Get ready to explore some of the most beautiful and ethereal places the southern United States has to offer. The Volunteer State has some truly breathtaking secrets that will leave you speechless. Find your next hidden haven at one of these 16 surreal places in Tennessee you won’t believe exist.
This iconic rock that juts out from the side of Lookout Mountain is a popular destination that gets its name from an old Cherokee legend of two young lovers from feuding tribes. According to the story, one of the lovers was captured and thrown from the top of Lover’s Leap. Upon learning of her true love’s fate, the fair maiden Nacoochee jumped to her own death.
Don’t let the tragedy that surrounds this beautiful place deter you from taking in the incredible views. See the beautiful High Falls cascading down the rock wall and indulge in the gorgeous vistas of seven surrounding states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The binoculars available at the top of High Falls will give you the perfect view of the land.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
On the border of Tennessee and North Carolina is America’s most-visited national park: Great Smoky Mountain National Park. World renowned for its remarkable landscape, thriving and diverse wildlife, and preservation of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this park has no end to the wonders held within.
Enjoy a hike through Rainbow Falls, Chimney Tops, or Charlies Bunion, and be on the lookout for wild black bear as you trek through the famous forests. There are many trails to choose from, so the most difficult part of your trip will be deciding what natural wonders you want to see next! See it all at Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Protecting the the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River as well as 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is an incredible natural landscape boasting miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs. Take in all the beauty these historic lands have to offer, including flourishing wildlife, fields and prairies.
Beyond what is visible during daylight hours, a whole world of wonder awaits after nightfall as the grounds open up to dark sky education programs featuring a front-row seat to the Milky Way. The stars are never as bright as they are seen from the vantage point of Big South Fork. See for yourself this interstellar sensation.
Located on the same mountain as Lover’s Leap, travel beneath the lookout point for a truly spectacular view only nature can provide. This narrow hallway carved out of Lookout Mountain captures the sunlight in such a way that casts rainbows all over the stone walls.
It’s a colorful and mesmerizing display of perfect prisms—one which you’ll definitely want to make sure you catch on camera. Few natural features can compare to basking in the glow of your own personal rainbow cave. The real pot of gold at the end of this visit is all of the new followers you’ll get on Instagram after posting your pics.
Rock Island State Park
Featuring some of the most scenic and significant overlooks on the Eastern Highland Rim, Rock Island State Park offers visitors an unforgettable trip to see the Caney Fork Gorge below Great Falls Dam. Great Falls, a 30-foot horseshoe-shaped waterfall, is located right beneath a 19th century cotton textile mill, which it powered over 100 years ago.
From boating and hiking to camping and fishing, Rock Island State Park is your one-stop destination for outdoor fun and adventure. You’ll never want to leave this wild paradise once you set foot on one of the nine hiking trails along the gorge.
Burgess Falls State Park
Walk the same grounds that were home to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek Native American tribes at Burgess Falls State Park. Home to four magnificent waterfalls cascading from maximum heights of 136 feet, the powerful waters that flow through the Falling Water River used to power the nearby town of Cookeville.
See all four waterfalls in one glorious 1.5-mile round-trip hike on the River Trail/Service Road Loop. What this strenuous hike lacks in forgiving terrain it more than makes up for in breathtaking vistas that will stay with you for life. All of your hard work will be rewarded during this hiking excursion that’s sure to become your all-time favorite.
At the top of Signal Mountain and overlooking the Tennessee River is historic and beautiful Signal Point. Practically the only high ground in the area controlled by Union troops during the Civil War, Signal Point was used by soldiers to communicate with the outside world through a complex signaling system.
Now the area is home to popular hiking trails, including an access point for the Cumberland Trail, stretching hundreds of miles across the Cumberland Plateau. Take a walk in the shoes of a Union soldier as you take in the views and imagine what life must have been like on Signal Point during the 19th century.
The Minister’s Treehouse
The world’s largest treehouse lives in Tennessee and was commissioned by God Himself. Really—Tennessee resident, Horace Burgess, bought the wooded land on which the treehouse rests in the early 1990s. After spending years on the project, he ran out of lumber and enthusiasm and decided to turn his life over to God.
“And the spirit of God said, ‘If you build Me a treehouse, I’ll never let you run out of material,’” Horace claims. He proceeded to get ordained as a minister and went back to work for 11 years, creating what is now the largest treehouse in the world at 100 feet high, spanning around 10,000 square feet. While it’s not functional, the massive structure is a popular spot for people to go and marvel at its impressive size and snap a few pictures of the house God asked His minister to create.
