So, You’re Planning a Family Trip to Northeast Tennessee? 15 Insider Tips on What to See and Do

Screen Shot 2019-11-15 at 9.26.19 AM

Between work, school, and soccer practice, spending quality time with loved ones can be a rare opportunity. When you’re on vacation, you want to make the most of your trip and create memorable experiences for your family.

When you visit Northeast Tennessee with your kids, you’ll find exciting and interactive learning opportunities, easy ways to enjoy nature together, plenty of kid-friendly restaurants, and history-filled hotels that you’ll never forget. Your family will love discovering the stunning mountain scenery and charming towns, which offer the comforts and attractions you want without the overwhelming crowds of some mountain destinations. We’ve created this quick guide to ensure that your family has a Northeast Tennessee vacation to remember for years to come.

Breakfast to Begin the Day

A full day of fun and adventure requires full bellies, and there are more than a few excellent spots to get revved up around Northeast Tennessee.

1. Maple Street Biscuit Company

In Johnson City, chow down on famous piled-high chicken biscuits at Maple Street Biscuit Company. This cozy sit-down spot is known for its hearty portions. The kids’ menu includes half-waffles, scrambled eggs, and the all-important juice box to start the day.

2. Olde Towne Pancake House

Olde Towne Pancake House in Jonesborough is another excellent choice if you crave a homestyle meal that might have come straight from your mom’s kitchen. With more than 10 kinds of specialty pancakes, including butterscotch, blueberry, and pumpkin spice, the menu at this family-owned eatery is sure to offer your family’s favorites and then some.

3. Coffee at the Kyle

For a grab-and-go breakfast, pop into Coffee at the Kyle in historic Downtown Rogersville. The casual cafe is located in the 19th-century Kyle House mansion and offers a variety of coffees, smoothies, bagels, and more. Take your snacks to go, or enjoy them on the patio with a view of the picturesque town.

Family-Friendly Adventures

In Northeast Tennessee, you and your family can have a science lesson, an outdoor adventure, and a cultural experience all in the same day. These are a few of our favorite kid-friendly activities around the area.

4. Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium

Science and outdoor recreation come together seamlessly at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium in Kingsport. Take an educational barge ride around the park’s lovely 44-acre lake, explore some of the 40 miles of hiking and biking trails, or see an educational movie at the planetarium. Be sure to say hello to the wolves, bobcats, raptors, and reptiles at the animal habitats, and check the schedule of interactive ranger programs if your family wants to learn more about the local wildlife.

5. Tweetsie Trail

For a biking adventure that’s safe and accessible even for little ones, spend a day on the Tweetsie Trail in Johnson City. This car-free rail-trail stretches 10 miles from Johnson City to Elizabethton and features rolling mountain scenery, points of interest, and amenities like restrooms and picnic areas. Local Motion Cyclery is conveniently located at the trail entrance and offers bike rentals for adults and kids, plus kid trailers and half-bikes.

6. Hands On! Discovery Center & Gray Fossil Site

At the Hands On! Discovery Center, your kids will be dazzled as they conduct experiments and interact with state-of-the-art learning technology. This science facility designed for all ages includes dinosaur and fossil displays, giant building blocks, an infinity mirror, and many other entertaining exhibits. The center is also home to the Gray Fossil Site, an active dig where your family can watch and marvel as paleontologists uncover fossils dating back 5 million years.

7. White Blaze Guided Hiking

If you enjoy getting outdoors with your family, book a hiking trip with White Blaze Guided Hiking. This friendly and professional guide service offers a wide range of experiences from easy two-hour excursions to epic backcountry overnighters. Choose your trip based on difficulty and desired destination, and let your assigned guide handle everything while you focus on togetherness in the outdoors.

8. Birthplace of Country Music Museum & Bristol Motor Speedway

A visit to Bristol reveals some of Tennessee’s fascinating history and culture. Take a stroll through the famed Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which commemorates the 1927 Bristol Sessions and chronicles the region’s profound impact on country music. For a heart-pounding thrill, catch a race at the renowned Bristol Motor Speedway, one of the most popular NASCAR venues in the world. You can even take a tour of the gigantic arena and spend some time at the Kid Zone before the race begins.

Where to Unwind

Choosing a restaurant that pleases all ages can be a tough task, but you won’t need to compromise during your visit to Northeast Tennessee. Here are a few fantastic options that even the pickiest eaters will love.

9. Jiggy Ray’s

Pizza is always a kid-pleaser, and Jiggy Ray’s in Elizabethton is a local family favorite. Start with the huge salad bar before diving into one of the restaurant’s “Itappalachian” specialty pizzas. With open mic night Wednesdays, karaoke Thursdays, and local bands on the weekends, you’re almost guaranteed to hear some live music while you dine at Jiggy Ray’s.

10. Burger Bar

For juicy burgers and vintage vibes, end your day at the Burger Bar diner in Bristol. This well-loved joint has been serving up milkshakes, melts, and french fries for nearly 80 years, and it’s sure to be one of your family’s favorite meals of the trip.

11. County Line Pie

County Line Pie is another go-to for pizza and treats. Located a few miles off the beaten path in Chuckey, it’s an outpost of Main Street Pizza Co. and serves ice cream, pies, baked goods, and pizzas. The best part is that the pizzas are made with fresh ingredients grown at River Creek Farm, which is owned by the restaurant.

Where to Get a Good Night’s Rest

The fun doesn’t have to stop when your crew turns in for the night. Here are several unique lodging options in Northeast Tennessee.

12. Rocky Top or Woodsmoke Campgrounds

Looking to stay off the beaten path? Rocky Top Campground in Blountville or Woodsmoke Campground in Unicoi both offer secluded areas for RVs and tents. Your family can enjoy a full hook-up site for your RV or reserve one of the quaint Caboose Cabin units.

13. The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast

In Cumberland Gap, explore nature and local history at The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast. The inn is located inside Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and is surrounded by many miles of hiking trails. Inn guests can stay in an authentic 18th-century log cabin or an annex apartment with a private deck. There’s even in a floating cabin on Norris Lake.

14. Hale Springs Inn

At the Hale Springs Inn in Rogersville, the nine spacious guest rooms are named for significant men in history, including the three U.S. presidents who have stayed there. As the state’s second-oldest town, Rogersville offers plenty to explore, such as Crockett Springs Park, the Train Depot, and the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum. You can even book guided walking tours of the town’s top attractions to learn more about the local history.

15. General Morgan Inn

The General Morgan Inn is one of the most elegant hotels in the area. It offers a luxurious and memorable lodging experience in historic downtown Greeneville. The grand hotel has been a fixture in town since it was built in 1884 to accommodate traveling business people. The hotel’s ornate decor and stately facade make guests feel as if they’ve traveled back in time. Kids will be tempted to go in search of the 10 friendly ghosts who are rumored to wander the grounds.

Whether your family loves to investigate the past, explore the outdoors, dig into science, or enjoy a day at the races, you’ll find plenty of entertainment in Northeast Tennessee. The region offers a vibrant blend of intriguing history, natural wonders, and family-friendly attractions. Plus, the wide variety of restaurants and lodging options can satisfy the needs of any family, whatever your tastes and preferences. If you’re seeking a new place to create lasting family memories, Northeast Tennessee could be the perfect destination.

Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with NETTA.

Featured image provided by NETTA