7 Tennessee State Parks In 7 Days

Updated: Sep 17

hiking with the fam - our 3 favorite trails from summer vacation

The only thing better than hiking through the mountains is hiking through the mountains with your best friends, and I am very lucky to have these two adventurous people by my side, always.

My family vacation this year involved more exploration than relaxation, and we made a lot more memories because of it. Each day we traveled to a new Tennessee state or national park. In todays blog, we are going to walk through three of our favorites.

Cummins Falls - Cookville:

I've been to Cummins Falls a handful of times since moving to Tennessee in 2016. It is a 2.5-mile round-trip trail to and from the falls. The hike consists of jagged, steep terrain and a portion of it is literally through a river, so prepare to get wet if you're headed to the base of the waterfall. Before they adopted a capacity rule in 2020, the trail would be so crowded on nice days that you would almost have to wait in line to swim, making it a bit less enjoyable in my opinion.

I had only been there on sunny summer day trips with friends until last September. My mom, brother, and I were able to get a park pass last minute and just as we started to hike the trail down to the falls, it began to heavily rain. In Mother Nature's defense, the sky was pretty gloomy before we decided to embark on the the journey, but we were on a mission to jump off of a waterfall before the day concluded.

We trudged through the river with heavy hiking boots as it quickly began to flood. (I find it best to take your boots off immediately and just go bare foot.) Up to our knees in water with slippery rocks beneath our feet; we kept going. When it began to rain so hard that we couldn't see, we took shelter under large rocks along the trail until it slowed. About two-thirds of the way through the trail with the waterfall in sight, it started to storm. Thunder and lightning sounded and shook for awhile and then stopped. People were still swimming, so we laid our towels down on the rocks when we got to the base and only jumped off once before the park rangers told us that a big storm was coming and we needed to evacuate. It was so much fun and the storm made everything more thrilling! I have zero complaints from this experience. The water was very nice and warm despite the conditions.

The trip back up the trail was one that we will never forget. I don't think that i've ever laughed so much in my life. A desperate kind of laugh as you can guess. We were entirely drenched and the uphill section of the trail was so flooded that water began to rapidly flow down the dirt path. We had to hang onto the railing just to be able to finish the hike to the park entrance. My mom's jeep needed a good cleaning afterward, to say the least. This remains my Mom and Luke's favorite hike.

What you need to know:

  • Wear clothes that you don't mind getting wet.

  • You will have to jump from rock to rock at multiple points in the trial. Some are a further distances than others.

  • Bring a waterproof backpack and a swimsuit.

  • Maybe don't wear socks with your hiking boots. It will eliminate the need to store them in your bag when everything is wet.

  • Due to Covid and issues with capacity, you now have to pay an 8 dollar fee per person to get into the park and reserve a pass.

  • You can reserve a pass online in advance or try your luck at the entrance. If you get a pass at the entrance you will have to wait for others to exit the park before you can enter.

If there are no passes available or the park is closed, you can drive 30 minutes down the road to Burgess Falls for a similar experience.

Burgess Falls - Cookville:

If you are headed to Cookville to hike, you're probably going to Cummins Falls, but 30 minutes in the other direction is a larger waterfall that you can also swim in. Burgess falls has always been one of my favorites because it's never crowded and the trail has unique twists and turns that boast new landscapes past every patch of trees.

On the main trail, you are led through the mountainside to a viewing area for the waterfall. On the way, you pass a few historic landmarks, an old stair bridge, and the option to take various trails through the forrest. From the top of the viewing area at the end of the trail, you are given an option to take the long trek down to the base of the waterfall where you can swim at your own risk. The water at the base is strangely calm for how big the falls is. If you choose to take the path down, I promise you will be sore the next day. The hike back up is truly a battle, but it is worth it.

What you need to know:

  • There are clean bathrooms and water fountains at the start of the trail.

  • You can stand on top of the waterfall, swim at its base and view it from a distance and all of the trails to get to these points are connected.

  • Various signs prohibit you from jumping off of the falls.

  • The entrance to the park features a giant board with the names and directions of every trail written on it. There is also a donation bin for you to give money towards park projects.

Laurel Falls - Gatlinburg:

East Tennessee is a whole other world and I find myself stopping often during hikes to look around because I am constantly amazed by all of the nature. (Yes, i'm THAT girl.) This trail does not top my favorite hikes of all time, but I wanted to include a favorite from the Smokey Mountains in addition to all of the middle Tennessee trials that i've mentioned. This falls is the definition of off the beaten path because it is located almost directly off of a very populated route into Gatlinburg. In fact, it is only a 15 minute drive from the town center.

Laurel Falls had gotten so popular by the time that the four of us visited in September 2021, that they were putting capacity rules into place with Covid in mind.

I've been to the Smokies on multiple occasions but didn't know about this location until recently. This one was recommended by a local, as the best hikes always are. The Laurel Falls trail is a short trail, just under three miles round trip, that boasts beautiful views up to a small waterfall separating the top and bottom half of the trail. Colorful mushrooms and different types of flowers line the trail and it is wide enough to fit people that are coming and going. I really enjoyed it because the whole time you are hiking, you can see how high up you are through the trees. There are blue and green mountain ranges in the distance and you are constantly reminded that you are up in them! The waterfall itself is not very big, but there are a lot of natural spaces you can sit to observe the area without getting wet. If I ever visit this trail again, I will bring a notebook up there.

What you need to know:

  • This trail has limited parking surrounding it.

  • During certain times of the year, you are required to reserve a pass.

  • Most of this hike is uphill.

  • You will need to check the national park website to see if there is road construction and temporary closure of the trails as this is common.

If you have been to any of these parks and would like to share an experience or have questions/suggestions about the trails, send me a message!

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