Reelfoot Lake State Park
You’ve never experienced a state park as magical or surreal as Reelfoot Lake State Park. The 15,000-acre lake that is the park’s namesake was created by a series of violent earthquakes in 1811 – 1812 that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards. The natural marvel plays host to a thriving ecosystem and is well-known for its boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
The flooded forest features Majestic Cypress trees towering above the water, and a variety of aquatic plants and flowers line the shores for a truly picturesque landscape. You’ll even get the chance to see golden and American bald eagles during your visit here.
The Lost Sea
Did you know America’s largest underground lake is located right in the Volunteer State? It’s true! The Lost Sea, located deep inside a mountain near Sweetwater, Tennessee is part of the Craighead Caverns historic cave system. The hidden body of water is just one of the wonders that lie within the caverns’ confines.
About a mile from the cave’s entrance sits “The Council Room,” a giant room where Cherokee artifacts were found, including jewelry, arrowheads, pottery, and weapons. Among the cave’s first visitors was a giant Pleistocene jaguar whose 20,000-year-old journey through the cave can be tracked still to this day. The jaguar’s remains are even on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Experience the magic of Tennessee’s best-kept secret with a visit to the Lost Sea.
Along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail is Tricorner Knob—an impressive mountain that holds a shelter for thru-hikers in the Eastern Smokies. This amazing hiking spot offers visitors an incredible view of the Great Smoky Mountains and the famous Appalachian Trail.
This fairytale forest is the perfect escape for nature lovers, with dense spruce-fir trees and rolling mountains working together to provide a secret shelter to its inhabitants. Experience first-hand why so many flock to this point along the Appalachian Trail to enjoy the safe haven under its trees.
One of three gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains, Townsend’s historic village offers plenty in the way of impressive vistas and rich, local culture. For thousands of years, this little mountain town was home to Native American tribes whose contributions impact the area’s culture still to this day.
Known as the “peaceful side of the Smokies,” Townsend is a quiet town with a population that doesn’t even reach 500 people. The small town vibes in this mountain village are the real deal. Forget all about city life and soak up all the serenity Mother Nature has to offer in Townsend.
Located in Rock Island State Park is one of Tennessee’s most secret hiking destinations, Twin Falls. Hidden behind the old cotton mill just through the eastern entrance of the park, the Twin Falls trailhead doesn’t look like much when you first see it. But this easy-to-navigate trail is low on effort and high on reward.
Take your first steps onto the trail through a steep staircase in the forest and follow the river all the way to the waterfall on the left-hand side of the water. The hike won’t take you very long and doesn’t have any particularly dangerous or difficult terrain to navigate, so you can chase this waterfall all day long without a worry.
Crystal Shrine Grotto
Part cemetery memorial grounds and part inspirational living art piece, the Crystal Shrine Grotto is an impressive 60-foot deep man-made cave that serves to honor the dead and remind visitors that death is not the end of the journey. Located in the center of Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, the Crystal Shrine Grotto was developed after E. Clovis Hinds learned about the movement towards “park-like” memorial cemeteries in 1935.
Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez worked on the park design and the project was completed shortly after his death in 1955; however, the niche art displays seen throughout the park were not completed until the 1980s. The cave features five tons of natural crystals collected from the Ozark Mountains and hand-placed onto its walls and ceiling. A magnificent and deeply moving sight to behold, the Crystal Shrine Grotto is one of Tennessee’s most surreal and spiritual places.
At the gateway to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest lies Tellico Plains. This vintage mountain town is the epitome of southern beauty with its picturesque landscape featuring weathered barns, rolling farmlands and mountain ridges peeking through the distance.
A great place to go for anyone who’s up for an outdoor adventure, Tellico Plains offers visitors plenty of hiking, camping, picnicking, fishing and other nature-filled activities. Take in all that this small town has to offer with a trip to see the varied landscape and natural beauty of Tellico Plains.
Nestled in the greenery surrounding the lovely Factory Creek, Falls Mill is a historic site that used to operate as a cotton and wool factory in 1873. It was later adapted to be used as a cotton gin and later still as a woodworking shop and grist mill. The 32-foot waterwheel still powers machinery on four levels of the building, which now houses the Museum of Power and Industry, Inc.
This quaint and cozy, cottage-like mill is a beautiful spot where visitors will not only enjoy learning about the rich history of the United States’ power industry, but they can also stay at the Bed & Breakfast Log Cabin open year-round. There’s no heat in the mill building, so make sure you bundle up for your visit this winter!
Tennessee is home to some of the most amazing and ethereal places the southern United States has to offer. With our list in hand, the only thing you’ll have to worry about is which to visit first. Have a favorite spot in the Volunteer State that didn’t make the cut? Let us know about it in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what adventures you have at these 16 surreal spots.