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Five Marvelous Hikes for Nature Viewing/Photography in Tennessee

1. Abrams Falls Trail (Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Located in Cades Cove, an isolated valley on the western edge of the park, about 35 miles southeast of Gatlinburg, this 5-mile (RT) trail is considered moderate in difficulty, but sometimes dangerous. You'll enjoy many scenic overlooks and two types of forests as you hike: a pine and oak forest as you hike the ridges and a hemlock and rhododendron forest as you hike along the creek, as well as the opportunity to witness deer, elk, fox, and black bears. While the waterfall at the end of the hike is only 20 feet in elevation, it more than makes up for its height in sheer volume of water -- along with the beautiful and deep pool that water falls into. Both the falls and the creek are named after a local Cherokee chief named Oskuah, who later adopted the name Abram. To reach the trailhead, drive about 5 miles along the Cades Cove Loop Road, past stop #10 and just after crossing Abrams Creek, turn right onto a gravel road until you reach the parking area and a wooden footbridge that marks the beginning of the trail. After crossing the bridge, follow the main trail to the left; the trail to the right leads to the historic Elijah Oliver Place, a preserved homestead in the park. No pets are allowed on the trail -- and expect the hike to take 3-4 hours.

2. Bays Mountain Fire Tower Loop. Located in northeast Tennessee, near the Virginia state line, just outside of Kingsport, you'll find this trail within the 3,550-acre city-owned nature park, which also features a 44-acre lake (dammed in 1917, and once used to supply the city's drinking water), nature center with state-of-the-art planetarium, adventure ropes course with zip line, and animal habitats (featuring wolves, bobcats, raptors, and reptiles). The 5.6-mile loop trail to the fire tower is worth the hike, but you'll find 40 miles of trails throughout the park, including Laurel Run, Floating Bridge, Bays Ridge, Lakeside, and Pretty Ridge Trails. For mountain bikers, 26 miles of trails are open for either hiking or biking. While in the area, also check out nearby Laurel Run Park (a county park with Laurel Run Falls and Kiner Creek Falls) and Warriors Path State Park (a 950-acre park on the shores of the Patrick Henry Reservoir on the Holston River, and home to Duck Island, and swimming, boating, fishing, golfing, hiking, and internationally-renowned mountain bike trail system).

3. Benton Falls Trail (Cherokee National Forest). Located southeastern Tennessee, in the Chilhowee Recreation Area, about 60 miles east of Chattanooga, the 3-mile (RT) is an easy walk to see a 65-foot falls tumbling down a steep rock face. From Highway 64, take NFSR-77 (which is about 7 miles east of the 64/411 intersection), and drive about 7+ miles to the Chilhowee Day Use Area, enjoying the scenery as you go. The trailhead is near the swimming area of McKamy Lake, a 7-acre lake that was built around the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and is popular for swimming, fishing, sunbathing, canoeing, and picnicking. Once on the trail, the way to the falls is downhill, with a final descent into the gorge at the base of the falls. If camping, the Chilhowee Campground has more than 70 campsites (some with electric hookups) and sits atop Chilhowee Mountain. Also consider visiting the 1,930-acre Parksville Lake/Ocoee River, the oldest lake in the Cherokee National Forest, created by the Tennessee Rural Electric Company in 1910-11 (and now controlled by the TVA), as well as Rock Creek Falls, about 5 miles east on Highway 64. Finally, consider driving the Ocoee Scenic Byway.

4. Burgess Falls Trail. Located on the Falling Water River, 8 miles outside of Sparta, in central Tennessee, about 80 miles east of Nashville, and found within the 350-acrea Burgess Falls State Park, visitors will find not one, but four waterfalls. The moderate 1.5 mile trail takes hikers to the 20' cascades, 30' upper falls, 80' middle falls, and 136' lower falls in height. A steep trail leads to the edge of the falls; a staircase down into the gorge is closed indefinitely. You can continue on the half-mile Ridge Top Trail, which is quite scenic, with views down the main canyon of Falling Water River. While there, consider a short (7 mile) drive to Widow Cliffs, a 275-acre state natural area that opened in 2017, and which contains a clifftop feature that you can hike to consisting of a very narrow, elongated ridge that lies in the neck of a incised meander of Cane Creek. No camping is allowed in either park, but cabins and campsites can be found nearby at Standing Stone State Park, Rock Island State Park, Edgar Evins State Park, and Catoosa Wildlife Management Area. Also check out Cummins Falls State Park, as well as Cove Hollow and Hurricane Bridge Recreation Areas.

5. Fiery Gizzard Trail. Located just outside Tracy City, 45 miles northwest of Chattanooga in southeastern Tennessee, this 12.5-mile (one-way) trail connects Gundy Forest with Foster Falls, and has been recognized as one of the top 25 trails in the U.S. Start at the Grundy Forest Pavilion, a recreation of an old Civilian Conservation Corps pavilion in the Grundy Forest. Along the way, you'll see spectacular rock formations, cascading creeks and streams, beautiful waterfalls (including Sycamore Falls), rocky gorges, panoramic overlooks, and lush woodlands (filled with ancient hemlocks). Located within the 25,539-acre South Cumberland State Park, which has lots of hiking and backcountry camping opportunities, including: The Great Stone Door (an impressive cliff line overlooking the Savage Gulf), Carter Natural Area (part of an 18,000-acre enclosed-valley sinkhole named Lost Cove), Sewanee Natural Bridge (a sandstone arch that overlooks Lost Cove), and Grundy Lakes (a series of four lakes offering swimming, fishing, hiking, and picnicking). While the park is enough on its own, while in the area, also check out the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park (an 844-acre historic area that includes the remnants of a 50-acre hilltop structure built by Native Americans 2,000 years ago and three beautiful waterfalls -- Step, Blue Hole, and Big Falls), as well as Prentice Cooper (24,686-acre, with 35 miles of hiking trails) and Franklin (7,737-acre) State Forests.


Bonus: Rail-Trails Highlights: Take a hike or bike ride on the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail (also known as the Ashland City Rail-Trail), located in Ashland City, about 25 miles northwest of Nashville, in northcentral Tennessee, partly along the railbed of the old Tennessee Central Railroad. This 6.7-mile trail starts at Mark's Creek Hill Road in Ashland City and ends at Cheatham Dam Road at Cheatham Lake, and is about half paved and half hard-packed gravel. Along the trail, you'll encounter six original trestles, lively streams and waterfalls, and travel across misty wetlands and wildlife refuges (Dyson Ditch and Pardue Pond) and atop jagged bluffs along the Cumberland River. There are plans to add four additional miles to the trail. While in the area, consider checking out the Cheatham State Wildlife Management Area.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

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