All National Parks and Units in Tennessee – Description, Map, Main Attractions

National parks in Tennessee state, USA

Tennessee is a state that is blessed with some truly amazing natural and historic attractions. Fortunately, many of the most impressive locations are protected, as national park, national scenic or historic trails, national historical parks, military parks or scenic rivers and recreational areas. Here is a brief guide to 16 national parks and units in alphabetical order.

Always remember to check warnings and current information on National Parks official website before you travel. If you think, that some information on this page is outdated please let us know in comments. Thank you.

Tennessee National Parks on the map:

1. Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States, serving between 1865 and 1869. At this National Historic Site and Cemetery, visitors can learn more about his presidency – which illustrated the US constitution at work after President Lincoln’s assassination and the attempts to reunify a nation that had been torn apart by Civil War. This site allows visitors to understand the man and the impact of his presidency on the American people and the course of US history.

2. Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a long-distance walk in the United States of America that is on many a person’s adventure bucket list. Thru-hiking this trail (walking it in one go from beginning to end) is seen as one of the foremost hiking challenges in the country and those who have hiked this trail along with the Pacific Crest Trail and Great Continental Divide Trail are said to have walked the ‘triple crown’ of American hiking. This is a challenge that only a few hundred people have accomplished.

The Appalachian Trail is around 2,200 miles long and extends between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The majority of the trail is through wilderness and forested areas.

You do not have to walk the entire trail, however, to get a taste of its splendor. Here in Tennessee, the trail runs through Tennessee for 94 miles, and along the border with North Carolina for an additional 160 miles, through the Smoky Mountains National Park. You will have the opportunity to traverse the highest mountains along the trail on this leg of the journey, including several with elevations of over 6,000 ft.

3. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

One final protected area to mention is this national river and recreation area which protects the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Here you can enjoy miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs as well as a range of other interesting and attractive natural features. The park encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, and offers opportunities for a wide range of outdoors recreation and outward bound activities. You can take a hike, ride a horse, go white water paddling, try a little rock climbing, or attend a special seasonal event. There is plenty to do here in these spectacularly scenic and unspoiled surroundings.

4. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Union and Confederate forces clashed at Chattanooga in 1863, at this location which was known as the ‘Gateway to the Deep South’. In nearby Chickamauga, in September of that year, the Confederates were victorious. But in November, renewed fighting in Chattanooga saw a Union victory, and Union Troops wrested control of the city, sounding what was referred to by a Confederate soldier as ‘the death-knell of the Confederacy’.

5. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Following the footsteps of animals and people through the ages is something you can do in many locations across the state. Perhaps one of the most astounding places to do so is at Cumberland Gap- the first great gateway into the West. Follow the buffalo, Native peoples, the longhunter and the pioneer who travelled along this route through the mountains into the wilderness of Kentucky as you explore the trails within this beautiful park.

Head for Mountain View to enjoy scenic vistas, gushing waterfalls, lush forest and an opportunity to enjoy the Appalachians up close. Explore historic cabins and pastoral landscapes at Hensley Settlement, high in the hills atop Brush Mountain. Or delve deep beneath the ground and explore the miles of subterranean passages of Gap Cave, where bizarre geological formations and strange speleological animals can be found. These are just some of the sights and attractions you can enjoy in this amazing national historical park.

6. Fort Donelson National Battlefield

General Ulysses S. Grant and his troops gained a Union victory here at Fort Donelson when, after fierce fighting, the Confederate Fort finally surrendered on Sunday February 16th 1862. This truly was the turning point in the Civil War. Within days of this Union victory, Clarksville and Nashville had fallen into Union hands and Grant and his troops had created a pathway to victory for the Union. Of course, Grant went on to become President in 1869.

See the Confederate Monument at Fort Donelson, and and Confederate River Batteries, see the Dover Hotel, where the momentous surrender took place, and visit the National cemetery, where you can find the resting place of Civil War veterans and veterans who have served the United States since that time.

7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This National Park is found on the border, straddling the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. It covers an area of 521,490.13 acres. Without a doubt, it is the crowning glory of the state, and is not only the most visited protected area in the state but also the most visited in the whole of the US. It is easy to get away from it all here on the parks 800 miles of trail.

Over ten thousand species of plant and animal life have been found in the park, so this is also the perfect place to come to see a wide variety of wildlife. The lush forests and blooming wildflowers, the mist-laden mountains, rushing rivers, wonderful waterfalls and murmuring streams all make for a natural idyll – the perfect escape for artists or for those who enjoy recreation in the great outdoors. If you only have time to visit one protected area during your time in Tennessee then this would be the one to choose.

On the peaks, shrouded in mists, and the dense forests, 1,500 black bears abide. Perhaps you will catch a distant glimpse of one of these grand mammals as you camp at one of the park’s campsites or hike along the famous trails that runs through the park. Perhaps you will see a black blur in the trees as you cycle or ride on horseback between the trees. Whatever you do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and whichever time of year you choose to visit, you will surely never fail to be enchanted by the majesty of nature.

8. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Those interested in history may also be fascinated by this park, which offers an insight into the Manhattan Project which led to the creation of the atomic bomb. The Oak Ridge Site here in Tennessee, which became the Oak Ridge Reservation, was the administrative and military headquarters for the Manhattan Project. Here, in this city and industrial complex in the hills of East Tennessee, more than 75,000 people were involved in industrial processes involving uranium enrichment and experimental plutonium production, and in building and running the infrastructure of the site. A bus tour of the three sites of industry on the reservation is included in the price of entry to the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.

9. Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail 

The Natchez Trace was a 450 mile walking trail that led through the Old Southeast. Today, visitors can walk in the footsteps of boatmen, native Americans, setters and slaves who walked on this important lifeline, on five 60 miles sections of glorious hiking trails, or drive the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Individual maps are available for each of the sections of this route and hiking trails. In Tennessee, you can explore the Highland Rim Section, which will lead you northwards past Gordon House Historic Site, the Water Valley Overlook and the Tennessee Valley Divide and into the National Park Service Land of the Historic Trace and Garrison Creek, where you can take a wonderful hike on the National Scenic trail.

10. Natchez Trace Parkway

Natchez Trace Parkway is perfect for driving and viewing historical sites. Along the road stops are available for hiking, camping, biking and even horseback riding. Road goes through 3 states and is about 444 miles.

11. Obed Wild & Scenic River

The Obed River stretches along the Cumberland Plateau. Its banks have changed little since the 1700s, when the first white settlers made their way here. The river retains its wild and scenic appearance largely due to the fact that the area around it had poor soil, of little use for farming. While the river itself provided an excellent fishing ground, and the area around was prime hunting ground for trappers and pioneers, the area remained scantly populated.

Today, this is a popular area for a wide variety of outward bound pursuits and recreational activities. Kayaking, canoeing and rafting are all popular seasonal activities, and rock climbing and boulder climbing are also popular pastimes in the park. Of course, this is still a great area for those who love to fish – home to a variety of bass, catfish, muskie, bluegill and more. There are also plenty of opportunities to hike here, with many trails of various lengths and difficulty levels around the park.

12. Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail follows the route of the patriot militia who crossed these peaks during the important Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. It stretches for 330 miles through Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Here in Tennesseee, you can follow the route on the Commemorative Motor Route, or leave your car behind and hike trails on foot.

In Tennessee, you can visit the location south of Bristol,Rocky Mount that was used by the patriot militia on September 24th, 1780, and pass Fort Womack to make your way to the Sycamore Shoals encampment, which they used on September 25th 1780, before heading for Shelving Rock encampment, which the militia used on September 26th 1780 before they began their long track over the Blue Ridge and passed over the border into North Carolina.

As you drive or hike along this historic trail, you can imagine the endurance of the patriots from Virginia and from what is now East Tennessee who crossed the Great Smoky Mountains and fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, and became known in the process as the Revolutionary War Overmountain men. Many of these men played prominent roles in the establishment of the states of Tennessee and Kentucky. The foothold they forged on the frontier helped open the door to mass westward migration in the following decades.

13. Shiloe National Military Park

Of all the epic struggles of the Western theater of the Civil War, this was the site of one of the most bloody clashes. Here at the Shiloh battlefield, nearly 110,000 American troops fought and there were 23,746 casualties – more casualties than in all of America’s previous wars combined. By visiting Shiloh National Military Park, to see the Shiloh and nearby Corinth battlefields, visitors can honor the many dead and learn more about the impact of this huge conflict on the men who fought here and on the nation.

14. Stones River National Battlefield

The Stones River battle was another of the bloodiest conflicts of the Civil War. Union and Confederate troops fought here in a clash that began on the last day of 1862. The battle resulted in significant military and political gains for the Union, and altered forever the lives of those who lived and fought here.

15. Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area

When visiting this historical area feel the America in it’s 1860-1875. The heritage area concentrates on eight major corridors: the Mississippi River, Cumberland River, Tennessee River, Louisville and Nashville Railroad, Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, East Tennessee Georgia and Virginia Railroad, Memphis and Charleston Railroad and the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad corridors. The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area was designated in 1996. It is managed by the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation. Source and more information on Wiki Page.

16. The Trail of Tears

The story of the Trail of Tears, as the name obviously suggests, is not a happy one. And yet it is important that it continue to be told. In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed by the US Congress, and various Indian tribes in the Southeastern United States were forced to give up their ancestral lands and move westwards, for federal territory located west of the Mississippi River. Most Native Americans fiercely resisted at first, but as the decade wore on, most of the major tribes capitulated.

The Cherokee were forced to move because a small faction of the tribe signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which was ratified in 1836. The Cherokee were divided into two opposing factions, with the vast majority bitterly opposed to the treaty signing.
In 1838, US Army troops forcibly removed more than 16,000 Cherokee people from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia. Orders were given to move the Cherokee west. The result was devastating.

On the Cherokee Trail of Tears, more than 1,000 died as they were forced westward. Hundreds more deserted from the detachments and an unknown number died as a consequence of the forced migration. It is a shocking and appalling moment in US history. After the relocation was completed in 1839, the Cherokee struggled valiantly to reassert themselves in new, unfamiliar territory. A proud and independent tribe, they are resilient and look to the future. But their tragic history is something that should be remembered by us all. Following the Trail of Tears in Tennessee is one way to honor them and to recognize horrors that should never be repeated.

Visited any of the above? Share your stories and photos in comments or send us an email. We will be happy to publish them on this website. Thank you!

2 thoughts on “All National Parks and Units in Tennessee – Description, Map, Main Attractions”

Leave a Comment