Short Springs State Natural Area is just outside of Tullahoma and is popular for its abundance of spring wildflowers and beautiful waterfall hikes.
South Central Tennessee is home to some of the state’s most well-known adventures, from floating the Buffalo to biking the Natchez Trace. It also hosts some amazing hidden gems, like dozens of rushing waterfalls, five unique state parks and some of the Southeast’s best fishing spots, just to name a few. If you love outdoor adventure and you’ve never explored this region, here are eight reasons it belongs on your travel list, plus recommendations on what to see and do.
Easy Access to Many Waterfalls
In South Central Tennessee, hikers can easily reach an abundance of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. In the Short Springs State Natural Area, the Machine Falls Trail takes you on a 1.6-mile loop to visit a cascading waterfall that’s breathtaking after heavy rain. Though the hike is short, parts of the trail are narrow and rocky, presenting an exciting challenge on the descent to the falls. Near Columbia, Stillhouse Hollow Falls is a beautiful plunging waterfall along a 1-mile loop trail. The path is well-maintained, featuring stairs and bridges for an easy approach to the top and bottom of the falls. Another great option for a quick waterfall hike is a trip to Rutledge Falls near Tullahoma. A short, easy trail will take you to the top of the falls, and a set of natural stone steps will lead you down to the base for an even better view.
Natchez Trace Biking is a Bucket-List Adventure
The 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is a designated bike route and international cycling destination. The scenic highway stretches from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and offers bike-friendly amenities like campgrounds, hotels, restrooms and posted signs. Along the way, cyclists will experience some of the most beautiful scenes of the Southeast, from rolling farmland to peaceful forests and lovely views at every turn. While many cyclists choose to complete the entire route on multi-day bike touring trips, the glory of the Natchez Trace can also be enjoyed in shorter segments and day trips.
A less traveled but equally gorgeous paddling option is the Duck River.
World-Class Canoeing and Paddling
This Southeast is blessed with rivers that are ideal for canoeing, and one of the most popular canoe trips is a float down the Buffalo River, which flows 125 miles through west and middle Tennessee. There are several companies that offer canoe rentals and shuttle services, making it easy to hop in a canoe and spend a care-free day on the Buffalo. A less traveled but equally gorgeous paddling option is the Duck River, known for its variety of aquatic life. The river is considered a hotspot for fish and muscle diversity, and supports more than 500 species of plants and animals. Perhaps the most peaceful paddling can be found on the Elk River, which is perfect for a multi-day boat trip in a pristine waterway where you’ll spy blue herons and river otters.
Wonderful State Parks
South Central Tennessee is home to five state parks with expansive trail systems, thriving lakes and streams, and fascinating relics from the region’s early history. At Tims Ford State Park, the central focus is Tims Ford Lake, which is a prime destination for paddling, fishing and swimming. The park also boasts nearly 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, along with pontoon boat rentals for big days on the water. If it’s history you’re looking for, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is the perfect place to start. The park’s main hiking trail follows the wall of the Old Stone Fort, a structure used by Native Americans as a ceremonial gathering place 2,000 years ago.
If you love to fish, head to Mousetail Landing State Park on the eastern banks of the Tennessee River. You’ll find no shortage or river access points and healthy populations of bass, bream and catfish. When the weather turns warm, David Crockett State Park’s Shoal Creek is another top spot for boating and swimming. In the park you can also hike 8 miles of trails that explore an attractive hardwood forest and visit the occasional waterfall. Flowing through Henry Horton State Park, the Duck River provides more opportunities for swimming and fishing, while hikers and birders can enjoy more than 9 miles of trails.
An Angler’s Paradise
In South Central Tennessee, anglers focus much of their energy on area rivers and streams, but you’ll also find great fishing holes at a number of lakes. Located near Tullahoma, Normandy Lake is an enormous reservoir that’s favored for boat fishing for bass and crappie. Just outside of Columbia, the four Williamsport Lakes are ideal for catching largemouth bass, and offer amenities like launch ramps, fishing piers and boat rentals. For a worry-free family fishing experience, spend a day at Big Whiskers Catfish Farm, a privately owned fishing pond known for its gigantic catfish and weekly fishing tournaments.
If it’s history you’re looking for, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is the perfect place to start.
Great Places to Camp
Whether you prefer well-equipped campgrounds or primitive tent sites, you can find your ideal spot in South Central Tennessee’s parks and nature preserves. The Natchez Trace Wilderness Preserve offers more than 600 campsites, from full-hookup RV sites and cabins to primitive tent areas. For a truly unique outdoor experience, spend a night at Kelso Canoe and Camping on the Elk River, which offers treehouse camping in additional to regular campsites and cabins. Each of the region’s five state parks also offer camping options like group campsites, RV hookups and cabin rentals.
Parks and Walking Trails Around Every Corner
Aside from region’s many miles of state park hiking trails, South Central Tennessee has appealing paths that wind through community parks and other natural areas. Buford McCord Park in Hickman County is a community park with walking trails, picnic areas and a playground, perfect for a family day outdoors. Located just outside of Tullahoma, Short Springs State Natural Area is popular for its abundance of spring wildflowers and beautiful waterfall hikes. Another notable destination is Walls of Jericho State Natural Area, which is known for a large natural amphitheater enclosed by sky-high rock walls.
Plentiful Food & Drink Options
After a full day of paddling, hiking or fishing, nothing beats sitting down to a delicious meal or a cold beverage. If you prefer craft beer, drop by Ole Shed Brewing Company in Tullahoma and enjoy a Haystack IPA in a friendly atmosphere. For handcrafted sandwiches in a truly unique setting, stop in any time of day or night at The Yellow Deli in Pulaski, or swing through Uncle Sonny’s in Shelbyville for some of the best barbecue in the region. At Cahoots Restaurant in Fayetteville you can sit down to a great meal in a historic jailhouse and even get your picture snapped behind bars. For a hearty dinner in an eclectic space, don’t pass up a visit to Junkyard Dog in Winchester for seafood, steak and all the fixings.
Whether you’re in the mood for a gentle paddling trip, an exciting waterfall experience or an afternoon casting out lines, South Central Tennessee has the perfect outdoor experience for you and your family. And with plenty of places to camp out under the Southeastern stars, it’s easy to turn your visit into a multi-day adventure. While we’ve provided eight reasons to visit, you’ll no doubt discover dozens more during your own journey.