areas are in parks that allow for overnight camping.
Seasonal changes are a major consideration too. Hiking areas show different sides of themselves when the trees are full leaved and lovely. Come back in the fall and winter and the leafless trees reveal still other scenic secrets like rock formations and sudden sheer drops into a valley below.
To many hikers, the big mountains in the eastern part of the state are too alluring to ignore, and certainly the Smokies live up to their reputation for scenery and excitement. From Johnson City/Bristol in the northeast down to Knoxville and over to Chattanooga, you can enjoy city comforts at night and wild nature during the day.
The fall changing of the leaves attracts many to the Smokies, but the hiking is good almost year-round. Higher elevations, of course, are prone to snow and ice in the winter. Spring storms can flood streams; so always be prepared when you’re in the mountains.
So much of Tennessee is still unpopulated by humans that it’s been easy for the state and federal governments to set up parks and wildlife refuges—and none are too far way from the comforts of home. So, you can stay a day here, move on for a day there, spend a day or stick around for a week. The Tennessee outdoors is open all year.
East Tennessee State University Gray Fossil Site
East Tennessee State University's prolific Miocene-aged fossil site at neighboring Gray, Tennessee, is attracting scholars, volunteers, and visitors from across the country seeking to learn about the rich paleoecology of Southern Appalachia. The Gray Fossil Site, run by ETSU’s Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geology, contains a wealth of animal remains, including several species not originally thought to have inhabited this part of the world. These species have now become a part of Tennessee’s natural heritage.
Careful examination of the site and recovery of the fossils found at the site provide a rare opportunity to study the paleoecology of Tennessee and southern Appalachia. Half museum and half laboratory, the 33,000-square-foot Gray Fossil Site visitor center should be complete by mid-December 2007.