20 Things to Do Outdoors (in Tennessee) Before You Die 

A summer guide to outside

A summer guide to outside

Sometimes, in a busy world, it’s hard to see the trees from the forest...and sometimes you miss the forest altogether. W hich is a shame in a state as beautiful as Tennessee. So to help you get off your duff and get outdoors, we’ve compiled a list of 20 can’iss activities for everyone who makes their home in our fair state. It’s time to break the endless cycle of work-bar-sleep. Time to explore Tennessee from its cavernous tunnels all the way up to its cloud-covered peaks! Tape our list to the fridge and cross off events as you go. Then, when you’re done, you can make up a list of your own.

1 Skydive—Want the biggest rush of your life (in less than a minute)? Plummet toward earth at speeds in excess of 100 mph—and live to tell about it. Dave Nye, general manager of Tennessee Skydiving Center in Tullahoma, Tenn., is here to make sure you know what you’re doing before and after you take the big leap. Nye and the other employees at the center are all United States Parachuting Association members who have racked up 1,400-5,000 jumps each. Your first jump with Tennessee Skydiving is a tandem jump with one of the instructors from 11,000 feet. The free fall lasts nearly a minute, followed by a five-minute parachute ride. Those interested in continuing their skydiving education can enter the Accelerated Free Fall program to attain certification. (The requirements are several hours of classroom training and instructor-assisted jumps.) “Skydivers are like a big family,” Nye says. “You can go anywhere in the world, meet a stranger who skydives and there’s an instant bond.” Not sure you want to try it? The center gets plenty of people who watch from the ground as the skydivers sail in. Tennessee Skydiving Center is located 65 miles southeast of Nashville at Tullahoma Regional Airport. Jumps take place on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year. For information, call (800) 483-DIVE or visit www.tennskydive.com. —E.G.E.

2 Take a kid camping—Camping can teach a child everything from self-preservation to conservation to the fine art of enjoying nature in all of its majestic silence (i.e., sans video games). It’s also an antidote to the fasaced, hurry-up-and-grow-up lives kids lead today. If you don’t have children of your own (or a niece or nephew or cousin to take camping), contact the Boys and Girls Club of Middle Tennessee—Middle Tennessee chapter of the Boy Scouts

3 Spelunk—Spelunking, or caving, is not a pursuit for the weak-kneed. Depending on a caves’ environs, a spelunker might find herself negotiating extra-tight spaces, huge underground domes, massive drop-offs, vertical routes—oh, and there’s the bat thing. Add to that darkness, dirt and underground streams, and you’ve got the makings of an adventure! With some 8,500 caves in Tennessee—a high concentration of which are in the Cumberland Plateau area—there’s no shortage of spelunking opportunities within a few hours of Nashville. The Nashville Grotto and the Tennessee Central Basin Grotto (based in Murfreesboro), both members of the National Speological Society, are cave conservation and exploration groups that seek to get the word out on caving opportunities in Tennessee. In addition, they lead workshops several times a year to help you tackle the more challenging, vertical elements of the sport. To find out more about joining Nashville Grotto, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, visit their Web site at www.nashvillegrotto.org, or visit one of their monthly meetings, held at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at Adventure Science Center (formerly Cumberland Science Museum). For information on Tennessee Central Basin Grotto, visit www.caves.org/grotto/tcbg. (Note: Beginner spelunkers might want to check out several Tennessee state parks for tours into wild caves. Some of the better trips are offered by Rock Island State Park or Fall Creek Falls State Park.)—E.G.E.

4 Hang glide—Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding (www.hanglide.com, (800) 688-5637) wants you to soar. Located near Chattanooga, LMHG teaches more people to hang glide than any other school in the country. No experience is necessary to enlist in training programs which can last from two days to an entire week. (The weekend package costs $399; the V.I.P. package, $1495.) Although the goal of schooling is aimed at eventual solo flights thousands of feet above the ground, training begins on a 65-fooigh hill and is closely monitored by trained professionals. If you don’t want to jump into the training immediately, but want to experience the rush, Lookout Mountain also provides staff-accompanied tandem flights. Tandems at an elevation of 2,000 feet cost $129 and last from 12-20 minutes, while a flight at 4,000 feet lasts 20-25 minutes and costs $229. If it’s been too long since you stepped out of your comfort zone, call Lookout Mountain and see things from a whole new vantage point. —A.D.

