published Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Parks au naturel: Waterfalls and wildflowers, hiking and hard-to-beat vistas can be found in Tennessee

Twin Falls” at Rock Island State Park.
Twin Falls” at Rock Island State Park.
Photo by Dan Henry.

The Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee usually steal the show when it comes to state parks. But there are other little pockets in the area that are worth a day trip or overnight excursion (and are probably less crowded.) You'll see thick woods, wildflowers and, oh, are there waterfalls. From the grand cascade at Fall Creek Falls to the twin falls at Rock Island State park, you're sure to see lots of tumbling water in Tennessee parks.

GORGEOUS GORGE

A pair of twin waterfalls at Rock Island State Park near Rock Island, Tenn., may be the centerpiece of the natural landscape, but the park is ripe with history and culture, too.

• Revolutionary War veterans were first to settle the land, and their old homesteads and cemeteries can still be seen.

• World-class kayaker Eric Jackson lives at Rock Island and often hosts elite kayakers at the park.

• The park is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. There is no entrance fee.

Source: Rock Island State Park and Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

TRAILS great, DON'T MISS THE FALLS

You can visit the park for its forest trails or peaceful streams, but there's no arguing that the 256-foot waterfall is the crown jewel of Fall Creek Falls State Park near Pikeville.

• The park has 34 miles of trails for hiking, through forest full of mountain laurel and rhododendron.

• There are special events throughout the year, including the Wildflower Pilgrimage during the second weekend in April, and the Mountaineer Folk Festival on the weekend after Labor Day.

• The park also boasts an 18-hole golf course and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

• The park is open 24 hours a day, but the road leading to the falls is locked at dark. There is no entrance fee.

Source: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

DAY HIKER'S DELIGHT

Located in Rhea County, Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness Area is the perfect place to get in a full day of hiking, and still make it home for dinner.

• The area is named for its two waterfalls -- its two waterfalls -- Laurel Falls and Snow Falls.

• One trail leads to 35-foot Snow Falls and Buzzard Point overlook. The other leads to 80-foot Laurel Falls. Both trails are about eight miles round trip.

Source: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

THEY'RE NOT JUST GOOD

The Great Smoky Mountains are America's most visited national park. Once you see the lush forests, magnificent overlooks and pastoral valleys, you'll understand why.

• You can't beat the wildflowers. With more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants, some call the park "Wildflower National Park."

• There's more to the park than the natural beauty. You can see nearly 80 historic buildings in the park, including homes, barns, churches, grist mills and schools.

• Whether you choose to explore by foot, car or bike, the waterfalls and winding mountain roads are worth the trip.

Source: National Park Service

THROUGH THE STONE DOOR

A 10-by-100-foot crack in the sandstone at Savage Gulf State Natural Area near Palmer, Tenn., looks like an open door and was used by Native Americans as a passageway.

• Several creeks make their way through the 15,590-acre natural area, forming waterfalls and blue holes as they travel.

• Over 50 miles of hiking trails lead to rock point overlooks.

• Backcountry camping and picnic areas are also available.

• The park gates open at 7 a.m. CDT and close at dark. There is no entrance fee.

Sources: Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Tennessee State Parks

BUILT TO LAST

Pickett State Park is a memorial to the Civilian Conservation Corps, which started building the park in the 1930s.

• Located in the Upper Cumberland Plateau, Pickett State Park features stone arches, rock shelters and sandstone cliffs.

• Visitors can hike more than 50 miles of trails or fish in the stocked Arch Lake.

• In warmer months, you can take a dip at the swimming beach, which is lined with sandstone bluffs.

• Stay overnight in a cabin or campground.

• The park is open from 7:30 a.m. CDT until dark.

Sources: Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Tennessee State Parks

GORGEOUS GORGE

A pair of twin waterfalls at Rock Island State Park near Rock Island, Tenn., may be the centerpiece of the natural landscape, but the park is ripe with history and culture, too.

• Revolutionary War veterans were the first ones to settle the land, and their old homesteads and cemeteries can still be seen from the park's trails.

• World-class kayaker Eric Jackson lives at Rock Island and often hosts elite kayakers at the park.

• The park is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. There is no entrance fee.

Source: Rock Island State Park and Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

about Mary Helen Miller...

Mary Helen Miller joined the staff at the Chattanooga Times Free Press as a multimedia reporter in 2013. She produces audio, video, and graphics for the Web, and occasionally writes stories. Before starting at the Times Free Press, Mary Helen worked as a radio reporter at WUTC, the NPR affiliate station in Chattanooga. She won an Edward R. Murrow award for a story she produced there about the anniversary of the 2011 tornadoes that hit ...

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