The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Tennessee

From magnificent mountains to gorgeous lakes, these are natural wonders of Tennessee.

Big River Crossing
Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Big River Crossing
Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Big River Crossing

With three distinct regions ranging from the flat Mississippi Delta in the west to the rolling, grassy hills of Middle Tennessee to the impressive mountains of the east, Tennessee offers a variety of topography that makes road-tripping even more interesting (if you can get your eyes off your phone for a few minutes). Roll down the windows and experience the beauty of the state as you travel to any of these lovely sites and sights. Whether you want to get out and hike in the great outdoors or experience it all through the windshield of your car, there’s something for everyone.

The mighty Mississippi River means a lot more to the state of Tennessee than just forming its western border. Through the centuries, goods and people have arrived in the state carried by riverboats, and the large city of Memphis is a prototypical river port town. Big River Crossing is the longest pedestrian bridge across the river along its entire 2300+ miles. Connecting Tennessee to Arkansas for walkers and bikers, it offers impressive views up and down the river and is lit up with 100,000 LEDs at night.

Roan Mountain State Park
Roan Mountain State Park

Roan Mountain
While some people think the sharp crags of the Rocky Mountains are more impressive, the rounded tops of Appalachian peaks reveal how much older they are geologically and how much history they have witnessed. Roan Mountain rises almost 6,300 feet above the Tennessee/North Carolina border, and the 2,000 acres of hardwood forest that surround it are home to crystal clear streams filled with native trout, abundant wildlife and fields of wildflowers that stretch out like a living Van Gogh painting in the spring. Particularly beautiful are the colorful rhododendrons that bloom in early summer.

Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain | Jeffrey M. Frank/Shutterstock

Just a short drive outside of downtown Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain features multiple overlooks of the city below and all sorts of kitschy fun attractions like Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the iconic “See Seven States” viewing platform. There’s even a special viewfinder installed by the Tennessee Department of Tourism with hi-tech lenses that allow colorblind visitors to experience the vibrant colors of fall foliage. Ride the impossibly steep Incline Railway to the top to discover that getting there can be half the fun.

Big South Fork, Tennessee
Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock

Named for the major tributary of the Cumberland River, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area covers almost 200 square miles along the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. Boasting many natural bridge and arch formations, an extensive system of hiking trails, and five developed campgrounds, Big South Fork has something to offer for adventurers at any level of experience looking to get out into the wild.

Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls | Jonathan Percy/Shutterstock

The gorgeous cataract is the tallest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi. Beautiful from above, the 256-foot tall falls is even more impressive after taking the hike down to the pool at its base. It’s worth the hike back up to the parking lot afterward, we promise

Smokey Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Carolyn Franks/Shutterstock

The most-visited national park in the United States draws more than 10 million tourists a year to marvel at close to a thousand square miles of dense forests and mountain ranges that exhibit remarkable biodiversity. Drive or hike through the park to one of many scenic overlooks to spy the beautiful fog-shrouded peaks that give the ancient mountains their name. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also one of the only National Parks that doesn’t charge an admission fee.

The Caverns
The Caverns | Lacee Tyler/Shutterstock

This cave complex outside the small town of Pelham just off of Interstate 24 is a dual threat. Not only does it host daily cave tours featuring a single room that’s longer than three football fields, giving the attraction its former name of Big Room Cave, but it’s also a premier performance venue. The Caverns hosts big-name music acts for memorable concerts that take advantage of the cavern’s unique acoustics, as well as concerts in an above-ground amphitheater where music fans can purchase socially- istanced pods of seats overlooking the sweeping vistas of Payne’s Cove below.

Cherohala Skyway
Cherohala Skyway | NaturalStock/Shutterstock

Tellico Plains
The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile stretch of elevated highway connecting Tennessee with North Carolina and features multiple overlooks offering views of the Unicoi Mountains and the two national forests through which it passes, the Cherokee and Nantahala forests that combine to give the skyway its name. A favorite of motorcyclists, the Cherohala is one of the greatest scenic drives in the region.

Clingmans Dome
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Bryson City
Visitors can literally look down on the state of Tennessee from this peak, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The observation tower is surrounded by a rare evergreen forest and affords a wraparound view that reaches 100 miles on a clear day. As a bonus, there aren’t many mountain tops where you can drive all the way to the apex and park your car a short walk along a paved trail to find breathtaking views like these.

The Lost Sea
The Lost Sea | gracious_tiger/Shutterstock

Tucked in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, The Lost Sea is the nation’s largest underground lake at almost 5 acres. Beautiful subterranean features such as stalactites, stalagmites and delicate crystal anthodites are visible as part of glass-bottom boat tours called the Lost Sea Adventure. Wild cave tours are also available for more intrepid spelunkers who want to go even deeper into the cavern.

Twin Falls
Twin Falls | Jim Vallee/Shutterstock

Rock Island
Rock Island was created when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Caney Fork River in the early 20th century to help provide hydroelectric power to Nashville. The resulting reservoir has steep wooded banks leading down to the lake with lots of generations-old vacation homes taking full advantage of floating boat docks and water activities. Twin Falls is a striking cascade near the powerhouse where water flows out of an underground cave before falling 80ft into a pool below.

Cades Cove
Cades Cove | Pat Shrader/Shutterstock

Cades Cove
Sometimes the valley can be just as beautiful as the mountains, and Cades Coves at the foothills of the Smokies is an excellent example. An 11-mile one way loop circles the cove offering the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty and abundant wildlife of the verdant valley without ever leaving the comfort of your car. There are also some cool historical sites along the loop, including three churches, a working grist mill and other restored centuries-old structures. Grab a self-guided tour booklet at the entrance and take a drive through history.

Flickr/J. P. Lu

Tellico Plains
Located where the Tellico River emerges from the Appalachian Mountains, Tellico Plains is a prototypical sleepy little mountain town with picturesque landscapes of rolling fields, ancient barns down below, and spectacular mountain views looming from above. With easy access to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest nearby, Tellico Plains is a lovely home base for a weekend of outdoor adventures.

Natchez Trace Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway | marekuliasz/Shutterstock

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile-long drive from Nashville to Natchez, MS. Although it’s slow going thanks to a 55 mph speed limit, it’s worth taking your time to enjoy the pastoral scenery and historical markers along the way that trace the history of the original inhabitants and settlers of the region. Particularly striking is the concrete double arch bridge across Highway 96 near Fly close to the northern terminus of the parkway. Acrophobics might want to close their eyes when crossing. (But not if you’re driving…)

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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer. If Nashville was the Love Boat, he’d like to think he’d be Julie, your cruise director. In truth, he’s probably more of a Gopher. Join him on the Lido Deck on Twitter @CeeElCee.