Tennessee is well known for its Appalachian Mountains along the eastern edge and as the birthplace and hub of country music. A visit to Nashville, Franklin or Memphis will fill your ears with lovely music and endless attractions, but the great state of Tennessee has so much more to offer.
Only 90 minutes east of Nashville, the middle section of Tennessee there are plenty of beautiful state parks to visit and even a national park! There are four state parks within 100 miles of each other, which makes for the perfect weekend getaway into these natural wonders. Many of the state parks are day use only, which means there is no camping in the park and it generally has only enough to do in less than one day.
The best time to do this middle Tennessee state park road trip is during the spring when the temperatures are mild, but the parks are not as busy. Visiting in the summer is perfect if you want to take advantage of the places to take a dip in the cool waters. In the winter you can spend the days with almost nobody around, but be ready for a chance of snow.
Rock Island State Park
Explore the beautiful limestone gorge primary along Caney Fork River at Rock Island State Park. There are several short trails throughout the wooded area of the park, with a focus on flora, fauna and history. Our favorite hike in the park is the Downstream Gorge Trail.
Starting from the trailhead at the Twin Falls Overlook continue hiking downstream along the steep bluffs bordering the river. This short 1.5-mile roundtrip trail features beautiful waterfalls and rock formations. Walking upstream from the trail head is a short walk to some of the safer swimming spots including Ice Hole and Warm Hole.
The other overlook we recommend is at the Old Mill. From this overlook you can enjoy a view of Great Falls next to the historic mill building. On the other side of the parking lot is a viewpoint of Twin Falls and the Great Falls Powerhouse.
Fall Creek Falls State Park
At Fall Creek Falls there are three main waterfalls that the hikes are based around. Start at Betty Dunn Nature Center and make your way towards Crane Creek Falls. If you are willing, there is a cable trail that leads to the bottom of Crane Creek Falls, but does require some rock scrambling and climbing. From there you can either complete the easy Paw Paw trail loop or head back to the trailhead.
The next hike also starts at the at the nature center to Fall Creek Falls itself. Take the Gorge Trail to enjoy several overlooks into Crane Creek. This one mile trail leads you to the top of Fall Creek Falls. Continue on to the base of the falls trail for beautiful views of the falls and surrounding gorge. While this section of the trail is only .4 miles each way, it consists almost entirely of stairs, which do require some breaks on the way up.
At Piney Falls there are two short trails from the parking lot in either direction. One leads to a beautiful suspension bridge over the water and the other leads to a fantastic overlook of Piney Falls.
There is camping available at Fall Creek Falls. Reservations are required during the busy season in the late spring and summer, but during colder months many of the spots remain open on a first come first served basis.
Cummings State Park
Cummings State Park primarily features the majestic Cummings Falls. Starting from the trailhead, hike through the forest to the falls overlook. After enjoying the view, continue on along the Blackburn Fork River trail. Here you will get some amazing views into the gorge below. You can circle back to the trailhead or make your way down to the river.
Those with a more adventurous spirit can hike down to the Cummings Falls Route, which leads you upstream along the Blackburn Fork River to the base of Cummings Falls. While a majority of this trail is along the muddy and rocky river bank, you will need to cross the river at least once, possibly wadding through a significant portion. Only attempt this trail if you are properly prepared and be willing to turn back if the waters do not allow a safe passage.
Burgess Falls State Park
The small Burgess Falls State Park winds along the Falling Water River. Go for a stroll along 1-mile roundtrip Ridge Trail. Along the path you are met with four different waterfalls; the 20ft cascades, 30ft upper falls, 80ft middle falls, and 136ft lower falls.
From the end of the Ridge Trail you can make your way down to the river along the short, but stairs filled River Trail. At the river you can look down over the falls and walk along the river’s edge. The stairs down to the base of the main falls remain closed indefinitely.