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Autumn Adventures: Exploring State Parks in Fall with Homeschoolers

As the leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold, and the air becomes crisp and invigorating, autumn brilliantly transforms the landscape.


Fall is the perfect time to embark on outdoor adventures, and what better way to do that than by visiting your local state parks?

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Chickasaw State Park - Henderson, Tennessee

In this homeschool blog post, we'll delve into the wonders of exploring State Parks in the fall, offering educational opportunities, memorable experiences, and a chance to connect with

nature.

 
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Before you hit the trails in your local TN State Park...

Why not kick off your homeschool adventure with a science lesson?


The changing colors of leaves in the fall provide an ideal opportunity to explore photosynthesis, pigments, and the biology of deciduous trees.


Take a walk through the park and collect different types of leaves, then examine them under a microscope or using hand lenses.


Discuss the role of chlorophyll and how it breaks down in the fall, revealing the vibrant hues underneath. This hands-on approach to learning makes science come alive for homeschoolers.


Here's a free printable to take with you when you wander outdoors with your kids.

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If your homeschoolers are a bit older, consider teaching them outdoor survival skills during your state park visit.


Learn about fire building, navigation, and basic first aid. These practical skills not only instill a sense of self-reliance but also foster a deep appreciation for the outdoors.

 

ABOUT TENNESSEE STATE PARKS

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All 57 Tennessee State Parks are FREE to enter and enjoy.


Some activities at parks may require permits or reservations, but hiking and enjoying the natural environment is always free.


Autumn brings a sense of tranquility to state parks. With fewer crowds and cooler temperatures, you can explore hiking trails at your own pace.


Whether you're a seasoned hiker or just looking for a peaceful stroll, state parks offer a variety of trails suitable for all skill levels.


Don't forget to bring along a field guide to identify the unique plant and animal species you encounter along the way.


One of the most enchanting aspects of visiting state parks in the fall is witnessing the mesmerizing foliage. The trees put on a show like no other, turning the landscape into a symphony of colors.


Take leisurely hikes or scenic drives through the park to soak in this natural masterpiece.


It's an excellent opportunity for young photographers and artists to capture the beauty of the season.

 
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Fort Pillow State Historic Park - Henning, Tennessee

TN State park history exploration


Many state parks have historical significance, making them excellent places to incorporate lessons in history and culture.


Research the park's history before your visit and discuss the people and events that shaped it. Create a timeline, or even dress up in period clothing for added fun.


Homeschoolers can gain a deeper understanding of their state's heritage by exploring these sites.


Here are a few state parks that have historical significance...


WEST TENNESSEE

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460 Ozier Road, Pinson, TN 38366 - Madison County


Pinson Mounds is home to at least 15 Native American mounds constructed by prehistoric indigenous peoples.


Archaeological excavations at Pinson Mounds have revealed artifacts, pottery, tools, and other items that provide insights into the daily lives and cultures of the people who inhabited the area.


Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park Features:

  • Park Museum that includes an archaeological library, an 80-seat theater, and a gift shop.

  • A variety of hiking trails that are ideal to experience in the cooler fall temperatures.

  • Sauls Mound stands sentinel, dominating the landscape. Visitors may climb the stairs at the rear of the mound to the observation deck on top. Interpretive panels provide additional information as visitors walk along the park trails.

 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE

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732 Stone Fort Drive, Manchester, TN 37355 - Coffee County


Old Stone Fort is a prehistoric Native American site that dates back over 2,000 years. It was originally constructed and used by indigenous peoples for various purposes, including ceremonial, religious, and defensive activities.


Despite its name, Old Stone Fort is not an actual fort. Instead, it is a structure made primarily of earthworks, with a few stone walls and features.


Inside the stone walls, there is an oval-shaped area with a large mound at its center. This central mound is believed to have had ceremonial or religious significance.


The exact purpose of Old Stone Fort remains a subject of archaeological debate. While it is often referred to as a fort due to its defensive features, some researchers believe it was primarily a ceremonial or religious center.


Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park features a variety of history-based activities:

  • Atlatl Throwing - The Atlatl was a prehistoric Native American hunting tool used before the bow and arrow was even invented. A Park Host will teach attendees more about the Atlatl, and how to properly throw one. Upcoming Atlatl classes will be held on October 13 -14, 2023. Visit website for more info.

  • Guided Enclosure Hike - Old Stone Fort has an enclosure created by mounds built by Native Americans. You and your family can take a guided hike around the enclosure and learn about the rich history of Old Stone Fort. The hike will be about 1.25 miles on moderate to difficult terrain and will take about 1.5 hours. Upcoming Hikes will be held on October 13 -14, 2023. Visit website for more info.

 

EAST TENNESSEE

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338 Fort Loudon Road, Vonore, TN 37885 - Monroe County


Fort Loudoun was constructed in 1756 during the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War) by the British as part of their efforts to maintain control over the Cherokee Nation.


The fort was named after John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudoun, who was the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America at the time.


The primary purpose of Fort Loudoun was to secure the allegiance of the Cherokee Nation and to protect British interests in the region.


Fort Loudoun faced significant challenges, including supply shortages and strained relations with the Cherokee.


In 1760, the fort was besieged by the Cherokee, who were unhappy with the British.


After several months of siege and deteriorating conditions, the fort's commander decided to surrender. The garrison was subsequently allowed to leave the fort but without their weapons.


The fort was subsequently destroyed by the Cherokee, and its remains were buried over time.


Today, Fort Loudoun State Historic Park preserves the archaeological remains of the fort.


Visitors can explore the site, view the reconstructed portions of the fort, and learn about its history through interpretive exhibits and guided tours.


Fort Loudoun State Historic Park features a variety of educational activities:

  • November Garrison Weekend - Learn about life at Fort Loudoun during the French & Indian War and witness the Fort brought back to life. See soldiers and Cherokee going about their day, training, firing cannons, working about the fort, and demonstrating the folkways of the time. There will be blacksmiths working the forge, the surgeon giving talks in the infirmary, and soldiers living in the barracks. Bring the family to learn about life on the frontier and how the British and Cherokee worked together against the French. The Fort will be open from 10:00 AM-5:00 PM on Saturday, November 18, and 10:00 AM-2:00 PM on Sunday, November 19. Scheduled programs occur every hour on the hour. There is no admission fee for this event.

  • Field trips - Fort Loudoun (and many other state parks) offer educational opportunities for homeschool groups. Fort Loudoun offers programs that cover topics such as: Early American History (Fort Loudoun, Tellico Blockhouse, McGhee-Carson Area) with a tour of the reconstructed Fort Loudoun or Tellico Blockhouse, Museum Tour with 12-minute documentary film about Fort Loudoun, Park Career Options, and Self-Guided Experiences. To request an educational park experience, submit a request here.

 
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Burgess Falls State Park - Sparta & Baxter, Tennessee

Geological adventures in TN state parks


State parks often showcase unique geological features, such as waterfalls, caves, and rock formations.


Use this opportunity to introduce homeschoolers to geology and geography.


Learn about the forces that shaped these landscapes and the types of rocks and minerals found in the area.


You might even try your hand at rock hounding (with proper permits and respect for park rules) to discover interesting specimens.


Here are some state parks renowned for their distinctive geological and geographical characteristics...



WEST TENNESSEE

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1435 John Howell Road, Pocahontas, TN 38061 - McNairy County


Big Hill Pond State Park is situated in the southwestern part of Tennessee, near the town of Pocahontas. The park covers approximately 5,000 acres, making it one of the larger state parks in Tennessee.


Big Hill Pond highlights include the 70-foot observation tower that offers panoramic views of Travis McNatt Lake and the boardwalk that wends through Dismal Swamp.


The park derives its name from the 35-acre Big Hill Pond which was created in 1853 when soil was scooped from a borrow pit to build a levee across the Tuscumbia and Cypress Creek bottoms for the Memphis to Charleston Railroad. Over the years, a great stand of Cypress trees has grown in and around the 35-acre pond.


