Let’s face it, looking forward to your summer vacation while it’s still the middle of winter feels a lot like looking for the finish line in a marathon. You know you’ll get there sooner or later, but at the moment it seems impossibly far away.
Luckily, Northeast Tennessee has a huge variety of attractions that make it the perfect destination for a winter getaway, so you don’t have to wait for summer to enjoy a fabulous vacation. Whether you get your kicks from fun indoor activities or prefer to head into the great outdoors, Northeast Tennessee will make you forget your winter blues. And the region’s temperatures actually stay pretty mild, so there’s nothing stopping you from visiting at any time of the year. Here are a few of our favorite ways to while away winter days in Northeast Tennessee.
Take the Kids to Hands On! Discovery Center
The Hands On! Discovery Center and Gray Fossil Site is an all-ages science center that offers fun interactive programs and exhibits that include a musical Tesla coil, giant building blocks, and a maker studio inviting guests to engineer a rocket, create a masterpiece, and uncover something new. Get up close and personal with an active prehistoric fossil dig site dating back 5 million years. Enjoy exhibits and programs featuring plant and animal fossils that have been unearthed at the site.
Tour the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
The Bristol Sessions are considered by many to be one of America’s most influential events in early commercial country music. In 1927, esteemed producer Ralph Peer launched a recording trip through the Southeast, and while in Bristol he made many famous recordings that included early country musicians like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, which opened in 2014, tells the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions’ impact on country music and hosts a variety of educational and public programming, including summer camps, a film series, lectures and workshops, family fun days, and special performances by roots musicians.
Get Muddy at Doe Mountain Recreation Area
Sprawled among the low peaks near Mountain City, Tennessee, the Doe Mountain Recreation Area (DMRA) is a wooded wonderland of trails, wildlife, and Appalachian scenery. Its 8,600 forested acres include more than 60 miles of multi-use trails, which are especially popular among ATV, UTV, and other Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) users.
Cozy Up in at Coffee House
Spending a chilly winter evening with good music and delicious food is just downright good for the soul. In downtown Bristol you’ll find the quaint Bloom Cafe and Listening Room, where you can enjoy coffee, café fare and draft beer while you take in a show. In Johnson City, you’ll have a variety of sustainable coffee and juice bars to choose from.
Fly Fish the Watauga River
Teeming with rainbow, brown, and brook trout, the Watauga River in Elizabethton is a hidden gem among fly-fishing spots in Northeast Tennessee. The 17-mile river flows from one of the cleanest lakes in the country and can be waded or fished from a drift boat, depending on whether Wilbur Dam is generating. Make sure to check TVA’s dam release schedule before casting your line into these pristine waters.
Hike Sill Branch and Pine Ridge Falls
Sill Branch Falls and Pine Ridge Falls in Erwin sit so close together that you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t visit both. Tucked into the Clark’s Creek area of Cherokee National Forest, the falls are nestled into a scenic forest with steep cliffs and babbling creeks. The hike to the base of Sill Branch Falls is about half a mile uphill. From a nearby trailhead, the walk to Pine Ridge Falls is also half a mile, but you gain less elevation than you do during the Sill Branch hike. Since neither of the falls is especially powerful, winter months often afford a unique opportunity to visit the falls while they’re frozen.
Take a Guided Tour of Worley’s Cave
For a truly unique Northeast Tennessee adventure, spend a winter day underground among the stalagmites and stalactites of Worley’s Cave in Bluff City. Because caves remain at a constant 55 degrees year round, winter is the perfect season to hone your spelunking skills. Because Worley’s Cave has more than 4,000 feet of caverns and tunnels, you’ll make the most of your visit by exploring with a guide. You won’t find handrails or light shows here, because Worley’s is a living cave, and you should be ready to get your feet wet.
Day-Hike the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail spans for about 288 miles throughout Northeast Tennessee, so there is plenty of room to spread out, take in the fresh air, and not worry about crowded places.
Leave No Trace