Driving up the coastal panhandle of Florida, through rural Georgia, west into lower Alabama, and then straight north on I-65 to Tennessee, the world outside the windshield seems to change, gradually at first. Then like stepping into a “transporter” from the classic sci-fi series “Star Trek,” the landscape is suddenly completely different.
The charred beige and brown highway grass is instantly forgotten, turning from red dirt fields and flat, pine tree-filled expanses of the weathered South. Instead, the traveler is surrounded by something more gentle, more pastoral.
The air is slightly thinner and less oppressive, and the horizon rolls invitingly instead of stretching endlessly. It feels like you have slipped into the sweet spot of wherever you may be going, like an oasis is just over that smoky, early morning fog-covered mountain.
Welcome to Tennessee. After rolling down the window, a song fills the car. With the boozy, lilting rumble and whine of Beale Street serenading the heart of the Delta from Memphis and the razor-sharp, steel guitar-tinged twang and stomp of Nashville’s Broadway district, few states march to the beat of its music in quite the same way as Tennessee.
There are few areas in America like the state, and perhaps that’s what makes it such a hotspot for daytrippers and weekend warriors. Luckily, many places and things that draw all kinds are preserved in its vast State Parks system.
Below are a few can’t-miss sites in The Volunteer State:
Burgess Falls State Park: A quick drive east of Nashville, visitors can find one of the state’s most spectacular hidden treasures. Made up of four distinct but connected falls leading to the massive 130-foot mother one, this ancient waterway was long inhabited by Native Tribes like the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw before the proliferation of Europeans and later Americans into the area. Around the turn of the 19th century, the falls began to be used as a gristmill. As late as the early 20th century, it was used to generate hydroelectric power for the nearby city of Cookeville. Today, it’s one of the locals’ most treasured hiking and swimming spots and is a must-see when visiting middle Tennessee.
Rock Island State Park: This more than 800-acre Tennessee park connected to Center Hill Lake has everything! One of the more beautiful vistas in the state, Rock Island has stunning waterfalls, imposing lookouts at the top and down into Caney Fork Gorge, and activity for every stripe of outdoor enthusiast. The hiking and camping are well-known in the area as some of the finest for those looking to challenge themselves and enjoy the serenity the Smoky Mountain nights can bring. Visitors can also take in the more than 100-year-old cotton mill still on the property.
Radnor Lake State Park: An oasis in the hustle and bustle of city life, Radnor Lake, located in the heart of the capital city of Nashville, is the definition of escape. Much like Central Park in Manhattan, this serene setting surrounded by tall oak and pine trees and wildlife everywhere one looks has long been an in-city retreat for those needing a quick respite from city life. A short drive south from the city center, through the park gates off of Granny White Pike, you are “transported” to another, slower, more naturally beautiful world. No trip to Nashville would be complete without a stop at this truly magical spot.