Tag Archives: Tennessee

Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area

Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area

Kentucky, Tennessee

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

106,458 acres

Website: https://landbetweenthelakes.us/

Overview

In western Kentucky, the U.S. Forest Service manages 106,458-acres as Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area (and not part of any National Forest).  It gets its name from the narrow strip of land left after the damming of the Tennessee River to create Kentucky Lake and the Cumberland River to create Lake Barkley.  The dams were constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, who managed this area for recreation until 1999.  In 1991, this area was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, but was withdrawn from the program by the Trump administration.  On December 10, 2021, an EF-4 tornado hit the northern portion of the National Recreation Area and recovery is ongoing.

Highlights

Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway, Elk and Bison Prairie, Golden Pond Planetarium, Homeplace 1850’s Farm, Golden Pond Visitors Center

Must-Do Activity

In addition to the traditional watersports, Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area has several attractions found along the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway.  These include developed areas (with fees) like the Golden Pond Visitor Center and Planetarium, Elk and Bison Prairie, Woodlands Nature Station, Turkey Bay Off-Highway Vehicle Area, and Homeplace 1850’s Farm (across the border in Tennessee).  The roadside pullout for the Great Western Furnace is worth a stop to check out the 1854 charcoal furnace used to create pig-iron.

Best Trail

The North-South Trail runs 59 miles from Kentucky’s Nickell Branch Backcountry Area to Tennessee’s Devils Backbone State Natural Area (near where Civil War-era Fort Henry was submerged beneath Kentucky Lake). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Starting in the 1970s, the Tennessee Valley Authority conducted prescribed burns and reseeded to expand patches of native grasses on 700 acres that became the Elk and Bison Prairie (that officially opened in 1996).  There is also a South Bison Range along the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway in Tennessee.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

It is free to drive through Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area and park at many trailheads, but most attractions require an admission fee.

Road Conditions

Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway is paved (as is the 3.5-mile loop in the Elk and Bison Prairie) and the gravel roads are well maintained.

Camping

There are several lakeside campgrounds, including Wrangler’s Campground with horse stalls.  For those interested in backpacking, there are multiple free backcountry areas to explore, including the Devils Backbone State Natural Area where we camped.  The unique Annual Backcountry Camping Permit only costs $30 per person (three-day permits $7).

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Kentucky-Tennessee)

Big South Fork National Recreation Area (Kentucky-Tennessee)

Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky)

Nearest National Park

Mammoth Cave

Explore More – Where were the elk reintroduced from into the Elk and Bison Prairie?

Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Tennessee, North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,204,847 acres (655,598 federal/ 549,249 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cherokee

Overview

The southern Appalachian Mountains have some of the highest biodiversity in the United States, with more than 20,000 species of plants and animals.  In the heart of this region, Cherokee National Forest is located north and south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.  Abundant rainfall and steep terrain make whitewater rafting a popular activity, especially on the Ocoee National Wild and Scenic River.

Highlights

Cherohala Skyway, Hiwassee River, Bald River Falls, Ocoee Scenic Byway, Boyd Gap Observation Site, Turtletown Creek Falls Scenic Area, Ocoee Whitewater Center, Coker Creek Scenic Area, Dudley Falls Picnic Area, Watauga Lake, Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, Laurel Fork Falls, Bald Mountain Ridge Scenic Area, Unaka Mountains Scenic Area, Doe River Gorge Scenic Area, Backbone Rock, Rogers Ridge Scenic Area, Conasauga River Blue Hole, Gee Creek Falls, Roan High Knob, Falls Branch Falls, Tanasi Trail System, John Muir National Recreation Trail, Margarette Falls Trail, Warrior’s Passage National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Cherokee National Forest is celebrated for its numerous waterfalls, two highlights being 60-foot-tall Margarette Falls and 65-foot Benton Falls, both accessible by short hikes.  If you visit during the fall foliage season, popular driving routes include the 26-mile Ocoee Scenic Byway and 43-mile Cherohala Skyway that climbs over 4,500 feet in elevation into North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.  We were intrigued by reading about the Conasauga River Blue Hole, where visitors can snorkel with fish and turtles in the shallows and deep pools. 

Best Trail

On the north side of Ocoee Lake, the Clemmer Trailhead is located right along Highway 30, a quarter mile off Highway 64.  From here one trail follows picturesque Rock Creek Gorge, which is known for its waterfalls.  Mountain bikers can follow several other trails and connect into the trail system around Benton Falls and McCamy Lake in the Chilhowee Recreation Area.  Altogether, the National Forest boasts 700 miles of trail, including a famous stretch of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through the Roan Highlands.

Watchable Wildlife

Large mammals found in Cherokee National Forest include white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, river otters, beavers, squirrels, bobcats, red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, and black bears.  In addition to songbirds common to eastern forests, watch the skies for turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and a variety of hawks.  This area is known for its high diversity of salamanders, including hellbenders and Jordan’s salamanders.  This region also has many reptiles, like eastern box turtles, common snapping turtles, southeastern five-lined skinks, timber rattlesnakes, northern copperheads, and rat snakes (like the one we saw on the Benton Falls Trail). The many streams and rivers support rainbow, brook, and brown trout, while lakes have largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The whitewater rapids are less intense on the Hiwassee River, which is also followed by Highway 30, the 21-mile long John Muir National Recreation Trail, and a portion of the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail. 

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $3 day-use fee at the Chilhowee Recreation Area and there are likely fees to park elsewhere in this massive National Forest. 

Road Conditions

The scenic byways we drove were all paved, but we found the gravel road up to Chilhowee Recreation Area to be rough and steep, though still easy enough for any passenger car.

Camping

There are countless campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest, but Chilhowee Campground near McKamy Lake seemed nice and provided access to an extensive trail system.