Big Hill Pond State Park features a variety of events and activities:

  • 2023 Howloween Spooktacular - November 4 from 5-7pm, meet at the campground. Big Hill Pond is hosting its 5th Annual Howloween Spooktacular event. The campground will be transformed into a trunk or treat location for families to walk through and enjoy a night of Howloween fun.

  • Horseback Riding - Big Hill Pond provides 14 miles of equestrian trails primarily on old logging roads and park gravel roads. Horses must stay on red-blazed trail and fire roads. Fire roads are shared with mountain bikers. Horse riding is day use only and there are no over night accommodations for horses. You must bring your own horse, the park does not rent horses.

 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE

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82 Beach Road, Rock Island, TN 38581 - Warren County & White County


Rock Island State Park is a 883-acre park situated in the rugged and scenic terrain of the Cumberland Plateau.


The park features stunning waterfalls, including Twin Falls and Great Falls. Great Falls, in particular is known for its impressive 30-foot drop into a large pool of clear water.


Rock Island State Park features a variety of educational activities:

  • Park Ranger Programs - Want a fun way to get your kids excited about learning? You can schedule a homeschool field trip with a Rock Island Park Ranger to learn about Tennessee History, Mammals of Tennessee, Reptiles & Amphibians of Tennessee, Adaptations & Food Chains with Live Birds of Prey, Local Ecosystem in Action with a Pontoon Boat Tour, and Recreation Skills with Kayaks & Canoes. To schedule a program experience, click here.

 

EAST TENNESSEE

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501 Rocky Fork Road, Flag Pond, TN 37657 - Unicoi County


Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park (named in honor of former Tennessee Governor and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander) was officially dedicated and opened to the public in June 2015. The park is known for its outstanding natural beauty and diverse ecosystems.


It features a mix of hardwood forests, high-elevation meadows, and clear mountain streams. The stream is located in the pristine Rocky Fork watershed. With large moss-covered boulders, deep pools and eddies the cold, quickly flowing stream is noted for miles of excellent native trout fishing.


Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park features a variety of educational activities:

  • Nature Walk - Join Seasonal Interpretive Ranger Connor, on October 14 at 5pm, at the interpretive campfire area to begin a leisurly stroll up Flint Creek trail. We will talk about the flora and fauna in the area and other points of interest along the way. The walk will conclude at the Flint Creek Battlefield site.

  • October Bear Tails and S'mores - Join us for a fun evening bonfire, on October 20 from 6 - 7:15pm, at the interpretive area next to the parking lot. This event will feature a short talk on black bear and the park ecosystem. Graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows, and s’mores sticks will be provided. To participate please sign up at the park website.

 
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Discovering Wildlife in their Natural TN Habitats


State parks in the fall are bustling with wildlife activity as animals prepare for the winter months.


Bring along binoculars and guidebooks to spot birds and mammals.


Discuss migration, hibernation, and other seasonal behaviors.


It's a fantastic way to teach biology and ecology in a real-world context.


Here are several TN State Parks where wildlife abounds...


WEST TENNESSEE

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120 Cabin Lane, Henderson, TN 38340 - Chester County


Chickasaw State Park is situated in Henderson County, approximately 100 miles northeast of Memphis and 125 miles southwest of Nashville.


The park encompasses around 1,280 acres of land, featuring diverse natural habitats, including forests, lakes, and rolling hills.


Lake Placid, a 58-acre lake, is one of the central features of the park and offers opportunities for fishing, boating, and paddling.


The park is home to various wildlife species, including deer, turkey, and a variety of bird species. Birdwatchers can spot both resident and migratory birds throughout the year.


Chickasaw State Park features a variety of opportunities to learn about wildlife:

  • Aviary - Come meet the park's winged friends, Chester and Henry, and learn all about Birds of Prey. Our Barred Owl and Red-Tailed Hawk are viewable from the road at the Aviary across from the Park Office and are also available for Interpretive Programs on and off-site.

  • Horseback Riding - Chickasaw State Park has five miles of horse trail and the surrounding Chickasaw Forest has hundreds of miles of trail. Rides may be rented at the stable or bring your own horse. Chickasaw Riding Stables is a family-owned and operated concessionaire offering horse rentals, guided tours, and stall rentals for park visitors.