5 Cook a gourmet meal (by campfire)—An ambitious foodie friend of mine once attempted homemade mushroom risotto over a campfire. The meal was excellent, accompanied by red wine and finished off with a dessert course of S’mores.

My foodie friend learned two valuable lessons that day. First, there’s something truly wonderful about eating and drinking like a king by campfire with you and your companions covered in several days’ worth of trail grit. Second: Kitchen prep is hell in the wilderness. We had just finished a long hike, and by the time everything was chopped, mixed and cooked, our group was grouchy and very hungry.

None of this is to say you should leave your spices, oils, cooking wines and favorite recipes at home. Just do the prep-work there beforehand. Pre-measure and pre-mix everything possible. Throw it into freezer bags, or empty film canisters for the spices; consolidate your cookware into the bare essentials—then hit the trail. You’ll save time without sacrificing taste.

For more suggestions on the art of campfire cooking, check out the following cookbooks at your local bookstore or outdoors retailer. The One Pan Gourmet by Don Jacobson details how to eat well, using fresh foods, during two- to three-day jaunts into the backcountry. The book includes recipes for chicken scaloppine and beef Stroganoff, to name a few. Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ by Tim and Christine Conners gives trail-tested recipes for long-distance hikes. The book also gives ultra-lightweight backpackers suggestions for dehydrating their own food.—E.G.E.

6 Run the Ocoee—The Ocoee River, Tennessee’s premier whitewater river and home of the ’96 Olympic whitewater events, is dam controlled—meaning its Class III-IV rapids (in a system where VI is highest and rare in this part of the country) can be run year-round. A tailwater of the lake with the same name, the Ocoee River is east of Chattanooga, about a three-hour drive from Nashville. The middle section of the river is most popular, due to its fasaced procession of wild rapids, which take half a day to complete. Two things are certain when you run this river: You will not stay dry and it is impossible to stop laughing during the trip. Overnight lodging is available at campgrounds and motels in the area and in nearby Benton, Tenn. The Nantahala Outdoor Center (www.noc.com, (800) 232-7238) is the preeminent whitewater rafting company for rivers in the southeast, and will provide a raft and experienced guide for around $40/person, depending on the time of year. —A.D.

7 Become an amateur astronomerDyer Observatory strives to get people to look up and rediscover the night sky. As the resource for astronomers in Nashville, the observatory hosts several public viewing hours and other events each month. Rocky Alvey, an amateur astronomer for over 30 years and current superintendent of the observatory, says all you really need to get your start at mapping out the sky is a planisphere (or star-wheel), a flashlight to read the planisphere and binoculars. He adds that this summer is a particularly interesting time to study the sky, as Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in thousands of years in late August. Other notable events coming up are the Perseid meteor showers, Aug. 12-13, and the mid-August appearance of the Summer Milky Way. Alvey says you might also look to the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society for information on upcoming astronomy events. Dyer Observatory is located at 1000 Oman Drive, off Granny White Pike. Call Dyer Observatory at 373-4897 or visit www.dyer.vanderbilt.edu for more information. You can view Mars as it makes its close approach on Aug. 23 from 8-11 p.m. at Edwin Warner Park’s “Summer Star Party.” Meet at the park’s model airplane field.

Finally, hundreds of telescopes will dot the grounds at Camp Nakanawa in Crossville on Sept. 26-28 for the 2003 Tennessee Star Party. This annual event is the perfect opportunity to get away from the city lights and network with other amateur astronomers. Visit the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society Web site for more information at www.bsasnashville.com. —E.G.E.

