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Five Must-Do Magical National Natural Wonders in Tennessee

1. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Located in northeastern Tennessee (and southeastern Kentucky), about 70 miles northwest of Knoxville, this recreation area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries, and encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, boasting miles of scenic gorges, sandstone bluffs, and natural bridges. In addition to all the natural wonders, the former mining community of Blue Heron has been preserved, and Charit Creek Lodge, a wilderness lodge, is available, but accessible only by trail. The region contains more than 360 miles of horse and hiking trails, and more than 500 miles of ATV trails (many former logging roads). Five campgrounds offer varying degrees of campsites, with one equestrian (Station Camp) and one developed camp (Bandy Creek) in Tennessee. In terms of hiking, consider Angel Falls Overlook (6 miles RT), Angel Falls Rapids (4 miles RT), Blue Heron Loop (6.4 mile RT), Charit Creek (3 miles RT), Grand Gap Loop (7 miles RT), Slave Falls Loop (3.2 miles RT), and Yahoo Falls Loop (1.2 miles RT). For more information, four visitor centers are in Tennessee: Bandy Creek (Oneida), Crossville, Rugby, and Helenwood. Be sure to visit the adjacent Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, which lies within the 19,200-acre Pickett State Forest, and features exhibits on the contributions of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Learn more at: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

2. Cherokee National Forest. Located in Eastern Tennessee, stretching from Chattanooga to Bristol along the North Carolina border in two sections, one north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and one south. The 650,000+-acre forest established in 1920 is the largest tract of public land in the state, and lies in the heart of the Southern Appalachian mountain range, one of the world's most diverse areas -- and home to more than 20,000 species of plants and animals. The forest adjoins other national forests in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, and contains 11 named wilderness areas, including; Bald river Gorge, Big Frog, Big Laurel Branch, Citico Creek, Chohutta, Gee Creek, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, Little Frog Mountain, Pond Mountain, Sampson Mountain, and Unaka Mountain. Both the Tellico and Ocoee Rivers run through the forest, as does portions of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the John Muir Recreation Trail, and abuts the Watauga and Wilbur Reservoirs. The Unicoi Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Province of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, are within the forest. Finally, there are campgrounds, camping areas, and primitive camping throughout most of the forest. Other trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking exist and/or are being developed. Learn more at: Cherokee National Forest.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in part of the Blue Ridge Mountains of eastern Tennessee (and western North Carolina), which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain, about 35 miles southeast of Knoxville, this most-visited national park encompasses 522,419 acres of lush forests, streams and rivers, waterfalls, and an abundance of wildflowers that bloom year-round. The park's (Tennessee) main entrance is located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road), outside of Gatlinburg. Visitors flock to the park for wildflowers and waterfalls, amazing fall colors, exploring historic buildings, observing wildlife, horseback-riding, hiking, fishing, camping, picnicking, and simply touring by car. Some of the most popular hikes include: Charles Bunion, Alum Cave Bluffs, Andrews Bald, Rainbow Falls, and Chimney Tops. Consider hiking to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak, which offers scenic views of the surrounding landscape. A visit would be incomplete without stopping in Cades Cover, a beautiful valley that offers great opportunities for viewing wildlife, as well as a collection of restored 18th and 19th century buildings, including three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and other structures. Hike to Abrams Falls and walk the Cades Cove Nature Trail -- or simply stay in your vehicle and take the 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove. Learn more at: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

4. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Located in north-central Tennessee (and southern Kentucky) between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, about 100 miles northwest of Nashville, this 170,000-acre peninsula includes forests (one of the largest blocks of undeveloped forest in the eastern U.S.), wetlands, open lands, and 300 miles of natural shoreline. It's a great place to camp, picnic, hike, fish, hunt, and see wildlife (including 240 species of birds) -- not to mention the water sports. Visitors will even find a herd of elk and bison in a habitat restoration area. There are trails for everyone, including 261 miles of hiking trails, 106 miles of horse trails, 70 miles of mountain biking trails, 100 miles of off-road vehicle trails, and almost 450 miles of scenic roads (with wildlife viewing areas). Also included are 14 camping areas with lake access, and 1,400 camping sites altogether, as well as 26 boat ramps. The main hub is the Golden pond Visitor Center (in Kentucky), which includes exhibits and movies -- as well as the Planetarium, which offers a variety of space-related shows for a small fee. An Observatory hosts free star parties at dusk from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Finally, spend time in the Nature Station, a 8,500-acre nature-watch-area nestled in the woods between Honker and Hematite Lakes, as well as the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum. Learn more at: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

5. Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. Located in northwest Tennessee, about 100 miles west of Nashville and 70 miles northeast of Jackson, on and around Kentucky Lake, visitors will find 51,000+ acres of forests, farmlands, and grasslands that stretch for 65 miles along the Tennessee River. Established in 1945 and broken into three management units (Big Sandy, Duck River, and Busseltown), it was originally created as a protected area for migratory birds -- with some 306 species of birds recorded within its borders. But the refuge is also home to 51 species of mammals (including deer, foxes, beaver, rabbits, and turkeys), 89 reptiles and amphibians, and 144 fish. Opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, and photography abound. The visitor's center is located in Springville. For hikers: Britton Ford Hiking Trail (2.5-mile, moderate) and Chickasaw National recreation Trail (1.2-mile, easy). For drivers: Blue Goose Blvd. Interpretative Drive: A 3-mile drive with interpretive signs and wildlife viewing opportunities. The refuge also has four wildlife observation decks and multiple boat ramps and fishing decks. Learn more at: Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge.

To see a list of all the national natural parks, monuments, and forests in Tennessee, go to our sister site, EmpoweringParks.com: Tennessee Natural Park Wonders.

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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