8. South Cumberland State Park: Raven’s Point Loop in Fiery Gizzard
Difficulty: moderate to challenging
With more than 90 miles of backpacking trails and a dozen campgrounds,South Cumberland State Park is a flora and fauna wonderland, and all just 50 miles from Chattanooga. For experienced backpackers, the strenuous 9-mile Big Creek Gulf and Rim offers staggering views of waterfalls and sinks, as well as a broad range of flora and deciduous forest birds. The 10-mile backcountry Raven’s Point Loop in the Fiery Gizzard Trail is a grab bag of eye-popping optics, including overlooks, waterfalls, sinks and springs. This trail leads hikers to some of the more remote sections of Fiery Gizzard. There are several shorter trails in the Fiery Gizzard area to add on, including the Sycamore Falls Loop—a moderate, 3-mile hike to the Sycamore Falls swimming hole. Even if it’s too cold to swim, the views of the falls are still worth the trip.
7. Cumberland Trail: Possum Creek Section
For a 10-mile hike that mixes things up, try to Possum Creek Section of Cumberland Trail, which alternates between steep, tough climbs, and serene flats. Using the Heiss Mountain trailhead, you’ll experience more than 1,000 feet in elevation gain over the first four miles alone, and be rewarded for it with two large waterfalls. Then, you’ll trek alongside a creek and through evergreen forests and hemlock groves. The word “green” doesn’t begin to cover it. Toward the end, there’s a bit of wading, but a campsite awaits just beyond that point where you can rest—and dry—your feet.