Surrounded by no fewer than three national forests to the south and east (plus the Great Smoky Mountains) Tennessee is a backpacker’s paradise, with a backcountry trip to suit every experience level. From the well-traveled trails of the most popular park in the nation to the lesser-known pathways of state parks and beyond, the home of country music seems to know what it’s singing about. After all, when it comes to natural spaces vast enough to explore for days on end, country is one thing the Volunteer State has in spades.
Big Ridge State Park
North of Knoxville,Big Ridge State Park is far smaller than many of its counterparts, checking in at a mere 3,687 acres, so you might not think of this as a backpacking option right away. But it’s 15 miles of trails ranging from beginner-friendly to genuinely challenging have three separate backcountry camping areas, as well as 50 year-round campsites, making it a great choice for a beginner backpacker. None of the trails here are overnight hikes, so you can mix and match any of its 12 options to customize a hike that suits your ability level. The most dramatic hike in Big Ridge is the rigorous Big Valley Trail, a 1.7-mile hike that includes a cemetery, an abundance of wildflowers in warmer months, and deep valley overlooks all throughout the year. Enjoy the shores of Norris Lake before heading back into the woods.