Off the Beaten Path in Northeast Tennessee: An Insider’s Guide

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A quick Google search for “things to do in Northeast Tennessee” will turn up dozens of the area’s most popular attractions. But if you wander off the beaten path, you’ll find some fantastic, lesser-known destinations, including trails, backroads, restaurants, and entertainment spots. The trick is just knowing where to go, so we’ve put together an insider’s guide for your visit. After you’ve visited the Bristol Motor Speedway and Roan Mountain State Park (both of which we highly recommend), take the road less traveled and experience some of these local favorites.

Food and Drinks

Scratch Pizza

When you’re feeling adventurous, stray a bit from Johnson City’s buzzing downtown to visit Scratch Pizza. Located in a restored 20th-century house in the historic North Roan Street district, this mom-and-pop shop makes wood-fired pizza in their hand-built oven. (Seriously, you can check out photos of them building it on their website.) Instead of ordering a regular pie, take a chance and get the TRUST pizza—the cook will throw together a surprise pie that he thinks you’ll like. At Scratch Pizza, a little risk can bring you a great reward!

Peggy Ann Bakery

You just might rub shoulders with someone famous when you visit Peggy Ann Bakery in Greeneville. This little shop happens to be a favorite stop for Greeneville natives The Band Perry whenever they’re home for a visit. Even if you don’t see a celebrity, you’ll be glad you visited. Whether you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth or tuck into a traditional meat-and-three lunch plate, you’ll quickly fall in love with this Greeneville treasure. The bakery specializes in delicious doughnuts of all types, and its cream-filled cookies will make your head spin. Be sure to check out the homemade fixings at the hot bar, which is always changing.

The Captain’s Table

When your travels take you into the Elizabethton area, head east into the hills for an excellent meal with an inspiring view. The Captain’s Table sits on the shore of Watauga Lake, where more than 105 miles of shoreline is protected by the Cherokee National Forest, making this one of the most lovely and untouched lakefronts in the state. Located at the Lakeshore Resort & Marina, The Captain’s Table is one of the few restaurants on the lake, and it offers delicious seafood from March through November. Enjoy a taste of the South with their spicy grilled catfish or the cajun crawfish saute.

McKinney’s Tavern & Restaurant at Hale Springs Inn

With a population of fewer than 5,000 people, Rogersville might not be on your radar, but it should be. In the downtown district, you can enjoy an escape to the 19th century with a visit to the Hale Springs Inn built in 1824. At the inn’s restaurant, McKinney’s Tavern, you’ll enjoy elegant surroundings and a delicious menu of American favorites like burgers and steaks. On Sunday mornings, guests at the Inn can enjoy a delicious made-to-order breakfast prepared by their talented chef.

Outdoor Fun

Margarette Falls

A long-time favorite of Northeast Tennessee locals, Margarette Falls is a 60-foot cascade located along a charming trail in the Cherokee National Forest. At just under three miles round trip, the gradual hike is highly attainable for beginners, families, and those who want a relaxing, scenic day in the woods. The trail begins as an old road bed before turning to a creekside dirt path and features unusual rock formations as well as chances to glimpse several smaller waterfalls along the way.

Kingsport Greenbelt

If you ask Kingsport locals about their favorite way to explore the area, they’ll point you toward The Kingsport Greenbelt. This nine-mile walkway traces Reedy Creek and offers eight different parking areas where walkers, runners, and cyclists can access the path’s many diverse sections. You can explore the boardwalk over the wetlands, venture further to admire the spot where the North Fork Holston River becomes the South Fork, or merely use the Greenbelt as a functional way to get around town. This path has been a labor of love for Kingsport residents, and the possibilities for exploring its miles are endless.

Laurel Run Park

Tucked into the serene foothills near Church Hill, Laurel Run Park is a little-known nature lover’s delight. The 440-acre park hugs the Holston River and was transformed into a recreation area after serving as the set for the 1984 film The River with Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek. Inside Laurel Run, you’ll find two waterfalls, an abundance of wildlife, diverse flora, and miles of hiking trails. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can even follow Kiner Hollow Trail all the way into the neighboring Bays Mountain Park.

Persimmon Ridge Park

Persimmon Ridge Park is Jonesborough’s flagship green space featuring over 130 acres, biking and hiking trails, the Lost State Scenic Walkway, baseball fields, a basketball court, a playground for children of all ages and a family-friendly water park. An 18-hole disc golf course is also a popular feature of the park. Located just 1 mile from downtown Jonesborough, Persimmon Ridge Park is a great place to enjoy a beautiful weekend with your friends or a picnic with your family.

Other Local Favorites

The Snake 421

Is a scenic drive on your to-do list during your trip? It certainly will be after you learn about The Snake. This 37-mile driving loop begins and ends near Mountain City and meanders up and down three mountains on an epic tour of Northeast Tennessee. Extremely popular among motorcyclists and car enthusiasts, the loop serves up no fewer than 489 curves as it winds through Bristol, Damascus, and the Cherokee National Forest.

Kingsport Axmen

To get a real feel for a small town and spend time with the locals, you should take in a minor league baseball game. At Hunter Wright Stadium you can catch the Kingsport Axmen, a Rookie-class team in the Appalachian League. Often they play teams from nearby towns, so their games are friendly local affairs. Adults will love the cheap tickets (and the cheap beer), and kids will love the Mets’ furry mascot, Slider the dog.

Mahoney’s Outfitters

If you need to stock up on gear or supplies before you hit the trail, make your way to Mahoney’s Outfitters in Johnson City. This family-owned outdoor store began in 1960 as an army surplus store and has been going strong ever since. Whether you prefer hiking, hunting, or hammocking, you’ll find everything you need for your next adventure.

Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.

Featured image provided by Brian Greer