Everyone in the family will like Pickett CCC Memorial State Park because it has something for everyone – hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing, playgrounds, amazing star-gazing, museums, and cabins for rent.

As a Knoxville native, I love exploring the state and national parks and forests in East Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau has an incredible concentration of these wonderful places. It has a number of parks and forests all near each other and all have lots of fun activities you can do in tremendously scenic surroundings. And I think Pickett CCC Memorial State Park is one of the best of this awesome bunch.

I will cover all of things to do at Pickett State Park and you will see why I think this little hidden gem is a perfect spot for families to spend the day or even a whole week, particularly those families with young kids. Amy and I’s families have enjoyed camping, hiking, and boating at this park over the years and I will give all the information and tips we have gathered so you can plan your own family’s fun weekend getaway to this beautiful park.

A large rock shelter with a young boy walking under the overhang and trees surrounding
The kids were impressed by the size of Hazard Cave and we spent a lot of time exploring around.

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Why Families Will Like Pickett State Park – A Quick Intro And General Info About The Park

The park has fun short hikes to cool features such as rock arches or caves, longer trails for the more serious hikers, a lovely 12 acre lake to explore by canoe, a swimming area, a swinging bridge, playground, picnic areas, and an astronomy field that is a certified dark sky viewing location (the 1st in the southeast to be certified so).

If you want to explore over a few days, you will find a nice campground with a modern bathhouse with free showers (always a highlight in my book), small and historic CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) cabins, and more modern 2- 3 BR cabins for families that need more space.

If you want to head even further afield, Pickett can be a great base from which to visit nearby sites. The always excellent Big South Fork National Recreation Area is adjacent to Pickett as is Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area, one of Tennessee’s newest parks. Alvin C. York Historic Park is 17 miles away from Pickett State Park. Frozen Head State Park, Obed Wild And Scenic River, and Historic Rugby are just over an hour away. Like I said, the Cumberland Plateau and mountains have an abundance of awesome places to visit.

Whether you come for the day or stay for a week, you and the kids will find plenty of things to do at Pickett State Park. It is a fantastic place that shows off some of the best East Tennessee has to offer.

Is Pickett State Park Dog Friendly?

Yes! You are welcome to bring your fur baby with you to Pickett as long as you keep your dog on a max 6 ft long leash at all times. My dog loved this park and rates it 10/10 Milkbones.

Map of Pickett CCC Memorial State Park

Brochure map of Pickett State Park showing the hiking trails color coded, the campground, the visitor center, the museum, and the rental cabin locations. The insert shows Pogue Canyon to the south of Pickett, Alvin C. York State Park to the west, and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area to the east.
Map of Pickett State Park. Map courtesy of TN State Parks.

12 Things To Do At Pickett State Park

1. Visitor Center

Start any visit to Pickett State Park at the Park Office/Visitor Center which is right by the main entrance to the park.

If you are checking in for a campsite or cabin, you will need to stop here anyway but it is a good idea for day trippers to check in too so you can find out about trail conditions, lake levels for canoeing, get a trout fishing stamp, or pick up some maps. Also see if they have any interesting events going on, like a ranger-led hike or a kid- friendly event over at the Nature Center.

Besides talking with the rangers, you can also pick up some park swag, or a cool drink out of the fridge.

Exterior of a small, one story wood- sided building with a flagpole and covered information bulletin boards out front that list all the things to do at Pickett State Park. US and TN State flags are flying. A park ranger pick up truck is parked out front.
The Visitor Center/ranger station is right by the main entrance to Pickett State Park and is a great place to stop in at. You can talk to the rangers about all the things to do at Pickett State Park and if there are any special hikes or other events going on during your visit.

2. Hiking Trails

There are 10 trails in the park. Nine of these are 2.5 miles long or less while Hidden Passage is the only long trail in the park at 7.8 miles. Most of them have a feature at the end or along the way to keep the kid’s interest which makes it particularly great for those with younger kids.

Do one trail in the morning and another in the afternoon, interspersing it with lunch at a picnic table by the lake, and you have a pretty great day out. Almost all of the trails start/ end by the lake so it makes it very easy to do.

You can also reach all of the trails walking from the campground. I love being able to leave the car parked for a day or two while on a trip so I really like this feature. No driving between trailheads.

Special, ranger led hikes are worth checking out. Evening hikes to see the rare glow worms are super cool (see more on them below) as is the lantern hike to see Crystal Falls on the Hidden Passage trail. Look under upcoming events online to reserve a spot on these popular hikes.

