ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff file photo / A popular destination for hikers and kayakers alike, North Chickamauga Creek Gorge was designated a state natural area in 1999.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Tennessee's Natural Areas Preservation Act, passed in 1971.

The goal of the legislation was to provide long-term protection for some of the state's most pristine ecosystems — Piney Falls, for example, designated in 1973 as one of Tennessee's first state natural areas.

Located an hour north of Chattanooga, Piney Falls State Natural Area comprises 800-plus acres of gorges, waterfalls and old-growth forest, features that make it both special and vulnerable.

While many state natural areas exist within the boundaries of state parks, natural areas are more protected than parks, so they tend to have more restrictions. Most natural areas, for instance, prohibit camping and motorized vehicles. Others restrict pets or activities such as fishing, depending on the delicate habitats they are designed to protect.

Since 1971, the act has helped preserve nearly 130,00 acres of forest, wetlands, grasslands and glades across 84 different sites in Tennessee.

Here are four state natural areas to visit near Chattanooga.

 

BEST HIKE

North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Natural Area

25 minutes from Chattanooga

Spanning 7,093 acres across Hamilton and Sequatchie counties, North Chickamauga Creek Gorge's rich coves and splashy creek attract kayakers and hikers alike in pursuit of pristine wilderness. The area's rugged topography has protected small pockets from logging, helping establish habitat for iconic species such as the bald eagle and peregrine falcon.

> Public access: The natural area serves as the trailhead for the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail, providing access to 8 miles of hiking. Gates are open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Camping is permitted at designated sites only and with registration.

Trails (check)

Camping (check)

Fishing (X)

Leashed dogs (check)

____

BEST VIEW

Falling Water Falls State Natural Area

20 minutes from Chattanooga

Named for the 110-foot-high waterfall on Little Falling Water Creek, this 136-acre area is home to a second-growth hardwood forest. The habitat supports an abundance of biodiversity, including the threatened large-flowered skullcap, especially significant due to the protected land's proximity to a large urban area.

> Public access: Open from sunrise to sunset, the area offers a small parking area and a short trail leading to the falls.

Trails (check)

Camping (X)

Fishing (X)

Leashed dogs (check)

____

BEST SCENIC DRIVE

Hick's Gap State Natural Area

35 minutes from Chattanooga

Comprising 350 wooded acres along the slopes of the Cumberland Plateau, Hick's Gap lies within Prentice Cooper State Forest. The conservation of this land has been critical in the recovery of the large-flowered skullcap, a showy plant in the mint family now listed as federally threatened.

> Public access: Entry is permitted from sunrise to sunset, but no parking area or trails are available. The area can be accessed via Hick's Gap gravel road.

Trails (X)

Camping (X)

Fishing (check)

Leashed dogs (check)

____

some text
Staff file photo / Sequatchie Cave State Natural Area has long been a community gathering spot located outside of Jasper, Tenn. While a roadside park is open to the public, entry into the cave is strictly prohibited.

BEST PICNIC SPOT

Sequatchie Cave State Natural Area

35 minutes from Chattanooga

Sequatchie Cave is a 133-acre biologically significant cave and creek that supports two federally listed animals: the royal snail and the Sequatchie caddisfly — two aquatic species that have never been described outside of Marion County. The cold water spring that runs from the cave also supported early settlers, leading to the establishment of the Sequatchie community.

> Public access: Entering the cave is prohibited. However, a parking and roadside picnic area are available during daylight hours.

Trails (X)

Camping (X)

Fishing (X)

Leashed dogs (check)

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT