Tennessee is located in the Southern United States. In 1796, it became the sixteenth state to join the Union. Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State", a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, especially during the Battle of New Orleans. The capital city is Nashville, and the largest city is Memphis.
Tennessee borders eight other states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north; North Carolina to the east; Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi on the south; Arkansas and Missouri on the Mississippi River to the west. Tennessee ties Missouri as the states bordering the most other states. The state is trisected by the Tennessee River. The highest point in the state is the peak of Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet (2,025 m), which lies on Tennessee's eastern border, and is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. The lowest point is the Mississippi River at the Mississippi state line. The geographical center of the state is located in Murfreesboro on Old Lascassas Pike (just down the road from Middle Tennessee State University). It is marked by a roadside monument.
The state of Tennessee is geographically and constitutionally divided into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee.
Tennessee features six principal physiographic regions: the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin, and the Gulf Coastal Plain.
The Blue Ridge area lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee, bordering North Carolina. This region of Tennessee is characterized by high mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains, the Chilhowee Mountains, the Unicoi Range, and the Iron Mountains range.
Stretching west from the Blue Ridge for approximately 55 miles (88 km) is the Ridge and Valley region, in which numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Tennessee Valley. This area of Tennessee is covered by fertile valleys separated by wooded ridges, such as Bays Mountain and Clinch Mountain. The western section of the Tennessee valley, where the depressions become broader and the ridges become lower, is called the Great Valley. In this valley are numerous towns and the region's two urban areas, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.
To the west of East Tennessee lies the Cumberland Plateau. This area is covered with flat-topped mountains separated by sharp valleys. The elevation of the Cumberland Plateau ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 feet (450 to 550 m) above sea level.
West of the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The northern section of the Highland Rim, known for its high tobacco production, is sometimes called the Pennyroyal Plateau and is located in primarily in Southwestern Kentucky. The Nashville Basin is characterized by rich, fertile farm country and high natural wildlife diversity.
Middle Tennessee was a common destination of settlers crossing the Appalachians in the late 1700s and early 1800s. An important trading route called the Natchez Trace, first used by Native Americans, connected Middle Tennessee to the lower Mississippi River town of Natchez. Today the route of the Natchez Trace is a scenic highway called the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Some of the last remaining large American Chestnut trees still grow in this region and are being used to help breed blight resistant trees.
West of the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin is the Gulf Coastal Plain, which includes the Mississippi embayment. The Gulf Coastal Plain is, in terms of area, the predominant land region in Tennessee. It is part of the large geographic land area that begins at the Gulf of Mexico and extends north into southern Illinois. In Tennessee, the Gulf Coastal Plain is divided into three sections that extend from the Tennessee River in the east to the Mississippi River in the west. The easternmost section, about 10 miles (16 km) in width, consists of hilly land that runs along the western bank of the Tennessee River. To the west of this narrow strip of land is a wide area of rolling hills and streams that stretches all the way to Memphis; this area is called the Tennessee Bottoms or bottom land. In Memphis, the Tennessee Bottoms end in steep bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. To the west of the Tennessee Bottoms is the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, less than 300 feet (90 m) above sea level. This area of lowlands, flood plains, and swamp land is sometimes referred to as The Delta region.
Most of West Tennessee remained Indian land until the Chickasaw Cession of 1818, when the Chickasaw ceded their land between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River. The portion of the Chickasaw Cession that lies in Kentucky is known today as the Jackson Purchase.
Most of the state has a humid subtropical climate, with the exception of the higher mountains, which have a humid continental climate. The Gulf of Mexico is the dominant factor in the climate of Tennessee, with winds from the south being responsible for most of the state's annual precipitation. Generally, the state has hot summers and mild to cool winters with generous precipitation throughout the year.
Summers in the state are generally hot, with most of the state averaging a high of around 90 °F (32 °C) during the summer months. Summer nights tend to be cooler in East Tennessee. Winters tend to be mild to cool, increasing in coolness at higher elevations and in the east. Generally, for areas outside the highest mountains, the average overnight lows are near freezing for most of the state.
While the state is far enough from the coast to avoid any direct impact from a hurricane, the location of the state makes it likely to be impacted from the remnants of tropical cyclones which weaken over land and can cause significant rainfall. The state averages around 50 days of thunderstorms per year, some of which can be quite severe. Tornadoes are possible throughout the state, with West Tennessee slightly more vulnerable. On average, the state has 15 tornadoes per year. Winter storms are an occasional problem—made worse by a lack of snow removal equipment and a population which might not be accustomed or equipped to travel in snow—although ice storms are a more likely occurrence. Fog is a persistent problem in parts of the state, especially in much of the Smoky Mountains.
National Parks in Tennessee include:
- Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
- Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Fort Donelson National Cemetery near Dover
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Natchez Trace Parkway
- Obed Wild and Scenic River near Wartburg
- Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
- Shiloh National Cemetery and Shiloh National Military Park near Shiloh
- Stones River National Battlefield and Stones River National Cemetery near Murfreesboro
- Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
Fifty-four state parks, covering some 132,000 acres (534 km²) as well as parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are in Tennessee. Sportsmen and visitors are attracted to Reelfoot Lake, originally formed by an earthquake; stumps and other remains of a once dense forest, together with the lotus bed covering the shallow waters, give the lake an eerie beauty.