My favorite trails:

  • Lake Trail + Island Trail – 1.85 mile loop, easy, walks around the lake
  • Hazard Cave Trail – 1.6 mile loop, moderate because there are some stairs, goes to a massive rock shelter
  • Natural Bridge Trail – 1 mile loop, easy, goes to a large rock arch that can be walked across (can be combined with Hazard Cave trail to make a 2 mile loop)
  • Story Book Trail – about 0.25 miles, super easy, signs tell a story with each page of the book being a sign along the trail
  • Hidden Passage Trail – 7.8 mile loop, moderate, nice loop that has viewpoints, a waterfall, and a squeeze through a narrow passage in the rock

For detailed information about each trail, check out our blog “Hiking Trails in Pickett State Park.” I have lots more photos there too.

3. Boating, Kayaking, and Paddleboarding

The CCC built a dam on Thompson Lake to create Arch Lake, so named because of the large sandstone arch over the lake near the dam. It isn’t a huge lake but it is scenic, especially if you manage to catch it in the offseason or early/late in the day after the day trippers have left.

The boat dock rents canoes, kayaks, row boats, and paddleboards from mid-April thru October. It is open 8-4 central time unless it is thunderstorming.

Rental prices:

  • Canoes, paddleboards, single kayaks – $8/ hour
  • Double kayaks – $11 / hour
  • Row boat – $5/ hour

You can bring your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to launch. No personal row boats or any other kind of boat allowed.

*Everybody must wear a life jacket on the lake, even if you bring your own boat/ kayak/ paddleboard.

4. See The Rare Glow Worms

The Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau are home to the only bioluminescent dipteran fly species in North America, the fungus gnat Orfelia fultoni. It is the larvae specifically that emit the light, during the late spring and early summer (generally May- June).

(There are also bioluminescent beetle larvae in the area but these fly larvae emit a distinctly bluer light.)

The carnivorous larvae build webs to catch other insects and some think that the light helps attract prey. The worms are tiny, less than a 1/4 of an inch, but there are so many of them, you can easily spot them in Hazard Cave. They are elsewhere in the park but they are the easiest to see in the cave.

Read this article from TN Conservationist for more detailed information about the glow worms.

Because these guys are rare and light pollution can easily disrupt them, you aren’t allowed on the trails at night in Pickett State Park without a ranger. And if you go on one of the ranger- led hikes to Hazard Cave during the larva season, you need to bring a red- light flashlight or headlamp so you don’t disturb them. You can buy these on Amazon for pretty cheap.

I made the switch to a red light headlamp years ago and will never go back. It is so much easier to see at night with it and it doesn’t disrupt your fellow campers when you get up in the middle of the night. They don’t make my specific headlamp any more but this headlamp is similar to it except it also has a green light option too. May have to buy one for myself to check this out!

5. Swimming

Pickett has made a little swimming area roped off from the rest of the lake, and it even has a little sandy “beach.” The water is a little brownish because it has a lot of sediment which may put some people off, but it is clean. There is no lifeguard and children must have an adult keeper with them.

The swimming area is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 10 am- 5:30 pm. On hot summer afternoons, swimming is easily the most popular thing to do at Pickett State Park.

A lake with a roped- off swimming area with floating buoys and a few people swimming and sitting on the sandy beach.
The swimming area and boat rentals dock on Arch Lake. Swimming is just one of the many things to do at Pickett State Park but maybe the most popular activity in summer!

6. Fishing

Arch Lake is stocked with trout in the summer and all you need is a stamp and a fishing license from the park office to go catch your dinner. You can fish from a boat or shore, just not too near the swimming area (obviously they have seen me try to cast 😆).

7. Picnic Area and Playground

Pickett has a large picnic area with lots of tables to choose from, many with a lovely lakeside setting. And you will find a small playground around the picnic area as well as the swinging bridge and a tennis court. The playground is aimed more at younger kids so I wouldn’t get too excited if you have kids older than about 3rd or 4th grade.

*Pro Tip- I will warn you that it can get a little buggy in the park in the summer. Bring plenty of bug spray and citronella candles.

8. CCC Museum

The tiny but interesting Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum is located near the park office in a building actually constructed by the CCC in the 1930s.

The park itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because so much of it is a legacy of this Great Depression project – the dam, lake, telephone lines, fire tower, roads, trails, plus several of the cabins, the boathouse, and the beach were all built by CCC workers.

