Whether it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail or rafting down the Big South Fork National River, Tennessee offers a variety of outdoor activities year-round. Over 9.3 million people visit the 12 national parks, 30 national historic landmarks, ad 13 natural landmarks every year. Hike one of the four national trails or one of the multiple trails that lead out of its 56 state parks. History buffs can find something new to discover at one of the 2,126 places listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The list of parks in Tennessee is varied. Big Ridge State Park’s 3,687 acres along the Appalachian Ridge is a great place to canoe, kayak, and paddleboats during the summer month. Swimming holes with sandy beaches can also be found throughout the state.
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National Parks & Historic Sites
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site
101 N College St, Greeneville, TN 37743
The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site and National Cemetery interprets the life and legacy of the 17th President. Andrew Johnson’s presidency, 1865-1869, illustrates the United States Constitution at work following President Lincoln’s assassination and during attempts to reunify a nation torn by civil war. His presidency shaped the future of the United States and his influences continue today.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Maine to Georgia, CT, GA, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, TN, VA, VT, WV; one site is 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
4564 Leatherwood Rd, Oneida, TN 37841
Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
Fort Oglethorpe, GA,TN; 3370 Lafayette Rd, Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742
In 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.” The Confederates were victorious at nearby Chickamauga in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga that November provided Union troops victory and control of the city. After the fighting, a Confederate soldier ominously wrote, “This…is the death-knell of the Confederacy.”
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Middlesboro, KY, TN, VA; 91 Bartlett Park Road, Middlesboro, KY 40965
At Cumberland Gap, the first great gateway to the west, follow the buffalo, the Native American, the longhunter, the pioneer… all traveled this route through the mountains into the wilderness of Kentucky. Modern day explorers and travelers stand in awe at this great gateway and the many miles of trails and scenic features found in the park. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park lies along the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Pinnacle Overlook has views of Cumberland Gap, a pass in the Cumberland Mountains once used by pioneers headed west. In Gap Cave are stalagmites and bats. Park trails include the Ridge Trail, running the park’s full length. The restored structures of the early 20th-century Hensley Settlement perch on Brush Mountain.
Fort Donelson National Battlefield
120 Lock D Rd, Dover, TN 37058
Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant was becoming quite famous as he wrote these words following the surrender of Confederate Fort Donelson on Sunday, February 16, 1862. The Union victory at Fort Donelson elated the North, and stunned the South. Within days of the surrender, Clarksville and Nashville would fall into Union hands. Grant and his troops had created a pathway to victory for the Union.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
the states of NC, TN; Cable Mill Visitor’s Center, Cable Mill Rd, Townsend, TN 37882
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
Manhattan Project National Historical Park
Manhattan Project National Historical Park, NM, WA, TN; Manhattan Project National Historical Park X-10 Graphite Reactor, Oak Ridge, TN 37830
This site tells the story about the people, events, science, and engineering that led to the creation of the atomic bomb, which helped end World War II.
Natchez Trace Parkway
the states of AL,MS,TN
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile recreational road and scenic drive through three states. It roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace” a historic travel corridor used by American Indians, “Kaintucks,” European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and future presidents. Today, people can enjoy not only a scenic drive but also hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping along the parkway.
Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
The 450-mile foot trail that became known as the Natchez Trace was the lifeline through the Old Southwest. You can experience portions of that journey the way earlier travelers did – on foot. Today there are five separate trails totaling over 60 miles and they are administered by the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Obed Wild and Scenic River
208 Maiden St, Wartburg, TN 37887
The Obed Wild and Scenic River looks much the same today as it did when the first white settlers strolled its banks in the late 1700s. While meagerly populated due to poor farming soil, the river was a hospitable fishing and hunting area for trappers and pioneers. Today, the Obed stretches along the Cumberland Plateau and offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
NC, SC, TN, VA; one location is 760 Hampton Creek Rd, Roan Mountain, TN 37687
Stretching 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina) the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the route used by patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. Follow the campaign by utilizing a Commemorative Motor Route which uses existing state highways marked with the distinctive trail logo, or 87 miles of walkable pathways.
Shiloh National Military Park
1055 Pittsburg Landing Rd, Shiloh, TN 38376
Visit the sites of the most epic struggle in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Nearly 110,000 American troops clashed in a bloody contest that resulted in 23,746 casualties; more casualties than in all of America’s previous wars combined. Explore both the Shiloh and Corinth battlefields to discover the impact of this struggle on the soldiers and on the nation.
Stones River National Battlefield
3501 Old Nashville Hwy, Murfreesboro, TN 37129
The Battle of Stones River began on the last day of 1862 and was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Civil War. The battle produced important military and political gains for the Union, and it changed forever the people who lived and fought here. Stones River National Battlefield, a 570-acre park along the Stones River in Rutherford County, Tennessee, three miles northwest of Murfreesboro and twenty-eight miles southeast of Nashville, memorializes the Battle of Stones River.
Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area
1416 E Main St, Murfreesboro, TN 37130
Experience the powerful stories of military conflict in a divided state, the demands of the homefront and occupation, the freedom of emancipation, and the enduring legacies of Reconstruction at sites across the entire state of Tennessee.
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
AL, AR, GA, IL, KY, MO, NC, OK, TN; one site is Brainerd Mission Cemetery, Chattanooga, TN 37411
Remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people, forcefully removed from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. They traveled by foot, horse, wagon, or steamboat in 1838-1839.
For an additional list of attractions, visit Vacation Tennessee.
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