State Park Gems in Middle Tennessee
Nestled in the rolling hills and bustling cities of Middle Tennessee you’ll find several gems in the state park system. Whether you’re looking for a serene natural setting or a place where you are surrounded by history, these parks really deliver all year round.
Edgar Evins State Park
Located in a place called Silver Point it’s no surprise this park truly shines. Located along the shores of Center Hill Lake, this 6,000 acre swath of Tennessee’s Highland Rim delivers plenty of opportunities for relaxation and recreation. A dozen miles of trails take you up close to the lake’s shores and deep into the park’s forests. There are three boat launch ramps in the park, a full-service marina and even a restaurant out on the water.
The most recognizable feature at Edgar Evins has to be the observation tower. Accessible from the inside of the Visitor’s Center, a long metal spiral staircase takes you up to the circular deck at the top. If you’re afraid of heights or the occasional gentle sway of the structure frightens you, then you probably want to just observe from the ground. However, the trip to the top is definitely worth it as the observation deck provides a 360 degree view of the park.
(Edgar Evins is just a few minutes off I-40 between Cookeville and Carthage)
Rustic and peaceful are perhaps the two best words I can find to describe this jewel a few miles west of Livingston. It’s actually located on the same highway that runs by my in-laws house, so I’ve basically just driven through it, stopping to soak in the surroundings and of course take some pictures.
Established back in the 1930’s Standing Stone is one of many parks across the state where the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is evident at just about every turn. The park gets its name from a 12-foot high ledge Native Americans in the area once used as a boundary marker.
The centerpiece of the park is the rugged stone dam and Kelly Lake behind it. TN Highway 136 crosses the top of it, but it’s only one lane at that point, so you need to make sure someone else isn’t on it when you decide to cross or you might just have to test your reverse driving skills.
Standing Stone State Park is home to the National Rolley Hole Marbles Tournament each fall and has a campground and several cabins for you to call home for a night or two. The park is about 30 minutes north of I-40 at Cookeville.
Port Royal State Park
Just a few yards away from the Red River in Montgomery County, old road beds, the foundations of several buildings and a little imagine help you picture what once was a bustling community where thousands of people passed through on their travels through this part of the state.
These reminders of the past along with an old Masonic Lodge (now the park offices) and an old truss bridge built in the late 1800s are the only big reminders of this area’s rich history. Everything at Port Royal is close together, so it’s easy to take a walk through history and that includes a section of roadbed that was part of the infamous Trail of Tears. The area was the last stop for Native Americans in Tennessee during their forced removal to the West.
This state historical park is in Adams, just a few minutes east of I-24 near Clarksville.
Dunbar Cave State Park
Bright white arches at the end of a small lake are perhaps the most photographed feature at this small park just 1 ½ miles from Downtown Clarksville, the state’s 5th largest city. Behind the arches is a cave that’s been an important part of the area’s past and present.
If you listen hard enough you might just hear the concerts of the past that at one time made Dunbar Cave a top tourist attraction in the area. In fact, Country Music Hall of Famer (and Maynardville, TN native) Roy Acuff once owned the property where he broadcasted a weekly radio dance show.
Just recently, a new pedestrian bridge was built across the lake making it easy to walk around the lake and enjoy the abundant wildlife that call the park home today. The cave is still open for tours, something I wasn’t able to do on my recent visits, but they are on my list.
Broadway, the Cumberland Riverfront and the Grand Old Opry are perhaps the best known spots in Nashville, but to get a true taste of the state’s history, I strongly suggest a visit to Bicentennial Mall State Park. Sprawling out just below the Tennessee State Capitol, this park literally has you walking through the state’s history.
A massive granite history wall takes you from prehistoric days all the way up to the present, providing you with great tidbits of information like when the first Piggly Wiggly opened in the state, to a more serious look at just how divided Tennessee’s people were during the Civil War.
There are time capsules from each of the state’s 95 counties, a giant map of the state you can walk across, and a carillon made up of 95 bells. This state park is in Downtown Nashville near the city’s minor league baseball stadium, the State Capitol complex, the City Farmer’s Market and the recently relocated Tennessee State Museum.