The CCC Museum is only 2 rooms and you have to get a key from the park office to enter, but it is pretty interesting for its small size and worth the effort. Good pictures and exhibits tell the story of the men who enlisted in this peacetime army.

They were taught practical skills (such as masonry and carpentry) while working to improve the lives of the people around them with fire prevention, erosion control, and building parks for recreation. The men also had classes in the evenings to improve their literacy or take more advanced subjects. 17 state parks in Tennessee trace their origins back to the hard work of the CCC.

9. Astronomy & Star Gazing

Pickett State Park was certified as a Dark Sky Viewing Location in 2015, the first park in the southeast to achieve this feat. It required changing the lighting in the park and working with neighbours in the area to minimize light pollution.

The astronomy field is actually is 2.5 miles south of the park on Hwy 154 at the parking area for Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. The field is available year-round and star gazing events are often held, so be sure to check the website.

You can see amazing stars without going to the astronomy field too. It is one of our favorite things about camping in Pickett.

Entrance sign read Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area and a gravel drive leads to a small parking area with a solar panel
Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area is 5 min down the road from Pickett and the astronomy field is next to the parking area. Easy peasy for great star gazing.

10. Camping

There is only one campground in Pickett State Park with 26 campsites. 16 of those have electricity and all have water hook ups. Each site also has a picnic table and a charcoal grill.

There is a dump station onsite and the campground has a nice bathhouse with toilets, free showers, and even coin laundry. Next to no cell service though but you can get WiFi down at the Visitor Center/ ranger station.

As with almost all campgrounds, the ones on the outer loop have the most privacy. The campground is open year round and you can reserve online. Nightly rates range from $16- $25 depending on time of year and whether the site has electric.

*Pro-Tip- Pickett can get kinda buggy, especially around dusk, so bring plenty of bug spray and citronella candles for your campsite.

Read my blog about Camping In Pickett State Park to find out more about individual campsites and which ones are my favorite. I have lots and lots of pictures for you.

If you want a bigger campground with more amenities (swimming pool, camp store, playgrounds, more hookups for RVs), then check out Bandy Creek Campground in adjacent Big South Fork.

A long view of the campground in Pickett State Park. A tent is in the foreground and spaced out trees in the background.
Camping is one of my favorite things to do at Pickett State Park as I think the small campground is fairly nice, especially if you know what campsites are the best.

11. Stay In A Cabin Rental

If camping isn’t your thing, then you are in luck because Pickett State Park has 4 different kinds of cabins you can rent.

Cabin Rental Types:

  • Deluxe Cabins- 3 BR/ 2 BA, sleeps 8
  • Standard Cabins – 2-3 BR/ 1 BA, sleeps 4- 6
  • Historic CCC Wood Shingle Cabins – 1 BR/ 1 BA, sleeps 2
  • Historic CCC Stone Cabins – 1 BR/ 1 BA, sleeps 4

I think the CCC cabins are the best, just because of the history and the architecture of the cabins, plus I like the screened-in porches. Also, I think they have the best location near the lake. But really, any of the cabins are nice.

You must rent cabins for a 2 night minimum (3 nights on holiday weekends). The cabins are very popular so reserve online far in advance of your dates. Prices range from $100- $280 a night, depending on the type of cabin and time of year.

Two cabins are designated ADA accessible and 5 are designated pet- friendly. Cabins come with bed linens, plates, silverware, stoves, and refrigerators. All cabins now have free WiFi as well (whoo hoo!).

Click here for more detailed information about each type of cabin, including lots more pictures and a map detailing where each cabin is in the park.

A small stacked stone rustic cabin with a chimney in the middle and 2 sets of 3 part windows is typical of the historic CCC cabins which are part of the Pickett State Park cabins for rent
A typical exterior for the stone CCC cabins. This is cabin #5. The stone patio with the Adirondack chairs looks down towards the lake.

Cabin Rentals Outside Pickett State Park

The Cumberland Plateau is a wonderful area for the outdoors with Big South Fork and Pogue Creek Canyon also in the immediate vicinity of Pickett. For this reason, you will find a fair number of cabins and lodges for rent on sites such as VRBO.

I generally choose camping at Pickett or in Big South Fork when I go there, but these are some places I have thought about for the off season when it is too cold to camp with the kiddos.

Beautiful and Serene getaway- trail ride or hike directly into Big South Fork

A lovely 2 Br/ 2 BA cabin in the Spruce Creek Acres development (you can find this on Google Maps). The cabin has lots of charm and relaxing views of the woods from its deck. The bedrooms each have queens and the loft has 2 twins plus the house has a queen sleeper sofa to sleep 8 people max. Has WiFi, washer/dryer, hot tub. It even has 4 horse stalls so bring them too (if you have some). Averages $140 a night with a $80 cleaning fee. 2 night minimum. You can bring a pet for $25. Lots of very happy reviews.

