Featured in this Article:
If you're looking for unique outdoor experiences, look no further than Tennessee. You can ride Class III and IV waves on the Ocoee River, hike with llamas, see mountain views on a UTV excursion and stay in charming woodland lodges. Choose how you'll spend your outdoor adventure trip in Tennessee.
Fishing on the Water or Waterpark?
Enjoy fantastic mountain views and calm waters while fishing the 43-mile-long Douglas Lake, often considered one of the best fishing spots in East Tennessee. With 12 marinas and 16 boat ramps, you can bring your own boat or rent pontoons on site. A guided fishing trip is also available for newcomers of all ages or those interested in finding the best spots on the lake to cast off. Douglas Lake is filled with a wide variety of fish species including largemouth bass (in season from March – June), white bass (January – April season), crappie (in season from February – May), and sauger (January – April season). Quick tip: Whether you’re a resident or just visiting Tennessee, make sure you have a Tennessee fishing license before fishing in the state.
Who knew you could catch some waves in Music City? Complete with a wave pool, lazy river, water slides and so much more, Nashville Shores is a fun outdoor waterpark located less than 20 minutes from downtown Nashville. Situated on the beautiful shores of J. Percy Priest Lake with views to match, Nashville Shores features a first-class waterpark, rope/zipline courses, obstacle course on the lake, marina, boat rentals, lakeview cabins and RV campground. A fan-favorite is Kowabunga Beach, a huge water treehouse jungle gym with water sprayers, buckets, and slides. Mega Mayhem is also a hit for only the most daring of water sliders. Quick tip: Consider purchasing a season pass if you’re planning on visiting again as it pays for itself after only two visits; free parking and guest spots are an added benefit.
Off-Road ATV or Whitewater Rafting?
Set on a 500-acre expanse of land in the mountains of South Pittsburg, the Adventure Off-Road Park is a premiere location for off-roading vehicles, ATVs, dirt bikes and more. Coupled with dense wooded landscape, this off-roader’s paradise features more than 120 trails, each marked with a difficulty level, that you can attempt in your vehicle. Explore easy dirt trails for beginners and extreme natural rock trails for seasoned off-roaders. In addition to the trails, Adventure Off-Road Park also offers space for camping and a RV campground. Quick tip: Check out their events throughout the year, like off-road races and festivals; spectators are welcome.
Open sunrise to sunset seven days a week, Doe Mountain Recreation Area outside Mountain City features 8,600 acres of protected mountain terrain and trails perfect for ATVs, UTVs and mountain bikes and even has separate hiking and equestrian trails. Be sure to stop at historic Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower located high atop Doe Mountain with panoramic 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks.
Ocoee River Recreation Area
Get ready for an exhilarating whitewater rafting experience on the Ocoee River. Available for beginners and seasoned rafters alike, the outfitters along the Ocoee River have a number of knowledge and friendly guides to lead your expedition and provide an incredible and safe trip on the river. There are several different experiences you can book which will take you on different parts of the Ocoee River, or you can book full river experiences. The 23-mile Ocoee Scenic River State Park has Class III rapids in addition to canoeing, rafting, fishing, hiking and nature photography.
Explore the Eerie Ghost River
This nine-mile section of Wolf River begins in a narrow forest channel and opens into beautiful wetland meadows and bottomland hardwoods before ending at Spirit Lake. This portion twists and turns through some incredible scenery; cypress trees, open shrubby wetlands and bottomland hardwoods give the waterway a hauntingly beautiful quality. Because of its narrow passageways, the only mode of transportation can be by canoe or kayak. Some parts of the river are a difficult ride, making it a better choice for intermediate and advanced paddlers, but the mostly untouched natural scenery makes it worthwhile.
Mountain Bike Park or Amusement Park?
Grab your mountain bike and head on over to Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park for a unique riding experience only a short ride from downtown Johnson City. Featuring beautiful mountain views and well-maintained trails covering over 40 acres of heavily wooded terrain, there are plenty of paths for beginners and experts alike. Fun for family, friends, or solo adventuring, the professionally designed and built trails are broken into several categories based on difficulty level including green (easiest), blue, and black (hardest). There is even a paved pump track available.
