Tennessee is as diverse a landscape as it gets. From the eastern elevation in the Appalachian Mountains, to the low lying river plains of the west and all the rolling green hills in between, there isn’t much you can’t do when venturing out in Tennessee. A culture of awesome food and music pair with waterfalls and green mountains to make for an amazing overall experience, and one that includes a plate of southern barbecue at the end of a long adventure.
Check out our top 15 Tennessee adventures to guide your next visit...
Get a chunk of the Appalachian Trail under your belt with this 8-mile out-and-back. Start the trail with a steep ascent at Newfound Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line heading toward Charlie's Bunion. Increasing solitude, wildflowers, fresh water springs, and epic views await as you journey along the trail and get closer to the Bunion.
More history than hike, this 1-mile loop circles around a limestone bluff by the Harpeth River. After checking out the views along this scenic path, be sure to explore the historic tunnel excavated out of the limestone in 1820 for Montgomery Bell’s iron forge. This man-made tunnel was used throughout the 1800s as a sawmill and gristmill, and it makes for a unique (if not also a bit eerie) day trip.
Venture into South Cumberland State Park for a day of waterfalls, swimming, hiking, and more. The beauty of the falls attracts tons of visitors each year, but the swimming in the pool below as well as the surrounding activities make this spot ideal for adventure. Known as a go-to by local climbers, the area also has nearly 200 climbs ranging from 5.7 to 5.13.
Hike along Big Creek on an old railroad bed converted into a trail. Enjoy tons of solitude, an awesome swimming hole about halfway through, and a trek that finishes by Mouse Creek Falls— amazing views and the perfect photo op.
Explore the Elkmont District of the Great Smoky Mountains on this easy 4.8-mile out-and-back. Once a pioneer Appalachian community, Elkmont was later a vacation home for wealthy out-of-towners. Now this trail is just the perfect day trip for beginners or families with kids. If you want to extend your stay in Elkmont, be sure to check out the awesome backcountry campsites nearby.
Embark on a Smoky Mountains adventure that takes you to the summit of Mount LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail on this 11-mile out-and-back. Filled with panoramic views, wildlife sightings, thick forests and tons of history, this ultra-steep trail is a great way to get in a hard hike while also learning a ton about the area. Head out early morning to avoid the crowds and find parking.
Take a short hike to one of the nicest waterfalls in Tennessee. This 3.3-mile out-and-back stays relatively flat, making it a great trail for runners or a visitor looking for a short but rewarding forest jaunt. Nestled in the Cherokee National Forest, this fan-shaped waterfall is one of the most unique around, and a swimming pool below makes for a nice reward after the hike in.
Get out in the Blue Ridge Mountains with this 5-mile out-and-back that takes you past some incredible views along the Appalachian Trail. Begin at Carver’s Gap parking lot and be sure to arrive early (parking fills up)! Start your hike through gorgeous coniferous forests before arriving at the longest stretch of balds (grassy mountain summits) in the Appalachian Mountains.
Birding, river islands, wildflowers, what’s not to like? This recent addition to Tennessee’s state park system covers over 400 acres along the French Broad River in Knox County. Escape the crowds and enjoy the solitude via bike, trail, or boat. Be sure to bring binoculars to view some of the area’s impressive species of birds.
The Highland Rim of Tennessee is a dreamy stretch of farmland that makes for a great relaxing day outdoors. Meander along the .75-mile Baker’s Bluff Trail, park yourself on a bench in front of a green stretch of hills, and just generally take in the peace and solitude of the Tennessee wilderness. If you’re looking for a bit more to round off the day, head over to nearby Jackson Falls.
Spend a few hours fishing, paddling, or hiking this beautiful part of Long Hunter State Park. With a fishing pier and boat rentals available, it’s easy to get out on the water. If you’d rather enjoy the lake from a distance, opt for the 2-mile loop trail that circles the lake and keep your eyes peeled for blue heron and osprey.
Explore a lesser-known part of the Smokies with this 8 mile out-and-back trail. Right near Townsend, Tennessee, this trail is easily accessible and still quieter than many other trails in the area. Walk along a historic railroad bed for easy hiking and get to know the land that was once home to a busy logging community in the early 1900s.
Escape the urban bustle of Knoxville with a trip to this mead-quarry turned swimming hole just 4 miles outside the city. The 25-acre lake is open for swimming, paddle boarding and and canoe rentals. Stop by a local outfitter on the way to pick up a float, and keep in mind you may be sharing the lake with a small crowd on hotter weekend days.
Another quarry turned swimming spot just outside Knoxville, the state has put quite a bit of money into making this place more accessible. Improvements to come include paddleboard and kayak rentals, a boardwalk, public restrooms, and more. The lake is a beautiful place to spend a hot afternoon, but don’t risk an accident with cliff-jumping, as this had led to several deaths in recent years.
Rising over 3,000 feet above the valley, Thunderhead Mountain is home to some of the best Smoky Mountain views around. You can backpack to Thunderhead Mountain and add in Rocky Top to create a spectacular 17-mile loop. The route starts at the Cades Cove visitor center, but note that you'll have to park your car in the main lot.