Connect with Nature in the Tennessee River Valley

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While national forests offer endless possibilities for the outdoor enthusiasts, the wooded outdoor playground also serves as a sanctuary for those in search of peacefulness and solitude. The Tennessee River Valley is home to three national forests, each unique in their own special way for people to connect with nature.

Many breathtaking views can be found throughout the 867,000 acres of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.

National forests are a vast outdoor playground just waiting to be explored. Many visit in pursuit of solitude from hiking or viewing the many remarkable landscapes while others enjoy water-based recreating, hunting, camping or watching wildlife in their natural habitat.

Each year, millions of outdoor enthusiasts take part in the endless recreational opportunities waiting in a national forest. According to the U.S. Forest Service, an estimated 148 million recreation visits were made to national forests from 2012 to 2016. Three national forests located in the Tennessee River Valley welcome millions of visitors each year and while many come for the recreational aspect, many come to get away from the hustle and bustle of today’s world.

In the National Visitor Use Monitoring Survey National Summary Report prepared by the U.S. Forest Service, an estimated 148 million recreation visits were made to national forests over the five year time period from 2012 to 2016. The agency also estimates an additional 300 million occasions where people traveled on the 138 scenic byways and other similar routes near, on or through national forests for the purpose of viewing scenery in national forests. While the reasons vary as to why people visit, most do so to improve their physical, psychological and/or spiritual wellbeing. Along with recreational activities, there is also history to learn and beauty to experience. Click here for full report.

Located in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of east Tennessee, the Cherokee National Forest is divided into northern and southern sections by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stretching from Chattanooga to Bristol along the North Carolina border, the 650,000-acre forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee and adjoins other national forests in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Activities include a scenic drive through the mountains, wildlife viewing, nights under the stars and solitude hikes on one of many backcountry trails. There’s also fun on the water such as fishing in natural trout streams, canoeing and whitewater rafting.

Visitors to Cherokee National Forest come to explore the more than 600 miles of trails including 150 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, hundreds of miles of cold water streams, seven whitewater rivers, three large lakes managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, 11 congressionally designated Wilderness areas, 30 developed campgrounds, 45 developed day-use sites, and the abundant populations of wildlife.

Located in northwestern Alabama, the William B. Bankhead National Forest is an 181,230-acre playground and is home to Alabama’s only National Wild and Scenic River, the Sipsey Fork. There are six recreation areas located in the Bankhead National Forest offering a wide range of activities and endless hours of exploring bluffs, canyons, waterfalls, springs and lakes. The forest features over 90 miles of trails, picturesque waterfalls and plenty of recreational opportunities such as hiking, horseback riding, boating, canoeing, fishing and swimming and offers facilities for camping and picnicking.

Canoeing the Sipsey Fork offers views of magnificent walls of rock, which have been carved for thousands of years by the erosive power of water. A multitude of waterfalls can be found along the Sipsey River. Turkey Foot Falls is within a 30-minute walk from the Sipsey River picnic grounds and recreation area. Turkey Foot Creek runs through a sandstone canyon then empties into the Sipsey Fork. For the history buff, the area is rich in Native American and pioneer history.

Located along Hubbard Creek in the Bankhead National Forest, Kinlock Falls is a cascade waterfall that drops 15 feet over a span of 20 feet. Though Kinlock Falls is not a high waterfall, it features a magnificent view, along with being a popular area that people come to swim.

Located in northern Georgia, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests feature nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities. Visitors will want to have their camera in hand as these lands are rich in natural scenery.

For the avid outdoorsmen, recreational opportunities abound in this vast national forest, including fishing, hiking, biking, camping, bird watching and horse trails. For the sportsman, trout streams and hunting are excellent. Trails range from easy to moderate and offer something for all ages and experience levels. A good many long distance hiking trails are also found here for the more serious hikers and for those in pursuit of solitude, and there are designated trails just for equestrians.

“National forests are a vast outdoor playground just waiting to be explored. Many visit in pursuit of solitude from hiking or viewing the many remarkable landscapes while others enjoy water-based recreating, hunting, camping or watching wildlife in their natural habitat,” said Julie Graham, spokesperson for the Tennessee River Valley Mapguide Council.

A trip to a national forest is also a way to experience history. Most have visitor centers, kiosks and interpretive areas offering interesting facts and opportunities to learn about the geology of the area.

Some sites require a modest recreation fee to help provide the services and facilities at the site. Visit each website to learn more when planning a visit.

Along with these national forests and wilderness areas, the Tennessee River Valley offers a compelling story, captivating visitors with its little unknown facts, pristine, untouched areas and rich, authentic experiences. Plan a trip easily with the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, an online guide to explore authentic places and adventures that have been recommended by locals.

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