With summer just around the bend, the next few months will be brimming with warm, sunny weekends begging you to get out in nature. And you don’t have to change time zones and trek all the way to the Appalachian Mountains to find a scenic hike—Middle Tennessee has plenty to explore, from woods and waterfalls, to rivers and ridges, to wildflowers and wildlife.
Here’s a list of 20 great hikes less than 2 hours from Nashville, arranged from nearest to farthest away. Some are right in our backyard, and others are just a short road trip from the city.
So fill your canteen, pack some snacks, lather on the sunscreen. Then grab a friend, loved one, pet, or just your awesome self, and get hiking!
***Disclaimer: All time calculations were estimated by Google Maps on a random Saturday mid-morning in May, with the starting point set to downtown. Travel time is subject to change if you use the speed limit as a mere suggestion or have a run-in with Nashville’s fickle friends: construction and traffic.***
Just 9 miles southwest of downtown, Percy Warner Park seems like part of the city until you immerse yourself in its green forests. Mossy Ridge Trail, the longest trail in the park, is a moderately strenuous 4.5-mile loop that winds through Tennessee hardwoods, exposed limestone, gurgling creeks, and even a small waterfall. Trail runners are particularly grateful for its gradual elevation changes.
Due south of downtown, Radnor Lake (along with Percy Warner Park) is probably the most popular destination for nearby nature among Nashvillians. Protected as a Class II Natural Area, it is a haven for wildlife, and its variety of well-groomed trails offers everything from flatter paths to steeper, rocky climbs through the forests. The Ganier Ride Loop + Lake Trail is a 4.5 mile easy to moderate loop that combines higher elevation panoramic views with trails along the lake’s edge and through the wooded hills.
Beaman Park is a 1,700-acre piece of land that shelters tons of plant and wildlife species (from deer to owls to salamanders) in its rugged terrain, and is perfect for those who favor seclusion and the rustlings of animals over large crowds. Thick forests shade hills and steep slopes, and cool streams course through its valleys and hollows. Its 1.5-mile Ridge Top Trail is a relatively short hike that takes advantage of the park’s elevation, winding on and off its southern ridge and offering picturesque views of the valley and Little Marrowbone Creek.
An underused natural area along the eastern edge of Percy Priest Lake, Long Hunter State Park has space for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boating, swimming, and fishing, and also encompasses 25 miles of easy-to-moderate hiking paths among 12 different trails. The 5.5-mile Volunteer Trail is a fairly flat path which hugs the lake for a couple miles and terminates at a backcountry campground. It’s a great choice for a not-too-strenuous weekend camping trip, and when you hike back to the trailhead the next morning, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the rocky bluffs, mossy hillsides, tall trees, spring wildflowers, and lakeside views all over again.
Known more for its kayak and tube access to the meandering Harpeth River, Harpeth River State Park also offers a wide range of trails and opportunities for learning about the area’s history. Near the park entrance, you can take a half-mile dizzyingly steep trail up to a bluff that overlooks the river valley, or another half-mile trail that leads to the site of Montgomery Bell’s Pattison Forge, where you can inspect the oldest water diversion tunnel in the country, carved through the thick limestone by slaves in 1818. For a lightly-trafficked trail, take the 2-mile Hidden Lake Double Loop through wildflower-carpeted meadows and forests, along grand bluffs, and past a tranquil lake.
30 miles east of downtown, Cedars of Lebanon is a 900-acre park named for the eastern red cedar forests and glades found throughout the area, and is also home to exotic plants found nowhere else in the world. There are picnic areas with grills, 117 campsites, and even a disc golf course. The most popular hike is Hidden Springs Trail, an easy 4.2-mile trail for any skill level that curves through dense cedars and over a rushing creek. Keep your eyes peeled for foxes, deer, and wild turkeys.
Montgomery Bell State Park lies 35 miles west of Nashville, and was once the center of the lucrative iron industry in Middle Tennessee. It has 19 miles of trails, including plenty of easy day hikes, but the grandfather of them all is the Montgomery Bell Trail, a 10.4-mile circle around the entire park that is ideal for those looking for a longer hike and overnight camping. You can bring your dog (as long as it’s on a leash) and can cool off in the creeks and lakes along the trail.
Bledsoe Creek State Park is a smaller yet heavily-trafficked park to the northeast with a max trail length of 2.1 miles, but those trails range from easy, ADA-accessible routes all the way to difficult wild treks through forest. The moderate Bledsoe Creek State Park Loop Trail is the longest option, with extensive views of Old Hickory Lake. The area is beloved by birdwatchers, so be sure to look up!
Located just east of Columbia, TN, the 2,000+ acre Duck River complex is bursting with natural beauty and opportunities to explore. A great option is the Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail, which is only 2 miles long and kid-friendly, and meanders along the bluffs overlooking Duck River. A special attraction is the 100-foot passageway through a limestone cave that takes you to the base of a bluff near the river.
1 hour, 9 minutes
Bearwaller Gap Trail lies 60 miles east of Nashville, and is a challenging out-and-back hike that offers gorgeous views of the Cordell Hull Lake. At 9.8 miles long, and with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, this trail is rated as difficult and is for those with endurance who are looking for a good cardio workout! Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and maybe a walking stick.
