Mountains, Music and History: The Sunny Side of Tennessee

Take a trip to the Sunny Side of Tennessee beginning with one of the oldest mountain ranges known to man leading to the hidden treasures of Appalachia. The Sunny Side Trail traces country music’s roots from the backwoods to Main Street, with local eats and tales along the way.

The Sunny Side Trail starts in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, estimated to be nearly 300 million years old with one of the most visited National Parks in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

Enjoy a peaceful, scenic drive with mountain views folks dream of along Highway 321 toward Pittman Center and stop at the Newport Cocke County Museum for exhibits of historic Appalachian tools and Native American artifacts. Or maybe it’s a taste of moonshine from a local distillery in Cocke County that you’re craving.

Follow Highway 321 from Newport toward the vibrant college town of Johnson City. Travel north to discover there’s even more in Northeast Tennessee. Settle in to the rolling countryside and numerous farms nestled within the mountains rising to the east and into the historic town of Greeneville, home of our nation’s 17th president, Andrew Johnson. Take a history tour, visit the home of Andrew Johnson or shop for antiques along Greeneville’s well-preserved downtown.

Next, explore the Oldest Town in Tennessee that has a big story to tell: Historic Jonesborough. The brick-lined sidewalks capture a glimpse of this quaint little town’s historic significance throughout Main Street, that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Enter the Tri-Cities area by way of Johnson City, where noted local dining, craft beer and galleries are abundant. Take the scenic route to Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, where history comes alive from the 18th and 19th centuries. Or, dig for fossils at Gray Fossil Site and Hands On! Museum.

Learn about the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals Historic Area in Elizabethton, stop for a picture with one of the most noted covered bridges in the U.S., and then head into even more mountainous reaches of Northeast Tennessee to see the color burst of rhododendrons at Roan Mountain State Park

There’s plenty of outdoor recreation along the Sunny Side Trail, and now that you’ve found yourself tucked within the Cherokee National Forest, go hiking, rafting and boating, or maybe set aside an afternoon fishing at the hidden gem known as Watauga Lake.

And tucked away in the corner of the state is Bristol, the birthplace of country music and home to the world’s fastest half mile at Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway. Learn how the banjos and ballads of the backwoods made their way from the front porch to center stage as country music paved its way through the state. Take a picture of State Street in downtown Bristol that splits between Tennessee and Virginia, giving Bristol two states to call home.

As you continue along, stop in the busy city of Kingsport. See nature and stars, or howl with the wolves at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium. Kingsport is also home to the first “drive-thru only” diner known as Pal’s, where you’ll want to save room for a burger, “Frenchie Fries” and southern sweet tea.

Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium

Just as the frontier towns are inviting and charming, getting off the beaten path — sometimes way off — gives you an experience that is pure Tennessee and can only be found on the Sunny Side Trail.

For additional trip ideas along the Sunny Side Trail, click here.

And, to start planning your trip to Tennessee, visit tnvacation.com.