The quickest route between two points may be a straight line, but doesn’t always mean it’s the best way to get there. You’ll be amazed at just how much adventure are packed in the two-hour drive between Nashville and Chattanooga. Next time you make the journey, take some time to check out one of these incredible destinations.
1. Foster Falls and the Fiery Gizzard Trail
South Cumberland State Park’s Fiery Gizzard Trail, which leads to 60-foot Foster Falls (and the swimming hole the falls plunge into), is among *Backpacker *Magazine’s 25 best hiking trails in the country, so you know it’s worth a visit. The trail is 12.7 miles one-way from the trailhead in Tracy City, but it’s not just the distance that’s tough. Several steep, rocky sections, especially Black Canyon, Ravens Point, and Laurel Branch Gorge, present a challenge for any hiker. To maximize your experience, make it an overnight at either end or at Father Adamz or Small Wild campsites (a permit may be required).
2. Sewanee Perimeter Trail
The tiny town of Monteagle is widely considered one of the best adventure base camps for explorers of the Cumberland Plateau, and the nearby Sewanee Perimeter Trail is the perfect introduction to the area. The 20-mile loop trail is maintained by the University of the South in Sewanee, whose 13,000-acre campus is home to two lakes, several rock climbing destinations, and breathtaking mountain views. Extra credit if you make a side trip to check out the 25-foot-tall Sewanee Natural Bridge, just south of town, which spans 50 feet.
3. Rock Island State Park
Rock Island is named for an island in the Caney Fork, but the name fits its own geographical situation, too: the park is centered on the peninsula created by the confluence of Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers. The 883-acre state park also sits at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake, just above the Great Falls Dam. Check out Twin Falls, which cascades from an underground cavern, or horseshoe-shaped Great Falls, which fills up its namesake gorge at high water levels. The park has plenty of whitewater paddling to entertain adventure junkies, along with natural sand beaches, cozy cabins, and 60 campsites.
4. Little Cedar Mountain Trail
For panoramic views of the Tennessee River Gorge, look no further than the Little Cedar Mountain Trail. The four-mile loop trail lies within Tennessee Valley Authority Small Wild Area, which the TVA describes as "pockets of wilderness that offer hiking trails with...unique scenic views and aesthetically pleasing environments." Little Cedar Mountain certainly fits the bill. The trail has vernal pools to explore, limestone rock outcroppings to scramble across, and is prime birdwatching territory. It’s also one of just two places in the world where you can check out the fern-like John Beck’s Leafcup.
5. Rutledge Falls Swimming Hole
Rutledge Falls has made its way onto countless lists of must-visit swimming holes, and for good reason. The 40-foot cascade, just outside Tullahoma, stays invigoratingly cool year-round. Swimming at the falls is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk each day. Rutledge Falls and its plunge pool are on private property, and the owners simply ask that swimmers and hikers leave the place in good condition when they leave.
6. Savage Gulf Natural Area
Think Great Smoky Mountains National Park without the crowds: expansive mountain views, challenging hiking, and (best of all) few other visitors. Savage Gulf Natural Area encompasses nearly 16,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau and is home to 50-odd miles of trails for hiking and backpacking. Be sure to check out the Stone Door, a 10-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep crack in the sandstone bluffs that creates a natural staircase into the gorge below.
7. Cumberland Caverns
Discovered in 1810, Cumberland Caverns contains 32 miles of underground passageways and is the second-longest cave system in Tennessee. The caverns are open to the public seven days a week, and walking tours are offered daily. You can also take the "Higgenbotham’s Revenge" tour, which follows the route of cavern discoverer Aaron Higgenbotham, or show up for a Bluegrass Underground concert, held monthly.
8. Old Stone Fort
The rock-and-earth-hewn walls of Old Stone Fort are thought to have been built between 80 and 550 AD, during the Middle Woodland Period. The fort, whose entrance faces the exact point on the horizon of the sunrise on the summer solstice, is thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes, rather than defense, as its name implies. Today, the structure lies within Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, where visitors can mix hiking and history on the drive between Nashville and Chattanooga.
9. Percy Priest Lake
Just 15 minutes from downtown Nashville, this 42-mile-long, 14,000-acre lake is a creation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which completed its damming of the Stones River with the J. Percy Priest Dam in 1967. The area surrounding the lake boasts 12 boat ramps, 11 picnic areas, three campgrounds, and several marinas, along with 10,000-odd acres devoted to wildlife management. The best way to explore Percy Priest is to paddle the lake and camp out on its many islands.
10. Cedars of Lebanon
The hardwood forest of Cedars of Lebanon State Park makes a perfect weekend getaway for the whole family. Eight miles of hiking trails, including the Limestone Sinks Trail, which passes several fascinating sinkholes, wind through the park’s 900 acres of cedar groves. The park is also home to no less than 18 known cave systems, along with the Merritt Nature Center, over 100 campsites, numerous picnic shelters, and a swimming pool.