When it comes to outdoor activities, Tennessee has it all. There’s no shortage of hiking trails, mountain views, or river rafting in the Volunteer State. If you’ve chosen to retire in Tennessee, or just want to visit, we’ve got some recommendations on some outdoor fun that you won’t find anywhere else.
River Rafting in the Ocoee
The Ocoee River is Tennessee’s most popular whitewater river. After all, it’s where the 1996 Summer Olympics held its whitewater events. About an hour east of Chattanooga, the middle part of the Ocoee is the most popular due to its wild rapids. If you need a place to stay overnight there are campgrounds and motels in the area and in nearby Benton. As far as renting the proper gear and obtaining a guide, go to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which is the most prestigious whitewater rafting company in the southeast. The fine folks there will provide a raft and an experienced guide for around $40 a person.
Hike the Cumberland Trail
An ambitious hiking trail project under development in East Tennessee, the Cumberland Trail will extend more than 300 miles from its northern terminus in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to its southern terminus at the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park located on Signal Mountain. The project is estimated to be completed in late 2019. Until then, there are plenty of trails to hike, offering a unique wilderness experience with tons of scenic views, waterfalls, gorges, wildlife, and a wide variety of flora. There’s a ten-segment route that goes through eleven Tennessee counties. And the linear state park offers scenic variety, including views from both ridgeline and river gorge hiking.
Kayak the Tennessee River Gorge
The fourth largest river gorge in the Eastern United States, the Tennessee River Gorge is a 26-mile long canyon formed by the Tennessee River. It’s home to a unique diversity of landforms, thousands of varieties of plants, grasses, wildflowers, and a rich wildlife population. According to many archaeological finds, people have been dwelling in this canyon for more than 10,000 years. Though the rapids have been calmed by the construction of the Hales Bar Dam, the Tennessee River current can still be a little rough.
Navigational hazards like whirlpools, eddies, and shoals inspired names such as Tumbling Shoals, the Holston Rock, the Kettle, the Suck Shoals, the Deadman’s Eddy, the Pot, the Skillet, and the Narrows, a 10-mile journey that ends at Hale’s Bar. Besides kayaking, you can rent canoes on Tennessee River Gorge Island. You can also hike the Pot Point Nature Trail, a 3.5-mile loop that begins at the Tennessee River Gorge Trust’s Pot Point Cabin at the river’s edge.
Bike the Natchez Trail
Running from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi, the Natchez Trace is famous for its storied history that dates back thousands of years. It was forged by early Native Americans who traveled along the path until it became an established route. It also has ties to Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, Lewis and Clark, and Andrew Jackson. Today, the path is commemorated by the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway and Bridge, which follow the approximate path of the Trace, as well as the related Natchez Trace Trail.
Parts of the original trail are still accessible and some segments are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Taking your bicycle for a leisurely ride is perfectly welcome, but if you’re feeling adventurous try biking the whole thing, which takes most riders about seven to ten days. But if you decide to take this adventure, make sure you are prepared as there are almost no convenience stores, motels, or other roadside amenities.
Ride Like a Cowboy in Memphis
Live out your cowboy or cowgirl fantasies in the middle of Memphis by taking a horseback ride and exploring the trails inside the sprawling Shelby Farms Park. Home to a variety of wildlife including deer, ducks, cranes, and more, the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park welcomes riders of all experience levels as you’re led by a trail guide on a one-hour trail ride adventure. Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, covering more than five times the area of New York City’s Central Park.