The 10 Best State Parks In Tennessee

From roaring waterfalls and dramatic canyons to tranquil lakes and majestic forests, there’s plenty to see at the Volunteer State’s many state parks.

Rhododendrons Bloom on Roan Mountain
Photo: Getty Images / Malcolm MacGregor

When most folks think about nature in Tennessee, one place comes to mind: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And it’s no surprise, given that the Smokies are the country’s most-visited national park. In 2021, more than 14 million people spent time there. If you’ve never been, it’s high time to plan a trip to Gatlinburg and take in as much of the park’s 522,000-plus acres as you can. However, if you’re looking for a fresh way to discover Tennessee’s natural wonders (and they are plentiful), consider taking a trip to one of the state’s 56 state parks.

From roaring waterfalls and dramatic canyons to tranquil lakes and expansive forests, there’s plenty to see when you visit one of the Volunteer State’s many parks. And with opportunities for fish, kayak, hike, bike, camp, and even golf at several, you can pack as many outdoor activities into one weekend as you please. Here are the 10 best state parks to visit in Tennessee.

01 of 10

Rock Island State Park

Rock Island State Park

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Find waterfalls galore at this park located at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake just north of McMinnville in central Tennessee. If you go, be sure to see Great Falls, a 30-foot horseshoe cascading waterfall that sits perched over a 19th century textile mill that was once powered by the rushing waters. Other spots to check out include Twin Falls and the Blue Hole, a popular spot for swimming. Stay the night at one of 10 cabins or 60 campsites.

02 of 10

Radnor Lake State Park

Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville
Radnor Lake State Park is a natural getaway from Nashville's busy social scene.

Malcolm MacGregor/Getty

Often described as Nashville’s Walden Pond, Radnor Lake State Park is as peaceful a setting as you could hope for. Open only for day use, the 1,368-acre park is a protected nature preserve where you’ll find a huge array of plant, animal, and bird species. The park can get quite crowded given its 8-mile proximity to Nashville, so we recommend visiting for sunrise or sunset when it’s easy to take a solitary stroll around the lake and enjoy the quiet. 

03 of 10

Cumberland Mountain State Park

Cumberland Mountain State Park

Christine Kohler / Getty Images

This 1,720-acre park on the Cumberland Plateau is the best place to go if you’re looking for a place that will delight the entire family. There are 14 miles of hiking trails, four miles of biking trails, and 55-acre Byrd Lake, where you can swim, rent a kayak or rowboat, or fish for largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, and rainbow trout. There’s also a wading pool for children, an Olympic-sized pool for serious swimmers, and a par-72 golf course. Stay overnight at one of 140 campsites, or in a fully furnished cabin. Don’t feel like cooking over campfire? Head to the onsite restaurant, and don’t leave without snapping a picture on the seven-arch sandstone bridge across Byrd Lake.

04 of 10

Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park

 Old Stone Fort Archaeological Park

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The past becomes present at this historical park centered around Old Stone Fort, a structure built during the Middle Woodland Period, 1,500-2,000 years ago. When you visit, you’ll see a 50-acre hilltop enclosure of mounds and walls built directly into limestone cliffs where it’s believed that Indigenous people once met for ceremonial gatherings. Hike the moderate 1.4-mile trail, where you can learn more about the area’s history via interpretive signage and see three waterfalls.

05 of 10

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, TN
Robbie Caponetto

One of Tennessee’s most visited state parks, Fall Creek Falls spans almost 30,000 acres across the eastern part of the Cumberland Plateau. There’s lot to see and do here, but start by viewing the breathtaking gorge and accompanying waterfall for which the park is named. The impressive waterfall is surrounded by lush forest and drops 256 feet directly into a deep pool below, making it one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern U.S. Other falls to add to your must-see list include Cane Creek Falls, Piney Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. Adventure awaits here. All you have to do is make the hard choice between rock climbing, a canopy ropes course, boating, fishing, hiking, or golfing on an 18-hole course.

06 of 10

Reelfoot Lake State Park

Reelfoot Lake State Park

 Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, just two hours from Memphis, Reelfoot is the state’s only natural lake. Because it was created by a series of violent earthquakes, the lake is essentially a flooded forest where majestic cypress trees rise above the water’s surface. One of Reelfoot Lake’s biggest claims to fame is its proximity to the Mississippi River. Because it’s just three miles away, it’s a hotspot for migratory bird activity. It’s a wonderful place to see white pelicans migrate in the fall, but it’s also home to 240 species of birds, so you’ll have plenty to observe. The park hosts an annual bald eagle festival in February.

07 of 10

Burgess Falls State Park

Big Falls at Burgess Falls State Natural Area, Sparta
Chris M. Rogers

This park isn’t big, but it packs a big punch. Ideal for a day trip that will have you feeling like you escaped to a far-off destination, Burgess Falls is all about waterfalls. To be exact, four waterfalls that cover 250 feet of elevation. Take the steep 1.6-mile loop trail where you’ll warm up with smaller cascades before ascending to the grand finale, a 130-foot waterfall plunging straight into a gorge. Pack a picnic and plenty of water, and get ready for a day of gorgeous views in a destination that’s just one to two hours from Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

08 of 10

Roan Mountain State Park

Roan Mountain State Park


Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images

Located on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, you’ll find stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains at this highly elevated park. Find miles of trails that wind through dense hardwood forest passing by several gurgling creeks. Be sure to look out for the blooming rhododendron and abundant wildflowers that pop up in this area every spring. At the center of the park, you’ll find Miller Farmstead, an authentic Appalachian settlement built in 1908 that’s now available for tours.

09 of 10

Natchez Trace State Park

Natchez Trace State Park

Courtesy of Tennessee State Parks

Located in central Tennessee, this park was formed as part of FDR’s New Deal. It celebrates the spirit of the Old Natchez Trace, a route spanning from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee that was once a common thoroughfare for Indigenous people, explorers, and traders. Today, the park spans 48,000 acres including the Natchez Trace State Forest and offers trails that range in length from a half-mile to 40 miles. The park also is home to three lakes, a horse camp, an inn, cabins, campsites, a restaurant, and more.

10 of 10

Pickwick Landing State Park

Pickwick Landing State Park

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This state park is the dream for water lovers who can’t decide between a beach or lake vacation. Once a popular riverboat stop on the Tennessee River, Pickwick’s location at the convergence of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi makes it easily accessible to visitors from all over. At the park, choose from three swimming beaches, book a room in the luxurious 119-room inn, and grab dinner at the restaurant. There’s also a golf course, miles and miles of hiking trails, and plenty of opportunity for watersports.

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