What do you look for when planning an outdoorsy getaway? Is it an area with an abundance of diverse hiking trails? A place with dozens of beautiful waterfalls? Or, what about somewhere with that certain special mountain charm? Whatever it is that you crave, Northeast Tennessee will check all the boxes when it comes to satisfying your adventurous side. Here are just a few of the many reasons why anyone who loves the outdoors will love a trip to this beautiful area of Tennessee.
1. Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests are Unbelievable
Northeast Tennessee is fortunate to be framed by two spectacularly beautiful national forests that offer nearly limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Cherokee National Forest makes up the entire eastern border of Tennessee and crosses the state line to become Pisgah National Forest.
Because of the enormous sizes of these forests, you could spend years exploring them and continue to discover new natural wonders. Turn down nearly any of Cherokee’s or Pisgah’s gravel roads and you’re sure to discover a breathtaking mountain view, a hidden campsite, or a rushing trout stream. If you aren’t sure where to start, explore the little trails surrounding Watauga Lake, or tackle the 9-mile Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail near Unicoi.
2. A Great Mix of Quaint, Eclectic Towns
There’s certainly no shortage of small-town charm in Northeast Tennessee. No trip to the area is complete without a visit to Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town. Its lovely Main Street is lined with antique shops, tiny boutiques, and cozy restaurants, like Main Street Cafe and The Corner Cup.
In Elizabethton you can explore Tennessee’s history by visiting the Covered Bridge, built in 1882, and Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, the site of many important events that impacted the establishment of the state of Tennessee.
History buffs should also make their way to Greeneville and visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, where President Johnson and his family lived for many years. Then, you can continue your tour of yesteryear by treasure hunting in the city’s many wonderful antique shops. Up the road in Rogersville, you’ll find the state’s largest collection of Federal style architecture on its charming Main Street, as well as many other significant and beautiful historical sites, such as Tennessee’s oldest active courthouse.
3. The Appalachian Trail Runs Through Northeast Tennessee
This 2,200-mile footpath stretches from Georgia to Maine and has come to be known for the epic end-to-end treks that hundreds of hikers attempt each year. However, you don’t need to be a thru-hiker to experience the beauty and magic of the Appalachian Trail(AT). With several access points around Northeast Tennessee, you can easily enjoy a day hike or an overnighter on the AT and get a little glimpse of what makes it so amazing. Some of the best places to jump on the AT are at Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel near Erwin, at the eastern point of Watauga Lake, or at Carvers Gap in the Roan Highlands.
4. A Bounty of Beautiful Waterfalls
If it’s a waterfall hike you’re looking for, Northeast Tennessee is just the place. Its many streams and mountainous landscape create the perfect conditions for an abundance of waterfalls great and small. Laurel Falls and Margarette Falls are two of the most popular waterfall hikes in the area, and both are great for their moderate distances, mild elevation changes and, of course, the stunning waterfall views. Other great options are Blue Hole Falls, Gentry Creek Falls, and Sill Branch Falls.
5. A Lifetime of Trails to Explore
In addition to the hundreds of miles of trails crisscrossing Cherokee National Forest, there are a handful of more developed parks and trail systems scattered throughout Northeast Tennessee that are not to be missed. Doe Mountain Recreation Area offers a little bit of everything within its 8,600 acres of wilderness, including more than 50 miles of well-marked trails for mountain biking, running, and hiking.
In Kingsport, take a hiking adventure to Bays Mountain Park, which also features animal exhibits, a planetarium, and sparkling lake views. In Johnson City, enjoy mountain biking at Tannery Knobs or a gentler bike ride on the Tweetsie Trail, a 10-mile rail trail that reaches all the way to Elizabethton. You’ll also find lovely walking paths at Sycamore Shoals State Park and David Crockett Birthplace State Park, as well as at Rocky Fork, Warriors Path and Roan Mountain state parks.
6. Endless Ways to Enjoy a Day on the Water
Whether you prefer the thrill of whitewater or the serenity of a relaxing float trip, you’ll find the perfect watery adventure in the rivers and lakes of Northeast Tennessee. For excellent bass fishing, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the clear waters of South Holston Lake. This reservoir is largely bordered by the Cherokee National Forest, so the banks and surrounding areas are mostly natural and undeveloped. You can also cast a line into Watauga and Boone lakes, which are also prime spots for swimming, flatwater paddling, and motor boating. If you’re seeking some adrenaline, you can reserve a guided rafting trip down the exciting and challenging Nolichucky River.
7. A Growing Micro-Brewing Scene
There’s no denying that folks who love the outdoors also tend to love craft beer. There’s also no denying that micro-breweries are springing up all over Northeast Tennessee, and there’s sure to be something for every taste. In Johnson City, check out the great beer and food truck scene at JRH Brewing, or hang out in the heart of downtown at Johnson City Brewing Company.
Down the road in Bristol, check out the signature drafts at Elderbrew. Or, enjoy cold beers and hot food at Holston River Brewing Company, which is just a stone’s throw from the Bristol Motor Speedway. You can even pitch your tent, or hook up an RV on the brewery’s 138 acres.
Written by Madison Eubanks for RootsRated Media in partnership with Northeast Tennessee Tourism.
Featured image provided by Amanda Nelson