Recognized as one of the world’s best theme parks and known for its award-winning shows, rides and special events, visit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge for a fantastic East Tennessee experience. Enjoy seasonal celebrations with special activities like fireworks in the summer, glowing pumpkins in the fall, over 5 million sparkling lights during “Smoky Mountain Christmas” and the bloom festival during the spring. A picturesque landscape sets the stage for a wide collection of quaint shops, rides and roller coasters. Numerous live music performances and shows also occur throughout the day. There is even a Dolly Parton Museum featuring tons of Dolly memorabilia. Quick tip: Download the Dollywood app on your phone for the schedule of shows and line wait times.
Located just off the Pigeon Forge Parkway, The Island in Pigeon Forge is a retail and entertainment center in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-foot-tall observation wheel and the Island Show Fountains anchor the park’s main attractions. Guests of all ages can enjoy a mix of retail shops, restaurants and eateries, rides and games, live music, attractions and much more. Admission to the park is free and you can purchase day passes to access the rides.
Comfortable Cottage or Cozy Campsite?
For a secluded and charming woodland oasis hidden away in the backwoods of Smithville, book a stay at Evins Mill. Beautiful buildings that blend with the landscape are scattered around the property and wooden pathways lit by string lights connect you to the restaurant and other facilities. Delicious food served at the restaurant will be a highlight and for those with food allergies or restrictions, the staff cooks specially crafted meals to accommodate your needs. There are also opportunities to hike, including a private trail leading to a waterfall. Perfect for a simple weekend getaway, group retreat or even a proposal or wedding, Evins Mill provides excellent service in a charming and relaxing space.
Get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and stay at the Cottage at Stillwater Farm in Henderson. Set in a quiet and peaceful 150+ acre piece of land, you can hike, explore nature and watch the wildlife. And, if you’re interested, the farm offers you the chance to interact with the number of farm animals located on the property. Take a tour, jump right into daily farm activities and meet some new friends like Holly the cow, Mike the rooster, Cisco the donkey, and Skeeter the farm dog. Witness spectacular sunsets with the backdrop of the farm’s horse pastures and fields. It will surely be a relaxing and unique experience you’ll never forget.
Pitch your tent and enjoy living in the outdoors at a campsite in South Cumberland State Park. With more than 90 miles of backpacking trails, the park includes 93 campsites, eight group sites and one rustic lodge available for reservation. Featuring incredible beauty from a variety of waterfalls, rock formations, trails and some spectacular views, South Cumberland State Park provides the perfect setting for a camping trip. And, if you are a rock climber, there are several great spots to climb at the park but be sure to register at the ranger’s station at the trailhead before starting. Quick tip: Make your campsite reservation beforehand and follow the rules designated for your site.
Buffalo Bud's Canoe, Kayak & Campground
If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend outdoors surrounded by nature, Buffalo River and Buffalo Bud’s is the place. Buffalo Bud's offers what you need for a camping adventure along the river or clean cabins, if that's more your speed. Its float trip traverses 10 miles of picturesque sights. It’s the longest un-impounded river in Middle Tennessee; the waterway is 125 miles of mostly flat water. Its mellow flow makes it the perfect place for canoeing and fishing, and it’s rich in aquatic life, so you’re almost guaranteed to get a nibble.
Family Cookout or Picnic Hangout?
Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area - Gatlinburg
Looking for a quiet and peaceful spot tucked away deep within the Smokies for a picnic with family or friends? Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area located right outside the Metcalf Bottoms Trailhead is the perfect spot. There are 122 secluded sites with tables and charcoal grills available as well as accessible restrooms, water fountains and plenty of parking. Enjoy the relaxing sounds of the river and take in the beautiful, wooded scenery. Cross the bridge from the picnic area and hike the Metcalf Bottoms Trail which features the historic Little Greenbrier School and the famous Walker Sister’s Cabin. The Curry Mountain Trail is also nearby. Quick tip: A picnic pavilion for larger gatherings is also available for reservation from April to October for $25.
With 4,500 acres of green space and nearly 40 miles of trails, Shelby Farms Park which is located in the heart of Memphis, stands as one of the largest urban parks in the world. Plan your day around fishing and ziplining, horseback riding lessons, BMX biking, axe-throwing, paintball, playgrounds, boat rentals, cycling, laser tag, hiking, picnicking and so much more. Open from sunrise to sunset, Shelby Farms Park is the perfect spot for a picnic. Bring your own food and set up on one of the many open grass areas or grab some snacks, cold drinks and frozen treats from the Shop at Lake’s Edge or Pine Lake Outpost. Food trucks are in the park on weekends at the Outback Off-Leash Dog Park and Woodland Discovery Playground. Similar to Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, there are spots within the park which you can rent for larger special events. Quick tip: Shelby Farms Park is home to a herd of over a dozen buffalo. You can find them roaming throughout their 50-acre range within the park.
