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National Parks in Tennessee

There are a number of national parks in the state of Tennessee. The largest park is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Smaller parks include national cemeteries.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

big south fork national river

Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities. Big South Fork offers two developed campgrounds, Bandy Creek Campground in Tennessee and Blue Heron Campground in Kentucky. Reservations are available at both campgrounds from April through October. A coal-mining town, Blue Heron Mining Company, operating from the 1930’s through the early 1960’s the site once abandoned is now an outdoor museum where the story of life in a company-mining town is told through the words of its former residents. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is located in the Oneida, Tennessee area.

Cherokee National Forest

cherokee national forest

Cherokee National Forest stretches from Chattanooga to Bristol along the North Carolina border. The 640,000-acre Cherokee National Forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee. It lies in the heart of the Southern Appalachian mountain range, one of the world's most diverse areas. These mountains are home to more than 20,000 species of plants and animals. Because of the Cherokee's majestic mountains, tumbling streams, and diverse vegetation, recreation opportunities are plentiful. There are 30 developed campgrounds, 30 picnic areas, 700 miles of trail, hundreds of miles of cold water streams, seven whitewater rivers, thousands of acres of dispersed opportunities, and an abundant populations of wildlife.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

fort donelson
Fort Donelson National Battlefield; image by Jeaneane Payne

February 14th, 1862 dawned cold and quiet. Early in the afternoon Foote’s Union gunboats arrived at Fort Donelson and began exchanging “iron valentines” with the Confederate heavy artillery. The gunboats suffered such damage that the decks became slippery with blood. The artillery bombardment from the Cumberland River bluff crippled the ironclads forcing them to retreat. Fort Donelson is located in Dover, Tennessee.

Fort Donelson National Cemetery

fort donelson national cemetery
Fort Donelson National Battlefield; image by Jeaneane Payne

In July 1862, Congress passed legislation giving the President of the United States the authority to purchase land for the establishment of cemeteries “for soldiers who shall die in the service of their country”. The legislation effectively began the National Cemetery system. In 1867, Fort Donelson Cemetery was established as the final resting for Union soldiers and sailors initially buried in the Fort Donelson area. The cemetery is located in Dover, Tennessee.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

great smoky mountains national park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park; image by Jeaneane Payne

Because of its world renowned diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker's paradise with over 800 miles of maintained trails ranging from short leg-stretchers to strenuous treks that may require backcountry camping. But hiking is not the only reason for visiting the Smokies. Car camping, fishing, picnicking, wildlife viewing and auto touring are popular activities. Some 1,600 bears live in the park. From the big animals like bears, deer, and elk, down to microscopic organisms, the Smokies have the most biological diversity of any area in the world's temperate zone. The park is a sanctuary for a magnificent array of animal and plant life, all of which is protected for future generations to enjoy. The National Park sits outside of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend.

Manhattan Project National Historic Park

The Manhattan Project tells the story about the people, events, science, and engineering that led to the creation of the atomic bomb, which helped end World War II. The project is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Natchez Trace Parkway

natchez trace parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway; image courtesy of Natchez Trace Travel

Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles long. It commemorates an ancient trail that connected southern portions of the Mississippi River, through Alabama, to salt licks in today's central Tennessee. Visitors can experience this National Scenic Byway and All-American Road through driving, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping. There are three campgrounds located on the Parkway. No reservations are required to camp at these primitive sites. Other campgrounds can be found along the Parkway corridor that offer full hookups. The Parkway is a designated bike route and is popular during the spring and fall. The heaviest use of the Old Trace was from 1800 to about 1825 by men, known as "Kaintucks," who floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and returned north on foot. But the stories of the Old Trace reach far beyond the early 1800s. They include Mound Builders, Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians, preachers, bandits, slaves, soldiers, settlers, and even Meriwether Lewis. The Parkway begins in the Franklin, Tennessee. area.

Obed Wild and Scenic River

obed river

The Obed Wild and Scenic River looks much the same today as it did when the first white settlers strolled its banks in the late 1700s. While meagerly populated due to poor farming soil, the river was a hospitable fishing and hunting area for trappers and pioneers. Today, the Obed stretches along the Cumberland Plateau and offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. Canoeing, kayaking and rafting bring many people to the Obed. The river includes three different difficulty classifications (II-IV), making it one of the best whitewater rivers in the eastern United States. The Obed's sandstone rock faces provide a challenging opportunity for experienced climbers, with several hundred climbing routes spanning through much of the park. Boulder climbing is also available along the Obed. The Obed is in Wartburg, Tennessee.

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

overmountain victory national historic trail

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail travels through VA, TN, NC & SC, retracing the route of patriot militia as they tracked down the British. Eventually the two forces clashed, ending in patriot victory at the battle of Kings Mountain. Each year the Overmountain Victory Trail Association conducts a two week long commemorative march along the route to trace the 1780 campaign. Highlights include special events and ceremonies, as well as opportunities to walk portions of the historic trace. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail ends at Kings Mountain National Military Park, site of the October 7, 1780 patriot victory. Administered by the National Park Service the public can visit this area to learn more of the outcome of the campaign, as well as its consequences. The trail runs through Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Shiloh National Cemetery

In July 1862, Congress passed legislation giving the President of the United States the authority to purchase land for the establishment of cemeteries "for the soldiers who shall die in the service of their country." This legislation effectively began the National Cemetery system. Shiloh National Cemetery was established in 1866 and has more than 3,500 Union graves. In 1933 responsibility of the cemetery was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service.

“No soldier who took part in the two day’s engagement at Shiloh ever spoiled for a fight again,” recalled one Union veteran. “We wanted a square, stand-up fight [and] got all we wanted of it.” Besides preserving the site of the bloody April 1862 battle in Tennessee, the park commemorates the subsequent siege, battle, and occupation of the key railroad junction at nearby Corinth, Mississippi. The cemetery is located in Shiloh, Tennessee.

Stones River National Battlefield

stones river national battlefield

The Battle of Stones River began on the last day of 1862 and was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Civil War. The battle produced important military and political gains for the Union, and it changed forever the people who lived and fought here. Stones River National Battlefield is located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Stones River National Cemetery

stones river national cemetery

The federal government established Stones River National Cemetery by means of an order issued by Major General George H. Thomas to Brigadier General Horatio Van Cleve on March 29, 1864. Assistant Quartermaster Captain John Means selected the site, designed the layout of the cemetery, and initiated the construction. The cemetery is located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

trail of tears trail tennessee
Museum on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail; image by Jeaneane Payne

This is a journey to remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people despite their forced removal from their homelands in the Southeastern United States in the 1840s. The museum is located in Vonore, TN. Interactive map

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