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Inside Cherokee National Forest: Same mountains, similar trails, fewer people
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting activities logical for Americans as they venture out in a time of coronavirus.)

bald river falls in cherokee national forest
Bald River Falls; image by Tom Adkinson.

TELLICO PLAINS, Tennessee – It’s a paradox that the powerful and unceasing roar of a major waterfall also can be soothing to the soul and deliver a sense of peace. That’s the case with Bald River Falls, a 90-foot-tall cascade located northeast of Chattanooga and just 11 miles from the tiny community of Tellico Plains. It is one of the star attractions of the Cherokee National Forest, itself a gem that bookends Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Watauga River
Watauga River; image by Tom Adkinson.

A map of Tennessee shows huge swaths of forest green along the mountainous eastern edge of the state. Much of the region is federal land. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a rough oval tucked between two sections of the Cherokee National Forest. The national park, which at 522,000 acres is smaller than the 650,000-acre national forest, has the bigger reputation and by far more annual visitation. Some even say that the national park gets too much love (as in approximately 12 million annual visitors), especially since the national forest offers essentially the same mountains, similar hiking opportunities and fewer people.

The Cherokee National Forest touches Georgia on the south, North Carolina on the east and Virginia on the north and has attractions such as Bald River Falls, the Cherohala Skyway (a 52-mile scenic drive from Tellico Plains to Robbinsville, North Carolina) and rafting on the Ocoee and Watauga rivers. National forests throughout America offer immense tracts of land where you can escape coronavirus confinement, practice social distancing and absorb the healing balm of nature.

Trip Planning Resources: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published September 4, 2020

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