Solo Adventure or Group Expedition?
Visit the Warner Parks in Nashville for winding paths, hiking trails, and great views within a 3,100-acre area. Featuring picnic areas, a dog park, scenic roadways, hiking/mountain bike trails, horse trails, running courses, babbling brooks, ponds, and more, the Edwin and Percy Warner Parks are located only nine miles from downtown Nashville. Well-marked trails are a hit with visitors and a popular place for walking and jogging due to the varying topography and available paved trails. Quick tip: Renovations recently finished on the famous steps located at Percy Warner Park; once to the top of the hill, there are some great views.
Hike the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee accompanied by llamas with The Wandering Llamas. While you won’t be able to ride the llamas, they will help carry your gear and walk alongside you as you trek the trails of the Cherokee National Forest. Enjoy a slow, relaxed and quiet hike with incredible views and friendly, well-behaved llamas. Perfect for the whole family or friend group, the trail is easy and distance is a great length for kids. Quick tip: Also available for reservation is the Fox Den Treehouse located on the llama farm in Greeneville. The treehouse provides a secluded getaway with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and the llamas grazing in their pasture.
Mountain Views or Wildlife Wonders?
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is Great Smoky Mountains National Park's highest point, the highest point in all of Tennessee, the second highest point east of the Mississippi River and one of the most popular park destinations. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to the famous 54-foot observation tower. Vistas from Clingmans Dome are spectacular. On clear days, views expand more than 100 miles and into seven states. Breathtaking 360-degree scenes of the Smokies delight those ascending the tower. Plus, it is a great place for viewing sunrises and sunsets.
Explore Nickajack Cave, a partially flooded grotto which houses thousands of gray bats during the summer months. Gray bats are on the endangered species list and are one of more than a dozen species of bats in Tennessee. During their stay at Nickajack Cave from April to October, an estimated 100,000 bats emerge every evening to feed on insects and other bugs. Book a guided canoe or paddleboard trip to Nickajack Cave at dusk to watch the bats exit the cave to start their nightly feeding. If paddling the lake isn’t your thing, a 1,000-ft boardwalk leads from the Maple View Area to an observation platform where you can view the bats exiting cave entrance.
Tennessee offers a unique activity to best experience the incredibly biodiverse Conasauga River - freshwater river snorkeling. Located in Ocoee on the Conasauga River near the Tennessee-Georgia line, there is a pool known as the Conasauga Snorkel Hole where several thousand fish will be present on any given day. In fact, the Conasauga Watershed contains more than 70 distinct native species of fish, making it the most biologically diverse river basin in the world. Turtles, tadpoles and salamanders can also be seen. For snorkeling, all that is needed is a swimsuit, snorkel and mask. Other useful items to take with you include water shoes, dry towels and a wetsuit depending on water temperature (summer months are the best time to snorkel; during fall, winter and spring months, the water can be cold and will require a wetsuit).
Reelfoot Lake State Park is a beautiful 15,000-acre lake created by a series of violent earthquakes in the early-1800s that caused the Mississippi River to flow backward for a short period of time. The park's ecosystem is unlike any other place in Tennessee, as it’s a flooded forest with numerous majestic Cypress trees that rise above the water. The lake harbors almost every kind of shore and wading bird, as well as golden and American bald eagles. During January and February, Reelfoot Lake is home to thousands of American bald eagles. Experienced park naturalists lead daily bald eagle and waterfowl tours, and the annual Reelfoot Eagle Festival in February is a premiere bird watching opportunity. In March and April, deep swamp canoe trips are offered and scenic pontoon boat tours are offered May through September. Every fall, hundreds of white pelicans stop at the lake on their seasonal migration.
Discover even more outdoor adventures in Tennessee on your next vacation.
Tennessee has some of the best climbing destinations east of the Mississippi River. Rappeling, bouldering, sport climbing and trad climbing can all be done here.