Last Updated on February 5, 2021
Hiking is one of the main activities in the state of Tennessee, with national parks and forests in every corner and area of the state. During the fall months, the hiking trails really come to life with colour that is hard to match anywhere else in the country. If you want to take the family out for a hike during this time of year, there are several destinations to choose from.
Each of these areas makes a great choice for a fall hike with the family. In addition to a hike you get the chance to take in beautiful waterfalls, scenic gorges, and mountainside views full of colour that seem to go on forever.
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains run through Tennessee and North Carolina, with great hiking trails found in both states. While a lot of the trails through this park are also a part of the Appalachian Trail, there are also several that are not and make great day hikes. The fall months are especially great for hiking because the trees are just beginning to change their colour and you will be treated to high valley views that are just covered in bright coloured leaves.
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Cherokee National Forest
The eastern border of Tennessee is known for the beautiful Cherokee National Forest, through which there are several day and thru hiking options. Parts of the Appalachian Trail also go through this area of the park and meld with other trails before breaking off. Cherokee National Forest is known for its waterfalls, steep climbs and long drives that take you through beautiful fall foliage forests.
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Big South Fork National River and Recreation Center
This north central Tennessee destination is great for families that want to get out into a national park but are not used to long or difficult hikes. The Big South Fork area has hikes that all take you straight into the heart of the park and then back out. Trails often merge or cut across others so you can put together one long hike or cut a long trail into a smaller, more manageable hike for the family. The river and its tributaries are the main site, but there are plenty of scenic gorges, waterfalls, and sandstone bluffs to check out on your hike.
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Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
This park straddles the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, with the scenic gateway portions being in Tennessee. This park is designated as historic because of the significance it played in pioneers moving westward, through the Gap. The Gap, and the surrounding area, also happen to provide some of the most scenic and breathtaking trail views no matter where you are along the path. The struggle to keep moving when you think you have just seen the most beautiful part of the trail is hard. This park is known for its medium to difficult level hikes that require stamina, majestic peaks and endless ridges filled with beautiful forest. There are also historic buildings along the way that really bring to life the historic nature of this park.
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The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through western Tennessee and all the way south into Mississippi. This popular hiking trail is filled with hikers and bikers from near and far. The Parkway goes from paved to dirt, depending on the area that it passes through, and there is stuff to do all the way through. There are several great starting and stopping points depending on where you start, but the best day hikes are between cities where you can head out for a hike, lunch, and then hike back.