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Get Outside: 9 Must-Do Activities in Tennessee

Explore why the Volunteer State is the perfect place for vacations and staycations.

By Kevin Litwin on June 17, 2021

Tennessee EDG
Jeff Adkins

If it can be done outdoors, it can be done in Tennessee.

The Volunteer State offers excellent access to best-in-class hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, hunting, fishing, boating, swimming, camping, zip lining and golfing.

Residents and visitors looking for outdoor activities in Tennessee are within easy reach of parks, greenways, waterways, trails, gardens and bike paths that make the state an ideal place to visit for an afternoon, a weekend or an entire week.

Adventure seekers can explore over 130 state parks and natural areas that offer more than 1,300 miles of trails and 80 waterfalls in Tennessee. There are also 11 national parks in Tennessee, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park – the most visited national park in the U.S.

Besides beauty and adventure, outdoor recreation is also a major economic contributor, with tourism bringing in billions of dollars in revenue each year. Tennessee is frequently ranked on lists of the top visited destinations in the U.S.

Ready to go? Consider these 9 must-do activities when exploring Tennessee:

Tennessee EDG
Jeff Adkins

1. Soar at Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park in Sevierville

The 150-acre park features multiple zip-line courses, including the highest, fastest and longest lines in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park also offers an off-road ATV tour, the second-longest swinging bridge in the U.S. at 330 feet, an aerial ropes challenge course and a 60-foot rock climbing wall.

2. Ride the Waves Along the Ocoee River

Experience the rush of powerful whitewater rapids during a four-hour rafting trip along the Ocoee River in Polk County. Expert guides help thrill-seeking paddlers encounter the excitement of Class III and Class IV rapids, while less adventurous paddlers and floaters can take advantage of the calmer waters of the Lower Ocoee.

Enjoy that Product? It Likely Came Through Tennessee

3. Go Wild at the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area

Near Sparta in White County, this 1,157-acre pristine natural environment allows visitors to view beautiful waterfalls, climb to a cliff overlook and hike a 9-mile rugged round-trip trail. Want more? This gorgeous area sits next door to the massive Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness.

4. Fly Fish Along the Watauga River

If you love to fish, then fly fishing on a 17-mile stretch of the Watauga River in Elizabethton should be on your outdoor bucket list. This destination is on many top 10 national fishing lists because Watauga teems with rainbow, brown and brook trout, and is one of the cleanest rivers in the nation.

Tennessee EDG
Jeff Adkins

5. Enjoy Real R&R on Reelfoot Lake

Rent a cabin and spend some quality outdoor time at Reelfoot Lake located in Lake and Obion counties. Besides hiking, fishing, boating, canoeing and swimming, you can stay in modern cabins, with spacious living spaces, fully equipped kitchens and satellite television.

6. Explore History at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park

Bring the whole family to explore and have fun at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park in Madison County in West Tennessee. The park contains 15 Native American mounds historically used as burial and ceremonial sites, and visitors can view the many attractions along six miles of interconnecting trail.

Tennessee EDG
Nathan Lambrecht

7. Grab a Beer and a Bike in the Nine Lakes Region

Go mountain biking and then have a craft beer in the Nine Lakes region of East Tennessee that surrounds Knoxville. Popular trails include Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, I.C. King Park, Windrock Bike Park and Haw Ridge Park. Afterward,  enjoy a cold microbrew at places like Alliance Brewing Company, Printshop Beer Company, Hexagon Brewing Company or Pretentious Beer Company.

8. Slide Over to Gatlinburg During the Winter

Vacation in the Smoky Mountains during the winter, which is even nicer because the national park isn’t as crowded. One of the Smokies’ most invigorating winter spots is Ober Gatlinburg, the only area resort for skiing and that’s also ideal for snowboarding, tubing and toboggining.

And finally, you’ll absolutely fall in love with No. 9 …

Tennessee EDG
Nathan Lambrecht

9. Be Bedazzled by Ruby Falls

Near Chattanooga is Ruby Falls, the nation’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public. Visitors can descend 260 feet by elevator into Lookout Mountain to see the falls and explore an underground cavern. Later that same day, they can soar above the treetops at the High Point ZIP Adventure at Ruby Falls’ zip-lining course.

Ready to explore more about living in Tennessee? Check out the latest edition of the Tennessee Economic Development Guide.

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