Tight on holiday time but still want to get in some leaf peeping? Good news for you, Middle Tennessee is ripe with natural splendor perfect for a day trip.
The Autumnal Equinox will be upon us on September 23, marking shorter days, hopefully some cooler temperatures, and an explosion of colors as the leaves start to change.
The Farmer’s Almanac, which publishes long-range weather predictions, released its 2023 fall leaves peak colors.
In Tennessee, peak foliage is predicted to be October 12-28. according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
Almost fall: When does summer officially end in Tennessee?
There’s no better place to enjoy those reds, yellows, oranges and purples than the forests surrounding Nashville.
Here’s the best places in Middle Tennessee to go leaf peeping while you hike.
Radnor Lake, Davison County
Radnor Lake has 7.75 miles of trail for hiking, photography and wildlife observation about 20 minutes south of downtown Nashville.
The man-made lake is 85 acres and was created by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company in 1914 for watering steam locomotives. Preservation efforts started in 1923 after it was declared a wildlife sanctuary.
The park is open from 6 a.m. until 20 minutes after sunset year round.
Stillhouse Hollow Falls, Maury County
Stillhouse Hollow Falls is a 90-acre state natural area with a 1.1 mile round trip hike to a 75-foot waterfall in Maury County.
“The trail crosses an unnamed tributary that forms small scenic cascades before plunging approximately 75 feet over the falls,” the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said. “A deep hollow is formed below the falls that is surrounded by steep slopes where wet-weather springs emerge contributing to a rich habitat supporting a colorful spring wildflower display of trillium, spiderwort, wild geranium, phlox and many other species.”
Parking is limited, and about an hour drive from downtown Nashville.
Harpeth River State Park, Cheatham County
Harpeth River State Park might best be known for it’s river access, but it also has just under 4.5 miles of hiking trails across the 40 river miles the park covers.
Three hiking trailheads start at the Narrows of the Harpeth, off Cedar Hill Road.
“A half-mile bluff overlook trail includes a steep ascent to a narrow bluff offering hikers a panoramic view of the Harpeth Valley,” according to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “A half-mile trail along the backside of the limestone bluff leads to the site of Montgomery Bell’s Pattison Forge where a small waterfall is all that remains of the iron forge operation.”
The park is about a 40 minute drive from Nashville.
Cummins Falls, Jackson County
This park has some of the shortest hikes, but they’re also some of the most difficult.
Cummins Falls is “an idyllic, but rugged” 306-acre park that takes you down to the gorge and 75-foot waterfall, according to the state. Access to the gorge is granted by a permit.
The base of the waterfall is only accessible on fair-weather days and getting there requires either a 1-mile or 1.5 mile hike. Both routes are quite strenuous, the state warns.
The Falls are about an hour and a half drive from Nashville.
Short Springs Natural Area, Coffee County
This 420-acre natural area is rich with biological diversity thanks to the “rich forest slopes and ravines, low cascades, springs and waterfalls that support it,” the Department of Environment and Conservation said.
Short Springs has just over 5 miles of trail leading to features like Machine Falls, which drops more than 60 feet, Adams Falls and the upper and lower Busby Falls.
“Water is a significant feature at Short Springs as it once was the water supply for Tullahoma before construction of Normandy Dam,” according to the state.
Short Springs is about an hour and 20 minute drive from Nashville.