Tennessee is a beautiful state with diverse rural landscapes. The Mississippi River lowlands in the west transform into the Great Smoky Mountains in the east – the most-visited National Park in the country. They are part of the larger Appalachian chain that runs all the way from Newfoundland, Canada to Alabama. Unlike the Rocky Mountains, the much older Appalachians are heavily eroded and tree-covered, even on their highest peaks. This makes them especially beautiful in the fall as the leaves turn. In this article, we look at 10 of the most beautiful mountains in Tennessee. Maybe on your next vacation, you can see them all!
- Most of the highest mountains in Tennessee are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a part of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.
- Unlike the Rocky Mountains which are younger and less eroded, the Appalachians are heavily eroded and have less exposed sheer rock faces. They are forested to their highest peaks.
- As it is the most-visited national park in the country, many of the more popular mountains are cris-crossed with trails of various levels of difficulty.
- The park has an enormous population of American Black Bears. Hikers and campers need to stay alert.
- When visiting some of the more remote and challenging locations, hikers should be sure to bring with them flashlights and provisions for emergency camping if they get lost or delayed. Because the mountains are covered in dense forests, it can get dark earlier than you’d expect on the trails.
- It’s worth visiting the mountains at different times of year, as the changing seasons make them beautiful in unique ways.
1. Clingman’s Dome
At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the tallest mountain in Tennessee and the third highest east of the Mississippi River. From the observation tower, it’s possible to see for a distance of 100 miles. However, due to air pollution, most often the view is limited to 20 miles. If you’d like to see it for yourself, head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingman’s Dome, so it’s a great way for hikers to get up close and personal with the mountain. Watch out for American black bears; an estimated 1,500 of these mammals roam the park!
2. Mount Guyot
Nearly as tall as Clingman’s Dome, Mount Guyot measures 6,621 feet in height. Note that it should not be confused with another mountain of the same name. The one in Colorado has shear rock surfaces along its sides and peak, while the one in Tennessee is located in the Great Smoky Mountains and is completely tree-covered. It’s near Clingman’s Dome and sits astride the Tennessee-North Carolina border, with its highest peak on the Tennessee side.
3. Mount LeConte
Mount LeConte is a 6,593-foot peak located at the intersection of five hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s not far from Rainbow Falls, the highest waterfall in the state. Hikers recommend taking the Rainbow Falls hiking trail that follows LeConte Creek up the mountain. It’s a bit of a challenging trail for beginners but rewards visitors with a great view of the Falls.
4. Mount Chapman
Mount Chapman is 6,643 feet tall and named after one of the founders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s more remote than some of the other mountains on our list, but a worthy destination for experienced hikers. The Appalachian Trail comes within 200 feet of the summit. It’s also possible to hike from the base to the summit and back in one day, if you take the 5.3-mile Snake Den Ridge Trail. It’s a challenging trail and not suitable for beginners.
5. Mount Buckley
Mount Buckley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park stands 6,580 feet high. It is actually a sub-peak of Clingman’s Dome. Mount Buckley’s trail is part of the Appalachian Trail and makes a loop only 1.5 miles long. It is considered a manageable short hike for inexperienced hikers, children, or others who want to enjoy the wilderness without having to train like an Olympic athlete.
6. Old Black
A thick pine forest grows on Old Black, all the way to its 6,370-foot summit. Going to the top could feel underwhelming, as the views are obstructed by the overgrown forest. You won’t be able to see vast distances, as you can from some of Tennessee’s other Smokey Mountain peaks. However, it is not as crowded, so you might have a better chance of spotting wildlife. It’s also quite possible to get turned around and lost in the forest, so don’t go without camping supplies, food, water, and the best trail maps available.
7. Roan High Knob
Roan High Knob, a 6,286-foot mountain, is located in Roan Mountain State Park near Kingsport. It’s on the Appalachian Trail. You’ll find a small cabin, which is the highest-elevation shelter on the entire trail. Roan High Knob is best reserved for intermediate or experienced hikers, but those who make the effort will enjoy working their way through fresh-smelling balsam fir forests on their way to spectacular views at the summit.
8. Big Bald
Big Bald is 5,515 feet high and is the highest peak in the Bald Mountains, a chain that is part of the Smoky Mountains. From Erwin, it’s only 6.5 miles to the top, but the trail is steep and rugged, so it takes about four hours each direction. Keep in mind that due to the dense forest, it will get dark earlier than expected, so allow plenty of time and take flashlights along with spare batteries. There’s a good chance you’ll see American black bears, white-tailed deer, raccoons, and even elk, which have been reintroduced to the state.
9. Chimney Tops
It’s a steep climb up the 4,800-foot elevation of Chimney Tops in the Smoky Mountains, but worth it for the unforgettable views. The hike starts by crossing back and forth three times over a cold mountain stream. Though the hike is only 3.5-miles round trip, it’s the most dangerous of any we’ve listed in this article. The last quarter mile of the trail has been heavily fire-damaged and is closed to the public after many injuries, search and rescue operations, and a fatality. Although the trail is quite strenuous and dangerous, it is popular with experienced hikers.
10. Big Frog Mountain
Big Frog Mountain is located in the Big Frog Wilderness, an area in Cherokee National Forest. It’s part of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain, a sub-range of the Appalachians. It sits on the border between Tennessee and Georgia, rising to an elevation of 4,224 feet. The mountain gets its name because explorers and settlers thought it bore a resemblance to a very big frog. A network of trails crosses the mountain. Those visiting in late May or early June will be treated to large patches of rhododendrons blooming on the western side of the mountaintop.
You Can’t Go Wrong
There are some 1,799 named mountains in Tennessee and they’re all beautiful in different ways. We’ve described only a few of the largest and most popular peaks with hiking trails so you can explore them up close. But even lesser-known peaks have their own charm and wildlife, perfect for building amazing memories.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Weidman Photography/Shutterstock.com
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