1 hour, 17 minutes
Short Springs Natural Area is just north of Tullahoma, TN, and encompasses 420 acres of forested slopes of mountain laurel, oak-hickory, and sycamore, plus wildflowers, ravines, springs, and wet weather seeps. The 1.6-mile, moderate Machine Falls Loop Trail descends past black Chattanooga shale, and leads to Machine Falls, a cascading waterfall more than 60 feet and nearly as wide.
1 hour, 22 minutes
At less than an hour and a half away from the city, Cummins Falls State Park is a popular weekend destination for those looking to cool off in its picturesque 75-foot waterfall, the eighth tallest is the state. Cummins Falls Trail is easy-to-moderate and only a little over a mile long. However, to swim in front of the waterfall, you must make a steep descent down the slippery gorge, passing over uneven terrain and obstacles like boulders, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes and watch your balance.
1 hour, 30 minutes
The Sewanee Perimeter Trail is a 20-mile, fairly even trail that winds around a plateau, offering scenic views of the rolling hills and bluffs which surround the University of the South. It’s comprised of 10 different trails, which allow you customize the length of your hike, and is also used by trail runners and mountain bikers.
1 hour, 34 minutes
Greeter Falls is located on the western edge of the Savage Gulf Natural Area, and you can access it by the Greeter Falls Loop, a 1.6-mile, moderately-trafficked trail that involves a spiral staircase during the final descent to the waterfall. Just be sure to time your hike during the spring or after a good rain, or you may describe the waterfall as “trickling” instead of “rushing.”
1 hour, 39 minutes
Rock Island State Park’s 883 acres of rugged beauty offers some of the most scenic overlooks, well-maintained trails, and largest waterfalls in the state. Located at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky rivers, the park contains 10 waterfalls, including the 30-foot Great Falls next to a historic cotton mill, and the towering 80-foot Twin Falls. The Collins River Loop trail takes you by both, and is a fairly easy 3.1 miles through woods and along rivers.
1 hour, 45 minutes
Along the Tennessee-Alabama border, the Walls of Jericho is a massive, idyllic tract of land that offers steep backpacking around limestone canyons, woods, mountains, hollows, caves, rivers, and especially the 200-foot sheer rock walls of the natural amphitheater that gives the place its name. The Walls of Jericho Trail is a 6-mile, difficult, moderately-trafficked trail that goes past a narrow waterfall and into the enveloping stone amphitheater. Fun fact: Davy Crockett used to hunt here!
1 hour, 48 minutes
Part of South Cumberland State Park, the Fiery Gizzard Trail is a 12.5-mile long one-way trail near Monteagle, TN that joins Grundy Forest to Foster Falls. (And if we were giving an award out for “best trail name,” it would steamroll the competition.) The terrain is incredibly varied and fairly difficult, passing through huge rock formations, rushing streams, waterfalls, gorges, verdant woods, and sweeping overlooks. If you get overheated, take a dip in Fiery Gizzard Creek.
1 hour, 48 minutes
Savage Gulf Natural Area is a sprawling 15,590-acre wilderness that offers breathtaking vistas, sandstone cliffs, pristine woods, waterfalls, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. One of the most challenging hikes is the Hobbs Cabin Loop, which at 17.6 miles—9.4 miles in, 8.2 miles out—will burn your thighs from distance alone. But it provides excellent solitude, and the reward is a historic cabin you can use for backcountry camping. (Just be sure not to imbibe any adult beverages at the picnic tables—not even the grownup version of apple cider—or you may be kindly escorted out of the park by a dutiful park ranger. Or so I’ve been told.)
1 hour, 56 minutes
At just under 2 hours east of Nashville, Ozone Falls sneaks in toward the end of our list, and for good reason. It preserves the mesmerizing 110-foot Ozone Falls, as well as the gorge along Fall Creek. The moderate 1.3-mile Ozone Falls Trail takes you through lush oak and pine forests to near the base of the sandstone bluff and waterfall, but you’ll need to descend the steep bluff to swim in the blue pool at the waterfall’s base. This area is pretty heavily trafficked due to its proximity to the highway, but don’t let that deter you from its wild beauty.
2 hours, 6 minutes
Whoops—this one clocks in at just over two hours away, but close enough! It’s definitely worth the extra few minutes. Fall Creek Falls State Park covers a spectacular 26,000 acres of hardwood forests, waterfalls, gorges, cascades, and streams, with the crown jewel being the towering 256-foot Fall Creek Falls. If you only have time for one hike, make it Fall Creek Trail, which is a 2.2-mile moderate loop that takes you to the base of this majestic waterfall. Keep in mind the park offers more than 34 miles of trails, including two long overnight trails for the more adventurous hiker. Near Spencer, TN, it is the state’s largest and most visited state park, and Southern Living magazine readers even once rated it the best state park in the southeastern United States.
So, have you gathered your snacks, water, and sunscreen yet? Do you have a road trip playlist ready and someone to share the experience with? Remember, these adventures are less than 2 hours away. The clock starts now!