Most families do not take vacations in the early year. With the cold of winter and the dead, barren land outside, this time of year doesn’t exactly scream warm, sun-kissed family fun. Getting out of town in the beginning of the year may not be such a bad idea though. In Northeast Tennessee most places offer discounted rates and are not as crowded this time of year. So what is a family to do if they suddenly find themselves with the travel bug in the middle of winter?
Get outside! Yes, it sounds crazy but the weather in Northeast Tennessee is very mild this time of the year. What better way to cure cabin fever than with a hike through the beautiful trails at Sycamore Shoals State Park; and not just any hike, a hike with a history lesson attached! Some of the earliest settlements in America were right in this very area; one of the first was along the Watauga Old Fields in what is present day Sycamore Shoals State Park, Elizabethton. During that time, the late 18th century, a man named John Carter built a home referred to as the Carter Mansion. It remains in the town of Elizabethton today and is the oldest standing frame house in Tennessee.
After the town was settled something great happened in the name of freedom. About 1772 right around this time of the year, John Carter and other leaders of the town banned together to establish “the first free and independent community on the continent,” four years before the Declaration of Independence. The community was proud of their creation and wouldn’t let anyone, not even the dirty Brits, take away their freedom. The men fought hard and eventually became known as the Overmountain Men, who went on to defeat British Major Patrick Ferguson at the epic battle of King’s Mountain. Many historians say that the actions of these men at Sycamore Shoals, three miles from Carter’s famous mansion, turned the tide of the American Revolution!
Today, Sycamore Shoals State Park celebrates its place in history. In the visitor’s center at the park there is a fantastic museum with relics and in depth information about Elizabethton. Behind the visitor’s center is a reconstruction of the 18th century Fort Watauga, the fort that the Overmountain Men fought from. The park also has a two-mile Mountain River Trail that follows the South bank of the Watauga River. Along the trail are interpretive signs detailing events. The hike is perfect distance for families with small children, or really interesting for families with older children who can grasp all the history that took place on the grounds.
After your history hike, you and the family can visit downtown Elizabethton for local food and shopping. The rich history, mild “winter” weather and unique charm make Elizabethton and Northeast Tennessee the perfect cure for cabin fever.