8 Learn to survive in the woods—Nobody plans on getting lost in the woods with little or no food and water, but it would be nice to know that you could survive if the situation ever arose. After all, there are still 12 more things to do in Tennessee on your list before you die. Currently, there are no active wilderness survival schools operating in the state. However, Mountain Shepherd (www.mountainshepherd.com) is one of the most renowned survival programs in the country, and because it’s located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the terrain and climate in which they teach is very similar to Tennessee’s. Field lessons at Mountain Shepherd last one to three nights and cost anywhere from $75 to $275 per person, depending on your desired program length and detail. Lessons are as basic as building a campfire and as complex as reading a compass and map, while surviving on very limited rations. All programs teach the seven wilderness survival priorities: positive mental attitude, first aid, shelter, fire, signaling and rescue, water and food. The knowledge gained from these programs is invaluable for anyone planning on spending significant time outdoors, where the unexpected can occur at any moment.—A.D.

9 Become a Wilderness First Responder—You’re two hours away from anything that passes for a road, it’s upwards of 95 degrees and all you’ve got is a backpack, a first aid kit and one immobilized backpacker. What do you do? The chances of having to perform life-saving techniques in the backcountry are slim, but preparedness can mean all the difference. As Bryan Dodge, a wilderness first responder and community relations coordinator of Blue Ridge Mountain Sports explains, “A WFR’s primary goals are to treat life-threatening injuries in a wilderness context, stabilize the victim, transport them effectively out of the wilderness and communicate knowledgeably to higher-trained personnel.” Whereas a trained EMT is educated in the technical aspects of life-saving (how to use a defibrulator, etc.) a WFR must manage a medical emergency in extreme environments with limited equipment. Dodge recommends two programs for earning your WFR certification: Wilderness Medical AssociatesSOLO (Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities). WMA’s program, Dodge says, takes a more hands-on approach to the certification process, while SOLO’s courses are more textbook-based. Certification courses are eight to 10 days in length and range from $500-$800 in price, depending on the host location or instructors. WMA courses are held everywhere from Iceland to North Carolina throughout the year. The nearest upcoming WMA course is May 22 to 30 in Hendersonville, N.C. For information, visit www.wildmed.com or call (888) 945-3633. SOLO’s 80-hour WFR courses are offered across the U.S. For information on SOLO’s programs, visit www.soloschool.com or call (603) 447-6711.—E.G.E.

10 Hike the entire Cumberland Trail—The Cumberland Trail will soon be the pride and joy of Middle Tennessee—and you’re going to want to say you’ve done it. The Cumberland Trail Conference, which is responsible for the trail’s design, construction and maintenance (among other things), has enlisted nearly 68,000 volunteer hours so far and completed about one-third (125 miles to be exact) of the 300-mile trail to date. Completion is scheduled for October 2008. The 10-segment route traverses 11 Tennessee counties, from Chattanooga to the Cumberland Gap. The linear state park offers scenic variety, including views from both ridgeline and river gorge hiking. “I think it’s every bit as beautiful as the Smokies,” says Arleen Scheller, CTC resource manager. She adds that the best draw for Nashvillians is the trail’s proximity. From Nashville, you can be on the trail in an hour and a half at the Crossville segment—a fraction of the time it takes to get to the Smokies.

You can even help blaze the trail this summer, May 19 to June 28, during the CTC’s “Big Dig” event, when 100 volunteers per day will attack 30 miles of the trail. The “Big Dig” is currently recruiting trailbuilders, cooks, transportation assistance, sponsors and camp moms/dads. Ouf-town volunteers receive free lodging and three square meals a day for their efforts on the trail. For more information on the Cumberland Trail, visit www.cumberlandtrail.org or call (931) 456-6259. You can also e-mail the CTC at cumberlandtrail@rocketmail.com.—E.G.E.

