Whether it is a mountaintop view, a remote lake, a stunning waterfall, or a stroll through history State Parks serve as a retreat from the ordinary. The parks protect natural treasures, historic sites and places of beauty. Knoxville lies in a region filled with State Parks. In fact, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky all boast having the best State Parks in the country. While these honors are well deserved for many reasons it is difficult to say which State truly has the “best” parks.
For decades visitors to Kentucky State Parks have always been greeted with signs saying “The Nation’s Finest.” Consistency appears to be one of Kentucky’s greatest strengths when it comes to State Parks. While places like Cumberland Falls offer the chance to see the “Niagra Falls of the South”, even smaller parks like Levi Jackson in London give you a chance to escape from it all.
Driving just a couple of hours from Knoxville will take you to sites like, “Chain Rock” at Pine Mountain, or give you a history lesson at Dr. Thomas Walker Birthplace State Park. Just a couple hours more and you can learn about some of America’s first “western” settlements at Ft. Boonesborough or explore caves and natural bridges at Carter Caves State Park.
Virginia is a state blessed with both mountains and seashore. While the latter remains quite a drive from Knoxville, the other is probably closer than you think. Virginia’s State Park system boasts the title “America’s Best.” Just east of Cumberland Gap you will find Wilderness Road State Park which extends the National Park’s protection of the trail Daniel Boone made famous. Just north of Kingsport, TN you will find a geological wonder called Natural Tunnel that is still used by trains today as a way to more easily maneuver through the mountains. Further up I-81 and you will find Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, a place which serves up a legend with a view as well as a cozy mountain lake beach. Finally, just east of Abingdon you’ll find some of the best views in the Southeast from the peaks of Grayson Highlands.
Another stunning natural masterpiece lies on the Kentucky-Virginia State line about 4 hours from Knoxville. Breaks Interstate Park boasts the nickname, “The Grand Canyon of the South.” You can enjoy this deep gorge from a variety of overlooks high above the canyon or hike down into it. The park also features a lodge, restaurant, large campground and picnic facilities.
Of course there are no shortages of great state parks right here in Tennessee. The “Best in the Nation” parks offer a wide variety of places to spend your time. From the rustic and rural, to urban and unique the system gives you a chance to explore the Volunteer State in a unique way (Just ask Jack and Nancy McEntee who just finished visiting all of Tennessee’s State Parks.)
One of the crowning jewels of the system is Fall Creek Falls, famous for its waterfalls and its deep gorge, lake and miles of hiking trails. At Cumberland Mountain State Park near Crossville you will find one of the largest masonry projects ever constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Norris Dam State Park, Big Ridge, Cove Lake, and Standing Stone also stand as monuments to this kind of “nation” building.
Tennessee State Parks also help you find answers to a number of other questions like “Where do you find a mall that is a State Park,” “Why don’t we speak French in East Tennessee,” and “How did an engineering accident lead to the creation of one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Tennessee?”
With so many choice, it might be difficult to figure out where to start. Your Knoxville Day Trips Examiner has visited dozens of state parks in and around Knoxville. Many of them are covered in more detail by clicking on the links within this story or clidking on the State Parks tag on the side. Be sure and head out to a state park soon, who knows what treasures you will find.
For more information on state parks check out these websites.
Tennessee State Parks
Kentucky State Parks
Virginia State Parks