 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE

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1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, TN 37220 - Davidson County


Radnor Lake State Park is situated just a few miles from downtown Nashville, making it easily accessible to residents and visitors to the city. The park covers approximately 1,332 acres of protected natural habitat.


The park is known for its diverse plant and animal life, including hardwood forests, wildflowers, and a variety of bird species - osprey, great blue herons, owls, and various waterfowl. Visitors may also encounter white-tailed deer, raccoons, and other wildlife that inhabit the park.


Radnor Lake State Park features a variety of opportunities to learn about wildlife:

  • Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center - Open every Wednesday and Saturday from 10am to 1pm for self-guided tours to view the captive birds of prey along the 550' boardwalk. Visitors can also enjoy viewing the captive snakes and turtles inside the Education Center. No registration required.

  • Birding - Diving ducks such as Ring-necked and Canvasback are best seen near the center to west side of the lake, while marsh ducks such as Gadwall and American Widgeon prefer the shallower east end and the Big Slough. Observation decks are located along Otter Creek Road and along the Lake Trail. During spring and fall migration, birding the oak-hickory woods is popular and easiest along Otter Creek Road, the dam, Lake Trail and old caretaker residence. The park provides a flyer with birding locations. You can find it here.

 

EAST TENNESSEE

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2809 Kelly Lane, Kodak, TN 37764 - Knox County


Seven Islands State Birding Park is primarily known for its importance as a birding destination, offering excellent opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife observation.


The park is characterized by a variety of natural habitats, including fields, wetlands, meadows, and woodlands. It is named after a series of small islands and peninsulas that are formed by the meandering French Broad River, creating diverse ecosystems that attract a wide range of bird species.


The park is home to more than 190 bird species, making it a prime destination for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. Some of the bird species that can be spotted at the park include bald eagles, great blue herons, waterfowl, songbirds, and various raptors.


Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park features a variety of educational activities:

  • Creepy Creatures Trick-or-Treating - Put on your costume and join us on October 28 at 3pm at Seven Islands State Park for a family friendly adventure. You will hike approximately 1 mile down Kelly Lane while trick-or-treating at several stops. Along the way, we you will learn about and meet some of the Creepy Creatures that live at Seven Islands. You will end at the Green House lawn, where families can enjoy storytelling, games, and a bonfire before heading back to the park entrance. Families with small children are encouraged to bring strollers or wagons. Plan for your adventure to last about 2-2.5 hours. Flashlights are recommended for participants in later time slots. This is a rain or shine event. In the case of rain, some activities will be moved inside, but raingear or an umbrella is recommended.

  • Birding - From the novice to the professional, birders and researchers find Seven Islands an ideal location for avian observation. The park is located along the migratory path of many bird species and during the breeding season birds can be found nesting at the refuge. Popular sightings include purple martins and tree swallows. Easily heard singing well into the summer are common yellowthroat, yellow‐breasted chat, summer tanager, blue grosbeak and indigo bunting. In winter, hundreds of sparrows can be found, especially field, savannah, song, swamp, white‐throated and white‐crowned. Be sure to peek into some of the barns located on the property, for a glimpse of a somewhat elusive, nocturnal barn owl. Guests can easily spend several hours strolling through the park’s varied habitats enjoying the scenery and song of these feathered jewels. Mornings are usually the best time for birding but late afternoons, before dusk can also be rewarding. You can access detailed information about bird sightings at Seven Islands State Birding Park, and add your own sightings here.

 
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Cumberland Mountain State Park

State parks in the fall offer a wealth of educational opportunities for homeschoolers.


From scientific exploration to artistic expression and cultural appreciation, these natural sanctuaries provide a rich and immersive learning environment.


So, gather your homeschooling materials, pack a picnic, and embark on a memorable adventure in your local state park this autumn.


It's a journey that will not only expand your homeschool curriculum but also create cherished family memories for years to come.

 

For more information about the best places to visit in Tennessee, visit the Tennessee Family Vacation Explore page.

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