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18 of the Best Hiking Trails in Tennessee for an Enjoyable Vacation

By | Last Updated : 19th November 2021

Tennessee’s scenic beauty lures hikers to tread along the various trails to cherish the magnificent picturesque views. From waterfalls to rock formations, valleys to towering mountains, you can take in the sights throughout the way. Though there are some challenging terrains to traverse, you will also find easy ones with less elevation gains. You can find most of the trails in Eastern Tennessee, mainly because of the location of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking each of them will leave you with a whole new experience, making the trip worthwhile.

Hiking Trails in Tennessee

Hiking Trails in Eastern Tennessee

1. Twin Arches Loop Trail

Twin Arches Loop Trail in Eastern Tennessee

Twin Arches Loop Trail is quite popular among hikers visiting Big South Fork Recreation Area. It is pretty steep, with plenty of stairs to climb to the massive arch. Once you’re on the top, you will be rewarded with breathtaking vistas all around. If hiking counter-clockwise, you will be able to complete the steep sections first and enjoy traversing downhill all along the trail. There’s a lodge halfway where you can take a short break, after a tiring hike.

Length: About 4.8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All year round

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2. House Mountain State Natural Area trail

House Mountain State Natural Area trail in Eastern Tennessee

If you enjoy mountain hikes and views, don’t miss treading along the loop trail that circles the House Mountain. Starting from the parking area, you can take the counter-clock direction. It’s a great workout climbing the steep and rocky paths, which then continues meandering along the ridge. The views from the overlooks, especially the East Overlook, are pretty spectacular. On the way, you might even encounter chipmunks, deer, rabbits, and many more small animals.

Length: About 4 miles (loop)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All year round

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3. Laurel Falls Trail

Laurel Falls Trail in Eastern Tennessee

Though the Laurel Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite famous, there’s a trail of the same name in Cherokee National Forest which is no behind. It is a blend of flat terrain, steep stairs, and rock scrambles leading to the 40-foot waterfall. The trail runs parallel to Laurel Fork of Doe River, making it a little muddy, but the picturesque views are worth all the toil and effort taken to tread along. Be sure to bring your swimsuits to enjoy cooling off in the big pool below the waterfall after the strenuous hike. However, do keep in mind that the area sees a lot of traffic due to its popularity. Hence, it’s better to start early or visit it on weekdays.

Length: About 4.6 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: March to October

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4. Dome Rock House Loop Point Trail 

Dome Rock House Loop Point Trail in Eastern Tennessee

This loop trail in Big South Fork National Recreation Area traverses through dense forests, overlooking the south fork of the Cumberland River. As it has little elevation gain, hikers of all skill levels can access it. The trail will take you to the Dome Rock House, a big cave, and a rock overhang. Once you complete exploring the area, you can choose to return or continue hiking along the Big Island Loop Trail. It is mainly an equestrian path, so expect to meet some horses on your way. The trail finally ends at the abandoned JD Burke Cabin, now used as a camping spot by horse riders.

Length: Dome Rock House and Big Island Loop: About 9.1 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Best time to visit: April to September

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5. Virgin Falls Trail

Virgin Falls Trail in Eastern Tennessee

The Virgin Falls Natural Area, sitting between Nashville and Knoxville, boasts incredible scenic beauty. The trail is challenging with extremely rocky paths and steep inclines and declines. But, once you reach the end, you are sure to be in awe upon viewing the splendid waterfall. It flows out of a cave, plunges over a 110-foot cliff face, and disappears into another cave at its bottom.

Several campsites in the area make it an excellent backpacking adventure. There are numerous points of interest along the trail, including Martha’s Pretty Point, Big Branch Falls, and Overlook Junction. You’ll also find many smaller waterfalls and caves and a cable crossing of the Big Laurel Creek. If planning a day hike, consider starting early so that there’s still enough sunlight on your way back.

Length: 8.7 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: All year round

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6. Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Trail in Eastern Tennessee

It starts by crossing Alum Cave Creek on log bridges and meanders through old-growth hardwood forest. At about 1.3 miles, you will be hiking through the narrow tunnels of Arch Rock, a fascinating rock formation. From here, the trail runs to the Inspiration Point with gradual inclination. Here you will get stunning views of the rugged valley and mountainous surroundings. Hiking further for a short distance will bring you to the trail’s end at Alum Cave Bluff, where you could spot the rocks dressed in orange everywhere. Don’t miss out capturing this beautiful sight in your cameras.

After you spend time at Alum Cave, you can either return to your car or extend your hike to the peak of Mount Le Conte and Myrtle Point. Though some steep points are challenging, the views from here are not to be missed.

Length: About 5 miles (round trip)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: April to November

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7. White House Cliffs Trail

White House Cliffs Trail in Eastern Tennessee

White House Cliffs Trail within Rocky Fork State Park is short but steep. It starts from the campfire area near the parking lot and immediately climbs uphill to the summit. Though a strenuous hike, you will undoubtedly enjoy the sweeping views from the top.

Length: About 2 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: All year round

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8. Blue Trail

Blue Trail in Eastern Tennessee

This trail is within Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, located just a few miles away from downtown Memphis. It winds around the bluff having scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River Valley. Though it’s relatively flat, there are a few steep sections requiring a strenuous climb. You’ll find other trails at its end running further towards the top that you can choose for a longer hike.

Length: 4 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All year long

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9. Gregory Bald Trail

Gregory Bald Trail in Eastern Tennessee

This strenuous yet scenic trail will lead you to Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains. It starts from Gregory Ridge trailhead and meanders through an old-growth forest. Throughout the hike, you will be able to feast your eyes with blooming azaleas and incredible mountain vistas. The views get even better once you reach the Gregory Bald, surrounded by Cades Cove, Rich Mountain, and Yellow Creek Mountains. The trail also offers excellent wildlife watching opportunities as you can catch sight of bears, turkeys, deer, otters, woodpeckers, etc. As the entire hike takes about 7 hours, you can either plan a full-day trip or stay overnight at Campsite 12 that you will find on the way.