Wilderness Areas

Bald River Gorge Wilderness

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Big Laurel Branch Wilderness

Citico Creek Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Gee Creek Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Little Frog Mountain Wilderness

Pond Mountain Wilderness

Sampson Mountain Wilderness

Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (Tennessee)

Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Tennessee-New Mexico-Washington)

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, Table Mountain pine, pitch pine

Flowering Tree Species

tulip-poplar, sassafras, flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, pawpaw, American beech, white basswood, sweet buckeye, sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, moosewood maple, yellowwood, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, sourwood, pale hickory, mockernut hickory, rock chestnut oak, scarlet oak, black oak, white oak, southern red oak, Catawba rhododendron, yellow birch, sweet bay magnolia, white ash, mountain-ash, mountain-laurel

Explore More – The National Forest’s Ocoee Whitewater Center hosted events during the Summer Olympics in what year?

Learn more about Cherokee and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Overview

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 1890, the first park of its kind in the United States.  It covers multiple battlefields from late-1863 that straddle the Tennessee-Georgia borderline.  Though the Confederate army initially won at Chickamauga, Georgia, the Union took control of Chattanooga, Tennessee after the arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant with reinforcements in November.  Like Fort Monroe in Virginia, this area then became a beacon for escaped slaves, eventually numbering 2,000 people.

Highlights

Museums, film, driving tour, Point Park, Ochs Memorial Observatory, Cravens House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Point Park sits on top of Lookout Mountain offering awesome views of the city of Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River.  It is also the home of Ochs Memorial Observatory and museum, one reason Point Park charges an admission fee.  The nearby National Park Service (NPS) visitor center displays the 30×13-foot painting The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker.  At the Chickamauga battlefield, a seven-mile long driving tour explains what happened there on September 20, 1863.  The National Military Park also entails seven small military reservations and the Phelps Monument along the road atop Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga.

Best Trail

There are miles of trails atop Lookout Mountain and Ochs Memorial Observatory is only accessible by trail (and many stair steps).  It contains a museum dedicated to the Civil War and American Indians, specifically the Cherokee who passed through Moccasin Bend (which has its own three-mile loop trail) on the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The entrance to Point Park is designed to look like the Army Corps of Engineers insignia.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/chch/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to enter Point Park or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is limited free parking available at the NPS visitor center near Point Park.

Camping

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Explore More – Why did President Abraham Lincoln consider capturing Chattanooga (a town of only 2,500) as important as Atlanta?

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Overview

Not as well-known as the parkway it parallels, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is one of only three National Scenic Trails officially managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The trace (or trail) started as an American Indian footpath.  Some of the mound builder sites protected here were inhabited when Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into this area in 1540.  The Natchez Trace was heavily used in the 1800s by “Kaintuck” flatboatmen returning from New Orleans who left the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi and continued on foot north to Nashville, Tennessee.  Today you can follow portions of the “sunken” trail worn down by travelers for centuries.

Highlights

Rocky Springs, Owens Creek Waterfall, Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp, Grindstone Ford, Witch Dance Horse Trail, War of 1812 Memorial

Must-Do Activity

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail does not follow the entire 444-mile parkway, but exists in five segments totaling 67 miles in length.  The two longest sections are near Leipers Fork, Tennessee (Miles 408-427) and north of Jackson, Mississippi (Miles 108-130).  There are many other places to go hiking along the Natchez Trace Parkway, including one of our favorite spots, Tishomingo State Park (Mile 304) in Mississippi.  Near Tupelo, the Parkway Visitor Center at Mile 266 is another must-do stop to learn the history of the trace.

Best Trail

There are eight miles of the original trail around the Rocky Springs Campground near Mile 58 in Mississippi, which provides access to Owens Creek Waterfall and a historic town site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In early April the dogwood trees bloom along the Natchez Trace.  At Mile 275 is Dogwood Valley, which also has a short section of “sunken” historic trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/natt/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entire 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is paved from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, but not all trailheads are RV accessible.

Camping

There are three NPS campgrounds along the route, as well as those in sites like Mississippi’s Tishomingo State Park.  The three NPS campgrounds are primitive and free, plus there are also five bike-only campsites along the route.

Related Sites

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – The Natchez Trace Parkway officially joined the NPS system in 1938, but when was construction of the road finally completed?

Shiloh National Military Park

Overview

Following the victory at Fort Donelson, Union General Ulysses S. Grant moved his 50,000 troops aboard steamboats down the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing.  The army camped near a log church named the Shiloh Meeting House where they awaited the marching Army of Ohio before advancing on the important railroad crossroads in Corinth, Mississippi.  The Confederate army launched a surprise attack on April 6, 1862, pushing the enemy lines back two miles before Union reinforcements finally arrived.  After two days and 23,746 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing, the Confederates abandoned the field and Corinth.  There were an additional 7,000 casualties when they failed to recapture the town in October 1862.

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Shiloh Meeting House, Indian mounds, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Start with the great 45-minute movie at the National Park Service (NPS)  visitor center then take the 12.7-mile driving tour with twenty stops that passes 150 commemorative monuments, 229 cannons, and 4,000 graves in Shiloh National Cemetery.  The site also contains 800-year-old American Indian mounds within a 45-acre National Historic Landmark.  A free pass to the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah is also provided at the NPS visitor center.  In addition to the NPS unit in Shiloh, Tennessee, there is an Interpretive Center 22 miles away in Corinth, Mississippi. 

Best Trail

The short trail through the 800-year-old Indian mounds provides views of the Tennessee River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A reconstruction of the Shiloh Meeting House log church is found along the driving tour.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/shil/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but Pickwick Landing State Park is located 15 miles to the southeast.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – Originally managed by the U.S. military, when was this park established?