7 Great Outdoor Adventures Near Nashville
You’ve probably been to Percy Warner at least once. Whether you’ve done the beautiful five mile hike around the park or spent your day drinking on the lawn during Steeple Chase, Percy Warner is a staple of the Nashville outdoors. However, we are here to show you that Nashville, and Tennessee as a whole, have a lot of amazing hiking to offer all within two hours of driving. Below is our review of hiking and camping sites near us, perfect for a weekend getaway. Before we begin, we want to point out that all state and national parks in Tennessee are free of charge and very well documented on the website!
Fall Creek Falls (Very Easy)
Distance from campus: about two hours (124 miles)
Fall Creek Falls is a great little park with a ton of stuff jammed in a small area. There are wonderful overlooks, large waterfalls, and plenty of campsites. Everything is easily accessible on foot, and you don't need to walk far to get to a cool spot. The only downside to this easy accessibility is that you will be around more people during your time here. The campsites are relatively close together, and there are 222 of them with a mix of tent and RV camping options. If you want to feel like you have really gotten away from people, this is not your place. That being said, getting up early in the morning can give you a more private experience. The highest single plunge waterfall east of the Mississippi River is in this park. Also, the Cable Trail is awesome! It gets its name because it is so steep that they have a cable for you to climb down. At the base of the trail, there is a large area to swim. If you are brave, you can swim out and under the two impressive waterfalls. The difficulty of the trail limits the number of people down there, so it is more tranquil and just really freaking cool!
Pro Tip: Get up early and go to Rocky Point for the sunrise.
Long Hunter State Park (Easy)
Distance from campus: 25 miles (adjacent to Percy Priest Lake)
This park has a backcountry campsite at the end of a 7.5 mile hike, but it only has two spots, so be sure to make a reservation in advance. You can make this a 15-mile day hike with lunch by the lake or a two-day 7.5-mile hike. There are also shorter hikes along the trail around 3-5 miles. Either way, the trail follows the shore Percy Priest Lake, so you’ll have wonderful views. The terrain is mostly flat, which gives this hike an easy rating.
Pro Tip: If you bring a bathing suit, you can jump in the lake at the end of the 7.5 mile hike during a hot day.
Rock Island State Park (Easy)
Distance from campus: 87 miles
If you are looking for another place to get wet, look no further than Rock Island State Park. You can swim in a number of different watering holes and jump off the top of a waterfall if you have the stomach for it (I never have). The hike up the river to horseshoe falls feels a bit like Jurassic Park. You will get wet if you hike up that way so bring some water shoes, sunscreen, and a towel.
Pro Tip: You can camp here, but I think there are better camping options on this list.
Mammoth Cave (Easy)
Distance from campus: 91 miles away (our closest National Park!)
If you are in the mood to see some stalactites, Mammoth Cave is your place. It is truly an impressive cave system of roughly 400 miles. There are just over 100 sites for tent camping. Not only can you go down in the caves, but there are many miles of hiking above ground as well.
Pro Tip: Don't forget to grab your National Park Passport to collect your stamp!
Fiery Gizzard (Moderate)
Distance from campus: 97 miles
Backpacker magazine named this hike one of the Top 25 in the USA. The hike is 21.1 miles long with multiple campsites available. This is not a loop so making sure to coordinate transport if you are not planning to double back. Most campsites are located at either end of the trail. One exception is the Small Wilds campsite which is located a couple of miles in from the south entrance. It is a nice primitive campsite that you must hike in to reach, but it is located next to some cliffs that make for a wonderful place to have breakfast and dinner while watching the sun change the colors of the valley below. If you are looking for a dog friendly park, this is a great option.
Pro Tip: Make sure to book the campsites in advance during the weekend of peak months as these spots can fill.
South Cumberland Savage Gulf (Moderate to Difficult)
Distance from campus: 103 miles (not far from Fiery Gizzard)
This location offers a variety of routes (55 miles of trails to be exact) that differ in intensity. Just make sure you check the elevation change to avoid surprises while you are out. Two really great hikes include the North Rim trail and the Stone Door trail. The North Rim has beautiful overlooks and is not terribly strenuous. The Stone Door Trail is a connector between both sides of the park and is quite strenuous with more elevation change. It is very beautiful while you are hiking through the valley but you have less expansive views since you are below the cliffs.
Pro Tip: There are some great waterfalls including Foster Falls near the entrance of North Rim Trail.
Raccoon Mountain (Difficult)
Distance from campus: 130 miles (right near Chattanooga)
Another caving option is Raccoon Mountain. Wilderness medicine took a trip here last year and it was amazing! The cave system here is extensive and the tours can be pretty intense. If you plan to do one of the more serious tours (which I would recommend) make sure you are not claustrophobic because some of the spaces are barely big enough to slide through. After that experience, I can officially say that I have been spelunking. You’ll be right near Chattanooga, so consider stopping to check out the town or do some rafting on the Tennessee River (one of the best rafting spots around).
Pro Tip: Wear clothing that you don't mind getting very dirty, and bring something to change into for the ride home.