11 Climb a rock—Red Bank, a premier destination for climbers in Middle Tennessee lying just northeast of Chattanooga. Red Bank boasts over 100 different routes up sheer red sandstone faces ranging from remedial for the beginner to “Super Nova” and “Come and Get It” for the experts. To learn more about climbing (and to get all the necessary equipment), visit REI in Brentwood, 261 Franklin Road, and talk to one of their climbing guides. While there, pick up a copy of Dixie Craggers Atlas, considered to be the bible for climbers in the Southeast. This compendium lists all the best areas and faces to climb in Tennessee and surrounding states. In between trips, hone your skills on the indoor practice walls at Classic Rock Gym

12 Bike the Natchez Trace—It has a history that fills books and a name that springs up all over Nashville. The Natchez Trace, an old footpath traveled by Chickasaw and Chocktaw Indians, runs from Nashville to Natchez, Miss., and is one of the more unique drives in this part of the country. Even better is to conquer it by roadbike. The Natchez Trace takes most riders about seven to 10 days and carries with it about 10,000 feet in accumulated climbs. Cyclists don’t have to contend with commercial vehicles and there are very few intersections to slow you down. Along with the wonderful absence of billboards is the almost total absence of roadside amenities like convenience stores, motels, etc., which means you should plan well. Other than a small market at Jeff Busby, you might end up biking an extra 20 miles off the parkway to find a spot to replenish your water or stop for the night. The guys and girls at Cumberland Transit recommend Bicycling the Natchez Trace by Glen Wanner as a good guide to help you plan your trip down the parkway. Chances are they can suggest a nice bike for the adventure as well. Call Cumberland Transit at 321-4069 or visit www.cumberland transit.com.—E.G.E.

13 Climb the state’s highest peaks—There’s no better place to see the state than from its tallest peaks, all found in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The highest peak is at Clingman’s Dome (6,643 feet) where a half-mile paved-road hike ends with an elevated tower and a stunning 360-degree view of the majestic Smoky Mountains. At 6,593 feet, the apex of Mt. Leconte is the second-highest peak in the park with trail access. Choose one of five paths up the mountain and discover breathtaking views and some very unique accommodations. Once a research camp from which naturalists could study the park, today Leconte Lodge is the only developed boarding available. Breakfast and dinner are served to visitors, and cabins are rented to those looking to stay overnight. Reservations are made months in advance by calling (865) 429-5704. Visit www.nps.gov for a free trail map of the park.—A.D.

14 Take stunning outdoor/nature photographs—At one time or another, we’ve all kicked ourselves for botching a perfect sunrise or mountain panorama by trying to capture it on camera. While we can’t promise you a prolific career photographing African elephants for National Geographic, here are some upcoming photography clinics to help the amateur outdoor photographer.

After 25 years in the business, Terry Livingstone has become one of Tennessee’s most esteemed outdoor photographers. “Warner Parks is where I really taught myself the craft of nature photography,” he says. In 2000, Livingstone published his 50-photograph tribute to the parks, The Warner Parks: Nashville’s Natural Legacy. Livingstone leads outdoor photography workshops throughout the year in Nashville, including an eigheek nature photography course at CheekwoodBlue Ridge Mountain SportsMark Carroll. Carroll, who’s picked up paychecks from such publications as National Geographic and Backpacker, will lead this popular trip into the Smokies. The clinic costs $75. Call 356-2300 to register.—E.G.E.

15 Become a cowboy—Americans have always bought into the romance of driving a herd of cattle across a dusty plain, yet few (Billy Crystal notwithstanding) have ever had the pleasure of actually trying it. Fortunately, Tennessee is home to the French Broad Outpost Ranch, a working ranch that invites its guests to experience what ranch life is all about (for a few days). Located in east Tennessee—Del Rio, to be exact—the French Broad operates in a unique fashion. Each week there is a set itinerary of ranch-related activities (always optional), including horseback riding lessons, roping lessons, team cattle penning, a short cattle drive and an overnight pack trip. After a long day of riding, guests mosey on back to the lodge for a massage, a drink in the saloon or a much-needed nap before a hearty country supper. The lodge itinerary is based on a Sunday-to-Sunday stay and costs $1200 for adults during high season, which includes all meals, lodging and entertainment. For a shorter stay, the Outpost welcomes its guests to stay from Sunday-to-Wednesday or Wednesday-to-Sunday at a cost of $200/night. The French Broad Outpost is a refreshing twist on an outdoor vacation and a true diamond in the Tennessee rough.—A.D.