Pickett State Park is 3.7 miles away.

Cozy Cabin, Big South Fork, Horse property/ hiking/ kayaking

If you are looking for something a bit smaller (and cheaper) check out this cute little cottage with 1 bedroom (full) and loft with queen mattress to sleep 4 max. 1 bathroom and a nice deck overlooking the woods plus a kitchen and living room round out this cozy place. Has WiFi. Averages $94 a night and $40 cleaning fee. 2 night minimum stay. No pets.

Pickett State Park is 6 miles away.

Laurel Fork Rustic Retreat

This family-owned cabin rental place has 1, 2, 3, and 4 bedroom cabins (plus one large 7 bedroom lodge) and all look really nice. Many of their cabins have hot tubs, WiFi, and stables for horses.

Laurel Fork is 7.4 miles from Pickett State Park.

12. Visit Nearby Parks And Attractions

Big South Fork

Big South Fork National River And Recreation Area is one of my favorite places in East Tennessee with hiking, paddling, and mountain biking adventures all found in this large and gorgeous area managed by the National Park Service.

The park is pretty big and spans Tennessee as well as Kentucky so check out these blogs to get your bearings and find out what to do. The entrance to the Twin Arches area of the park is basically across the street from Pickett so it is super easy to explore this section, while the Kentucky side of the park is farther away and will take you an hour to drive to from Pickett.

Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area

Just 2 miles down the road from Pickett is this pretty park that I bet you have never heard of before- Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. Which is reasonable because it was only sold by The Nature Conservancy to the state in 2006. Since then, several trails have been blazed to some fantastic overlooks, rock shelters, and waterfalls.

The trailhead is in a field off Highway 154 that also doubles as Pickett State Park’s astronomy field. You can take a fairly easy 1.8 mile Overlook Trail that loops past some huge rock shelters and to an overlook of the canyon from the trailhead here.

If you want a longer hike, you can connect to the Upper Canyon Trail from the Overlook Trail to explore more for a 6-7 mile hike, depending on how far you go. Read Independent Herald Oneida’s article about it or see AllTrails for good descriptions and pictures of the trails.

A rock outcropping with a scrubby tree is perched out into Pogue Creek Canyon.
The overlook trail is an easy short trail to a magnificent view of Pogue Creek Canyon. I stopped there on my way home from Pickett State Park.

Alvin York State Historic Park

One of the most decorated soldiers in WWI, Alvin York is famous for his capture of 128 German soldiers in the Argonne Forest. The Alvin York State Historic Park includes a Visitor Center modeled after his general store, a grist mill, the York home, and a recreated WWI trench. You can hike 0.5 miles to York’s burial site by way of a neat swinging bridge over the Wolf River.

The park is free to visit but the 45 min guided tour of the York home costs $5 for adults (free for 12 or younger). You can book a spot online.

The park is 19 miles away from Pickett CCC Memorial State Park.

Frozen Head State Park

About an hour away from Pickett State Park is another hidden gem of a state park – Frozen Head State Park. Tucked into the Cumberland Mountains, this neat state Park has some great hiking trails, pretty waterfalls, and one of my favorite frontcountry campgrounds in East Tennessee.

And if you like your parks with a side of fascinating trivia, then read about the Barkley Marathons, the annual ultramarathon held every spring in Frozen Head and reputed to be the hardest race in the world. Also nearby is historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a former maximum security prison, now a distillery and museum. Take a guided tour from a former guard or inmate and learn the compelling history of this place.

Obed Wild And Scenic River

The Obed Wild And Scenic River is another parcel of land managed by the National Park Service without actually being a national park. But you can stop by the Visitor Center in Wartburg, TN and talk to the rangers to find out all the things you can do around the Obed. The most popular activities are kayaking/ rafting and rock climbing but there are some nice hiking trails as well.

Final Thoughts

I think Pickett State Park is one of the hidden gems of Tennessee’s State Parks. There are so many fun things to do in this park and I think it is especially suitable for families with younger kids as so many of its hikes are short and easy but still end up at really nifty features – like a massive rock shelters or a “bridge” of rock you can walk over. Add to that swimming in the hot summer and kayaking on a peaceful lake and what’s not to love?!

Happy Trails! – Amanda

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