Everyone has a different checklist for what makes a great hike. For some people, a hike is worthy if it leads to a gushing waterfall. For others, simply hearing a trickling stream nearby is magical. Some folks need a heart-pumping, quad-burning climb to feel satisfied, while a gentle stroll is far more enticing to others. Everyone goes outside for different reasons, and any one reason is as good as the next. Whatever you seek when you step into the outdoors, you’re sure to find it down one of the many trails in Northeast Tennessee. Here are 10 of the best hikes in the region to get you started on your perfect hiking adventure.
10. Blue Hole Falls
Tucked away in the Cherokee National Forest, just outside of Elizabethton, Blue Hole Falls might be one of the most easily accessible waterfalls in Northeast Tennessee. From the parking lot, you’ll follow a path only about a half-mile to reach the base of the falls, where a small blue hole offers a great spot to relax and cool off. On the final approach to the falls you’ll descend a steep staircase, so be prepared for some climbing on your return trip.
9. Point Lookout Loop Trail
For views of Cherokee Lake and the surrounding Cumberland Mountains, head to the Point Lookout Trail in Panther Creek State Park. This well-marked trail is just under 2 miles each way and travels through open forests and fields of mossy boulders. The trail grows steep at times, but the relatively short distance makes it manageable. Knowing that a gorgeous view awaits makes for great motivation during the climb.
8. Fire Tower Trail
This 5.6-mile loop in Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport uses two of the park’s many miles of beautiful trails. The path begins by winding through the animal exhibit and around Bays Mountain Lake, which was once the city’s reservoir. The hike is mostly easy and gradual, though the final push to the fire tower requires some effort. The benches at the top are perfect for a picnic with a view before completing the loop.
7. Lone Oak Trail
The Lone Oak Trail gets the prize for the shortest commute time. Located just 5 minutes from Johnson City in Buffalo Mountain Park, the trail offers one of several ways to reach the beautiful views of the city and surrounding area from the Tip Top overlook at 3,330 feet of elevation. The hike to Tip Top and back is about 4 miles total and includes some steep climbing. On your way up, you’ll encounter convenient picnic tables, some challenging switchbacks, and, if you visit at the right time, a lovely array of wildflowers. If you’re looking for a brief escape, this hike is a great option.
6. Cardens Bluff Trail
Circling through the Cherokee National Forest, the Cardens Bluff Trail is a 1-mile loop on the picturesque banks of Watauga Lake. While this trail is great for a quick hike, you’ll realize its true magic when you stay overnight at the Cardens Bluff Campground located along the trail. The spacious sites are just a short walk from the parking lot and offer fire pits, tables and stunning panoramic views of the sparkling lake.
5. Whitehouse Cliffs Trail
Located in the remote trail network of Rocky Fork State Park, the Whitehouse Cliffs Trail is known for its excellent views and summer wildflowers. From its apex at more than 3,000 feet of elevation, the trail offers sweeping views of the entire park and makes a great little picnic spot. This 3-mile round-trip hike starts alongside a creek on the Rocky Fork Trail and becomes more strenuous after the turn onto Whitehouse Cliffs Trail.
4. Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail
One of Northeast Tennessee’s longer day hikes, the Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail is about 9 miles round-trip and has just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Over the long course of the trail you’ll ascend gradually, making it a challenging but very attainable hike for many. Chances are you won’t have this trail to yourself, as its wildlife, wildflowers, and spectacular panoramic overlook make it a popular destination.
3. Flint Mill Trail
For an unparalleled view of the sprawling South Holston Lake, hop on the Flint Mill Trail in the Cherokee National Forest for a lung-busting 1,300-foot climb. Though this trail is short at only 2.5 miles round-trip, it packs a punch with a steep, scrambling ascent during the second half of the hike. The unobstructed vista from the top is worth the challenging approach, but don’t be fooled into thinking the descent will be easier. Take your time on the way back down and make the most out of this tough but very rewarding trail.
2. Margarette Falls Trail
The 1.2-mile hike to Margarette Falls (near Greenville) has it all—lush forest, moderate terrain, and a gorgeous waterfall to admire at the end. On this popular hike you’ll follow a babbling creek, and there are several crossings, so you’ll have good opportunities to cool off in the stream, and there’s a good chance your shoes or sandals will get wet. At the end of your walk you’ll reach the cascading Margarette Falls, which makes a 60-foot drop into a pretty pool. Keep in mind that the falls are more impressive after periods of rain.
1. Roan Highlands
Just outside of the tiny town of Roan Mountain, the Appalachian Trail winds through a breathtaking landscape of bald mountains, rhododendron forests and neverending vistas. From the parking area at Carvers Gap, your voyage into the Roan Highlands can be as long or short as you like. After walking less than a mile on the AT you’ll reach a beautiful perch atop Round Bald. From here, you can turn your adventure into an overnighter by making the 6-mile trip to Overmountain Shelter. For an even lengthier jaunt, follow the AT all the way to Hump Mountain for 9 miles of rolling hills and Appalachian bliss.
Remember to leave no trace, so adventures can last a lifetime.
Written by Madison Eubanks for RootsRated Media in partnership with Northeast Tennessee Tourism.