published Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Tennessee, Georgia state parks offer First Day Hikes to start new year

  • photo
    Descending and ascending the 1,200 stairs at Cloudland Canyon State Park might be preferable to spending hours on the treadmill or stair machine.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


To find a First Hike that suits a specific purpose, in Tennessee go to and click on the park name for times, locations, description of the hike and information about each park. In Georgia, go to

A resolution to exercise more in 2012 doesn't have to start in a confined space amid scores of sweaty bodies.

Instead, on New Year's Day and Jan. 2, Tennessee, Georgia and the other 48 states are offering First Day Hikes as a commitment to healthy living.

"We're trying to get people to realize exercise can be fun," said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks. "It doesn't have to be in a gym."

She said organized First Day hikes originated more than 20 years ago at a state park in Massachusetts. Tennessee and Georgia are offering the hikes for the first time.

"The parks will be having events to commemorate the anniversary throughout 2012," said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. "We encourage everyone to get outside, start the New Year and help us celebrate the park system's 75th anniversary with a healthy hike at one of [our] Tennessee state parks."

Locally, Harrison Bay and Booker T. Washington state parks are offering hikes, according to Harrison Bay park manager Don Campbell.

"[Harrison Bay] was the first park to join the park system," he said. "It was originally a TVA demonstration area."

The ranger-led, 4.5-mile loop hike there will start at the bike trailhead and follow biking and hiking trails along the shoreline on "fairly level terrain," Campbell said.

Posted markings along the trail allow participants to take shorter walks if they prefer, he said.

"The big thing is to get outside, bring the kids outside, get them away from the electronics," he said. "Just enjoy what's out here."

Calabrese-Benton said the region is fortunate to offer hikers a wide selection.

"Southeast Tennessee parks have a variety of hikes that cover a wide range of ability levels," she said.

Hungry hikers who want to make a night of it can take in New Year's Eve dinners at Cumberland Mountain and Fall Creek Falls state parks. Other Tennessee parks outside the region offering dinners are Montgomery Bell State Park west of Nashville, Paris Landing in Buchanan near the Kentucky line and Pickwick Landing near the Tennessee-Alabama-Mississippi state lines in West Tennessee.

Special room/brunch/gift basket packages are available at Fall Creek Falls, Montgomery Bell, Paris Landing and Pickwick Landing parks.

Cloudland Canyon State Park, in Rising Fawn, Ga., on Lookout Mountain, will host a naturalist-led, 2-mile round-trip into the canyon to see Cherokee and Hemlock falls.

Wouldn't it be more fun to take 1,200 stairs a mile into the canyon and then back "rather than 30 minutes on a step machine?" Hatcher said.

The idea, she said, "is to make a habit of exercise outdoors. It's good for your body as well as your mind."

Contact Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569.



  • Booker T. Washington State Park, Chattanooga; 10 a.m. Monday; meet at Shelter 1B; one-mile hike from shelter through park, with hot chocolate and coffee afterward; 423-894-4955 or
  • Cumberland Mountain State Park, Crossville; 10 a.m. CST Monday; meet Ranger Monica Johnson at park restaurant; easy to moderate two-mile hike along banks of Byrd Creek, with hot cocoa and coffee inside restaurant at start and end of hike; 931-484-6138 or
  • Fall Creek Falls State Park; 2 p.m. Sunday; meet Ranger Matt Brown at Park Inn lobby; hike from inn to falls along paved bicycle path, with refreshments available at inn; 800-250-8611 or 423-881-5298 or
  • Fort Loudoun State Park, Vonore (Monroe County); 1 p.m. Sunday; meet at visitors center; moderate, 3-5-mile, ranger-led hike lasts approximately two hours across fields, forests and ridgelines; 423-884-6217.
  • Harrison Bay State Park, Hamilton County; 2 p.m. Sunday; meet at bike trailhead; moderate, 4.5-mile, ranger-led hike features examples of local history and ecology along Chickamauga Reservoir; 344-6214 or
  • Hiwassee and Ocoee Rivers State Park, Delano (Polk County); 11 a.m. Monday; meet at park office; easy to moderate, ranger-led hike to Gee Creek Falls; 423- 263-0050 or
  • Red Clay State Park, Bradley County; 10 a.m. Monday; meet at picnic shelter; Council of Trees, 1.7-mile, sloping walk, with hot apple cider, hot chocolate, coffee and refreshments as well as a storytelling session afterward at the visitors center; 423-478-0339 or
  • Tims Ford State Park, Winchester (Franklin County); 9 a.m. CST Sunday; meet Ranger Kenny Gragg at visitors center; easy, 2.2-mile hike along Marble Plains Overlook Trail out and back to overlook of Tims Ford Reservoir; 931-962-1183 or


  • Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, Dawsonville; 10:30 a.m. Sunday; meet at West Ridge Falls Access Trailhead; hike .6-mile round-trip to highest cascading waterfall east of Mississippi River, then continue on own for 604 steps up to top of waterfall; $5 parking; 706-265-1969.
  • Cloudland Canyon State Park, Rising Fawn; 1-4 p.m. Sunday; naturalist-led hike to Cherokee and Hemlock falls explores geology of canyon; $5 plus $5 parking; 706-913-7170.
  • Smithgall Woods State Park, Helen, Ga.; 2-4 p.m. Sunday; park manager- and interpretive ranger-led hike to Smithgall cottage facility, with hot cider served there; $5 parking; 706-878-3087.
  • Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls, Ga.; 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; moderate, 3.5-mile, ranger-led hike along gorge rim and through woods; $5 plus $5 parking; 706-754-7981.
about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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