Winter’s icy embrace has enveloped Tennessee, kissing the mountaintops with frost and snow. If you’re itching to head out and witness this breathtaking beauty yourself, pack your microspikes, bundle up in warm layers, and get hiking! Today, we’re sharing our Top Tennessee Winter Hikes. While you’re adventuring, please stick to trails that are clearly marked by our state’s official parks and wildlife management department. Because trails, even gentle ones, are more dangerous when icy, we recommend hiking in teams. Carry plenty of water, some energy-rich food, and be sure someone responsible knows your location, destination, and approximate return time. 

Hidden Passage Trail — Pickett County

Hidden Passage Trail is covered in ice and snow throughout winter. Located in Pickett County just northeast of Jamestown, Pickett State Park encompasses over 19,000 acres of caves (one of which, Hazard Cave, features rare glowworms that phosphoresce a bright blue), stunning rock formations, and buildings that were created from sandstone sourced from the park itself.

Classed as a Dark Sky Park, this area is absent of light pollution, so be sure to return in warmer months to enjoy undiluted views of starry skies. Additionally, the beautiful blue glowworms of Hazard Cave are most numerous in June, though they can be seen year-round.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Sevier County

Famous worldwide as our country’s most-visited national park, the Smokies have a staggering number of hiking trails, some with stunning 360° views, while others wind through velvety forests, past crashing waterfalls, and into deep cave systems. 

Sprawling between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are beloved for their incredible array of wildlife and plants, both of which are best appreciated on a hike. Most often visited during the spring and summer, the trails are more available to local hikers during the coldest months. Once you’ve selected your path amongst the 800 miles of trails here, your task will be to stay safe and to keep your distance from the bears, elk, and deer you may encounter in order to avoid disturbing nature.

Frozen Head State Park – Wartburg

Frozen Head State Park is so-named for the ice and snowfall that usually adorns the highest peaks of the gorgeous Cumberland Mountains. The park is thick with an array of botanical life (some very rare), bubbling streams, waterfalls, and an abundance of active wildlife.

Nearly 60 miles of trails here lead to one of the highest peaks in Tennessee west of the Smokies. If you hike all the way to the observation tower on a day graced by blue skies, you’ll be able to see the Great Smoky Mountains, Cumberland Plateau, and both the Tennessee Ridge and Valley. If you want to see the Cumberland Mountains in their purest form, put Frozen Head State Park on your “must-see” list.

Fall Creek Falls – Spencer

Within this park’s 26,000 acres, you’ll discover the highest waterfall in the eastern US, as well as Cane Creek Cascades, Cane Creek Falls, and Piney Falls. A whopping 35 hiking trails are clearly marked out, though not all will lead directly to Fall Creek Falls. Take in towering hardwood trees, deep gorges, and an abundance of both plant and animal life in this famous park, voted Best State Park in the Southeastern United States by the readers of Southern Living magazine.

Reelfoot Lake State Park – Tiptonville

From late 1811 to early 1812, a series of earthquakes liquified the soil, warped the landscape, and permanently altered this park tucked away in the northwest corner of our state. Eyewitnesses reported that these quakes, which were felt from PA to VA, caused the Mississippi River to flow in reverse for up to 24 hours, thus creating Reelfoot Lake. The park is home to submerged cypress trees, bald eagles, many species of waterfowl, and attracts a bevy of visitors year round.

Twenty-five bald eagle nests adorn the park – thankfully the apex predators have fully recovered since their disappearance in the early 1960s, but eagles aren’t the only interesting wildlife in the park. On your hike through the 25,000-acres, keep a keen eye out to catch a glimpse of some of the fascinating creatures who make their home in the bald cypress trees. Be sure to scan the forest floor, as well; even in the depths of winter, the plants here are gorgeous enough to have a cult following among our country’s lovers of all things botanical. 

Long Hunter State Park – Hermitage

Long Hunter State Park offers hikers a variety of trails suited for all tiers of skill level. With over 20 miles of trails to explore, including a paved stroll down the Jason Allen Arboretum trail through the natural arboretum, this park presents an ideal opportunity for photographing flora and fauna. To see Couchville Lake this winter, take the short Lake Trail. As you explore the park, keep an eye out for stone remnants of the prehistoric Native American structures long since abandoned. We think the ease of trails combined with the opportunities for educational sights make this park an ideal spot for hiking with children!

Natchez Trace State Park – Wildersville

Trails within Natchez Trace State Park range from 0.5 mile to 4.5 miles, though the park itself encompasses a whopping 48,000 acres—breathtaking state forest and Wildlife Management Areas included. Named after Native American routes and animal migration paths and incorporated under the terms of Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” this park is home to four picturesque lakes, plenty of wildlife, and dense, lush plant life. 

Foster Falls Small Wild Area – Sequatchie

Most well-known for its beautiful 60-foot waterfall, this untamed region is home to some of the most scenic views in the state. Accessible via an easy hike, the base of the falls lies beyond the suspension bridge that spans the river rushing through South Cumberland State Park. If you’re a beginner, this hike is one of the safest on our list, even in winter, yet offers gorgeous wild botanicals, wildlife, and breathtaking views of the falls and the gorge beyond.

Near the entrance to the park, you can enjoy picnic tables, grills, clean water, restrooms, and handicap accessibility.

Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park – Pinson

Pinson Mounds is an archaeological park named for the 15 burial mounds left by Native American peoples. Here, you can take hiking trails up to steps that will allow you to get a close look at the mounds themselves: Saul’s Mound is the most well-known, though the Ozier Mounds, Mound 31, and the Twin Mounds are all well worth viewing. These historical landmarks were used for both funereal and ceremonial rites, leading local citizens to urge Tennessee to make Pinson Mounds a state park. Their efforts, spanning decades, led to the park being so designated in 1974. 

Though currently closed due to the pandemic, the Pinson Mounds museum is a historical treasure trove that will be worth a return trip when conditions allow it to reopen.

We hope you have a memorable time hiking through Tennessee’s vast wildlands. Please read through the links we’ve included and choose your trail ahead of time. If you’re going somewhere new, bring a map that does not rely on your cell service. 

Are you an avid hiker? Do you have a trail that is your absolute favorite, or one that you’d highly recommend to beginning hikers? Please leave us a comment below and share your insights.

From all of us at Parks Realty, thank you for visiting. Stay safe, stay healthy, and continue to enjoy our region’s truly great outdoors in 2021.

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