16 Try an Eskimo roll—We’re not talking about sushi. No, we mean purposely flipping over in a kayak, only to flip back over with a quick flick of the hips, thus evading a watery demise. Before kayaking the Ocoee in Olympic fashion, you’ve got to learn how to walk—or roll, in this case. The Inuit began rolling kayaks ages ago as a survival technique and for whitewater paddlers, it’s no less vital a skill. The roll can set you right when you make a mistake, or save time for a competitive edge. Contacting the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association is your first step in roll education. The TSRA offers paddling activities for all skill levels, but beginners can sign up for the “Introduction to Paddling School,” usually held at Natchez Trace Wilderness Preserve in Hohenwald, Tenn. The course costs $45, not including accommodation or equipment rental fees. For a schedule of TSRA activities, visit www.paddletsra.org. If you want to study your rolls out of the water, look for The Bombproof Roll and Beyond: Mastering Balance and Boat Control by Paul Dutky. This very thorough, illustrated guide covers various types of rolls, plus more advanced whitewater maneuvers.—E.G.E.

17 See elk in the wild—Centuries ago, the mountains of east Tennessee were home to large herds of wild elk. Due to intense logging and irresponsible hunting practices in the 1700s and 1800s, the elk population in the mountains were quickly eradicated. Once the national park was created and the land became protected, the mountains again became an ideal environment to reintroduce these magnificent animals. In 2001, park officials, with the help of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, released 25 elk back into the Smoky Mountains. Now the herd is monitored with radio controlled tags and is thriving in the Cataloochee Valley on the east side of the park, prompting officials to add 25 additional elk in the next few years. Early morning and evening are the optimal times to view elk in the valley as they emerge into the open fields to graze. In fall, listen for the high-pitch mating call of the male elk, called “bugling.” As with all large wildlife in the outdoors, visitors should keep their distance while observing these grand creatures. To find out more about the revitalized community of elk, and directions to Cataloochee Valley, visit www.nps.gov.—A.D.

18 Skinny dip—With someone you love...when there’s a chance of getting caught.—E.G.E.

19 Take a trout on a fly rod—There is something spiritual about presenting a hook covered in deer hair and made to resemble a bug half the size of your fingernail at the end of 20 yards of line to a skittish fish—and doing it well enough to trick that fish into believing the fly is real. True, Middle Tennessee isn’t a premier fly fishing destination for anglers, but there is water nearby that holds trout, and that provides an opportunity to learn how to catch some pretty nice fish. First, you’ll need some equipment and training, both of which can be found at Fly South (1514 Demonbreun). The owner, Jim Mauries, is one of the most qualified fly fisherman in town and has assembled a staff of professionals eager to assist anglers of any skill level. Fly South offers instruction on the art of casting and fly tying, as well as experienced guides for on-water instruction in catching and releasing trout. The fisherman’s church is not far away, with tailwaters an hour’s drive from Nashville and beautiful mountain streams holding wild trout in the Smokies.—A.D.

20 Don’t leave a trace—It’s a maxim every outdoor enthusiast should abide by: Never leave the forest with any visual evidence of your visit, including trash, fires, fallen trees or any other trace of your stay. That’s the responsibility of everyone who takes advantage of all the wonderful outdoor activities we have available to us as Tennesseans. On a local level, events aimed at the preservation of our city and state parks can be found under parks and recreation at www.nashville.gov —Nashville’s Nature Center—National Trails Day—Blue Ridge Mountain Sports at 356-2300 for more information.) Currently, the biggest challenges facing our national parks include lack of funding, pollution and overcrowding. To find out what you can do to help fix these and other problems, visit the National Parks Conservation AssociationAmericans for National Parks at www.americansfornationalparks.org.

And remember, once you’ve completed your list of things to do outdoors in Tennessee, there will be many more adventurers after you looking to enjoy the spectacular beauty of our great state. —A.D.


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