Tennessee’s Appalachian Cumberland Plateau
Welcome to Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, one of the nation’s foremost natural and historical recreation areas. The 21 counties lying entirely or partially on the plateau contain:
- Over 500,000 acres in publicly owned recreation lands:(compared to 517,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.) This acreage includes
- 3 National Park system units
- 15 State Parks
- 14 State Natural Areas
- 7 State Forests
- 23 Wildlife Management Areas or Refuges, including one of only two elk herds in the southeast
- 1 National Scenic River and 3 State Scenic Rivers
- Approximately 700 miles of State Scenic Byways.
- 919 miles of trails and greenways, including the 280-mile Cumberland Trail now under construction, federally designated as a National Millennium Legacy Trail, which will be one of longest continuous mountain trails in the eastern United States.
- 250 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including 44 Historic Districts.
- Remnants of several historic roads across the Plateau, including Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road, the Walton Road, the Trail of Tears, and the Chattanooga-McMinnville Stage Road.
- 4 National Historic Landmarks.
- 8 National Natural Landmarks.
- 3.8 million acres of Forest. Forest covers an estimated 67.5% of all counties of the Plateau, providing good wildlife habitat and scenic value.
- 7 reservoirs of over 1000 acres, and 32 smaller lakes.
- World-class diversity of animal and aquatic species.
According to the World Wildllife Fund, the Cumberland Plateau’s ecoregion represents one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests and freshwater systems in the world.
An extraordinary concentration of scenic attractions, caused by a unique geology.
The Cumberland Plateau’s geology, with hard sandstone caprock overlaying soluble limestone, is distinctly different from other mountain ranges in the US. As a result, the Plateau has a greater diversity of scenic attractions than other mountains in the eastern U.S. :
- 122 natural bridges and stone arches, including 16 over 30 feet in height and four over 60 feet in height, most in public ownership.
- 22 chimney formations, including 14 over 20 feet in height and one 200 feet high, most in public ownership.
- Hundreds of miles of sandstone cliffs up to 120 feet tall, including four of the finest rock climbing sites in the southeast.
- 164 waterfalls, including 39 over fifty feet and 10 over 100 feet, most in public ownership. This list includes the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi.
- 280 caves, 21 of which are described as “extensive,” including Cumberland Caverns, Big Bone Cave, and Wonder Cave.
- Many wild and spectacular gorges, including Savage Gulf State Natural Area (11,000 acres), containing one of the nation’s most significant remnants of virgin cove forest.
- 1200 miles of rivers and streams identified by the National Park Service as having “outstandingly remarkable” natural or cultural values judged to be of national significance. The Plateau counties contain 45 out of a total of 100 Tennessee streams so classified by the NPS.
For infomation about the distances to the plateau from major metropolitan areas click here.