Length: About 11.6 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: All year round

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10. West Overlook Trail

West Overlook Trail in Eastern Tennessee

You’ll find this short trail within House Mountain State Natural Area. It is steep and rocky in most sections, making it a strenuous hike. The views, however, are rewarding as you can see Cumberland Mountains towards the north and the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge to the south.

Length: About 1.8 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: March to October

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11. Buzzards Point Trail

Buzzards Point Trail in Eastern Tennessee

The trail to Buzzard Point in Laurel-Snow State Natural Area is long including multiple switchbacks and scrambling over boulders and steep points. However, the scenic views are worth the workout. Following the trail along Richland Creek, you will come across the gorgeous 80-foot Laurel Falls and Bryan Overlook. As you continue hiking along the service road, you will arrive at Buzzards Point. You can enjoy the magnificent sights of the surrounding valley and Cumberland Plateau from here. Do make sure to head to Snow Falls, and Dunn Overlook as well before returning.

Length: About 10 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: February to November

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12. Edward’s Point Trail

Edward's Point Trail in Eastern Tennessee

Located in Prentice Cooper State Forest, this trail is an ideal one for all nature lovers. It passes a rocky terrain, running through the dense hardwood forest where you will have to scramble at some points. On your way, you will come across a wooden staircase called The Mousetrap, descending which and hiking a little further will reward you with the sight of Middle Creek Gorge. You will also find the Julia Falls Overlook here that provides views of a 95-foot waterfall and the Tennessee River Gorge. The trail from here to Edward’s Point has some technical rock sections, but the scenery all along will make your hike an enjoyable one. Moreover, the Tennessee River and Chattanooga Valley appear spectacular from the point.

Length: About 3.8 miles (round trip)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All year round

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13. Bald River Trail

Bald River Trail in Eastern Tennessee

In Cherokee National Forest, this trail parallels the Bald Creek to find its way to the Bald River. There are some steep drop-offs and switchbacks that can be challenging. Also, you will have to cross the stream several times, so do remember to put on your waterproof shoes. Despite the difficulty, the numerous cascades and waterfall all along the hike make it worthwhile. If coming in summer, you can enjoy swimming in the creek. Also, for those who want to spend overnight or take a short break, you will find many primitive campsites along the trail.

Length: About 8.8 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All year long

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14. Great Smoky Mountains Trails  

Great Smoky Mountains Trails in Eastern Tennessee

Apart from the many trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a section of the colossal Appalachian Trail also runs through the area. You can start from the southwest end, where it goes past the Fontana Dam, climbs up to the highest point at Clingmans Dome, and finally comes down the park’s northeast part to end at Davenport Gap. It’s excellent for a backcountry adventure as it takes about 7 to 8 days to complete it. You can also choose to hike certain sections for a day hike. However, dogs are not allowed to access this trail.

Length: About 72 miles (point to point)

Difficulty: Easy, Hard, Moderate

Best time to visit: All year long

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Hiking Trails in Middle Tennessee

1. Sherwood Loop Trail

Sherwood Loop Trail in Middle Tennessee

Sherwood Loop is just off Interstate 24 near Sewanee and makes for an excellent family hike. The terrain is relatively flat, making it pretty easy to tread. In addition, with some beautiful overlooks, you can treat your eyes to attractive wildflowers and various monolithic rock formations. There’s also a natural rock bridge to walk on.

Length: About 2.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Best time to visit: All year long

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2. Fiery Gizzard Trail

Fiery Gizzard Trail in Middle Tennessee

This trail within South Cumberland State Park follows the Fiery Gizzard Creek and the canyon rim. It offers some of the most diverse scenic views of the state, from waterfalls and streams to rock formations and lush woodlands. You can either access it from Tracy City’s end or from Foster Falls. At both points, you will find backcountry campsites where you can enjoy spending the night. In the hotter months, you can also choose to cool off by the waterfalls on the creek. However, make sure to wear hiking boots as there are several difficult rock scrambling points.

Length: About 12.5 miles

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: April to November

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3. Sewanee Perimeter Trail 

Sewanee Perimeter Trail in Middle Tennessee

Sewanee Perimeter Trail falls under private property, owned and looked after by the University of the South. It follows the rim of the Cumberland Plateau and runs around the entire campus. It’s easy to tread along the trail as it is on a fairly flat terrain. However, its length is what makes it strenuous to complete. The mesmerizing views of waterfalls and woods boast all along the way.

Length: About 21.5 miles (loop)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: April to October

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Hiking Trails in Western Tennessee

1. Cub Lake Trail

Cub Lake Trail in Western Tennessee

This trail in Natchez Trace State Park is short and well-marked. It follows the shoreline of Cub Lake, featuring scenic views throughout the way. You will have to cross a bridge over the lake. It also goes past cabins and campgrounds. If you enjoy hiking in secluded areas with beautiful lake views, this hike is definitely for you.

Length: About 1.8 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: March to October

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TOP PICKS

Best Mountain Hikes: House Mountain State Natural Area trail, Gregory Bald Trail, Alum Cave Trail

Best Waterfall Hikes: Laurel Falls Trail, Virgin Falls Trail, Edward’s Point Trail

Best Camping Hikes: Gregory Bald Trail, Virgin Falls Trail, Fiery Gizzard Trail

Best State Parks to hike: Rocky Fork State Park, South Cumberland State Park, Natchez Trace State Park

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