Northeast Tennessee: True Outdoors
The towns of Northeast Tennessee are located just west of the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Forest. If you’re traveling the Parkway and want to visit this area, consider exiting in the Plateau Region and traveling southwest, or at MP 305.1 and head west to Johnson City.
Start off with a hike along the Appalachian Trail at Carvers Gap for 360 degree views from the Roan Highlands of Roan, Jane and Grassy Ridge Balds. Once you’ve seen the mountaintops, you’ll be ready to fly through the trees on one of the longest zip lines in the country at Off the Grid Mountain Adventures in Elizabethton.
The Captain’s Table is a favorite among locals as it overlooks one of Northeast Tennessee’s most scenic waterfronts. You’ll enjoy lunch with a view of Watauga Lake, as it chisels its way through the Appalachian Mountains and Cherokee National Forest.
Go off the beaten path to one of Northeast Tennessee’s secret waterfalls. Totaling 5.8 miles, out and back, Laurel Falls Trail in Hampton offers a big reward for both beginner and advanced hikers. Along the way, you’ll follow the river through cascades, rock walls, bridged crossings, and stone staircases through the succulent forest.
Kicking back in one of Northeast Tennessee’s trail towns is the perfect way to spend the evening. Head to downtown Erwin, for a variety of local and southern craft beer at Union Street Tap Room. Just a few steps down the street, you’ll find Noli, a food truck turned brick-and-motor restaurant specializing in street tacos and burgers smothered in tasty goodness. And, if you need to stock up on gear, Erwin Outdoor Supply is also located within walking distance.
Where to Stay
There’s nothing better than sleeping to the sounds of the Nolichucky River. Featured on Tiny House Nation and along the banks of the river, USA Raft and Mountain River Guides offer a variety of lodging options, as well as a primitive cabin and bunkhouse.
Dip through the woods at Johnson City’s newest mountain bike park, Tannery Knobs, featuring trails ranging from beginner to advanced. The park is only a few minutes from downtown Johnson City, where you can even rent a bike to test out the trails. If you’d rather trade mountain biking for more panoramic views, Buffalo Mountain offers five options when it comes to hiking with views of the entire city. If you need to stock up on gear, Mahoney’s Outfitters is located close by.
Downtown Johnson City is the perfect urban atmosphere with wide selection of locally owned restaurants ranging from tacos, German, Cuban, southern barbeque, Turkish, Indian, or even a quick bite from a food truck.
Tackle the outdoors with a course at Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute, a comprehensive outdoor school offering courses and instruction for all ability levels in a variety of disciplines including kayak, canoe, water safety and rescue, wilderness medicine, survival, hiking, and conservation. Or, if you can’t get enough of the Nolichucky River (one of the deepest gorges in the southeastern United States), head to the water with USA Raft.
Relax by a campfire and enjoy the sounds of a southern night, with a cowboy style meal prepared by USA Raft and Mountain River Guides staff.
The South Holston River is internationally known for brown trout fly fishing. Cast like a pro with lessons from South Holston River Company in Bristol, complete with a trip down the winding river as you hone the craft of fly fishing.
Bristol is known as the Birthplace of Country Music, and a visit to downtown isn’t complete without sitting in the local dive where Hank Williams was known to have quick bite. The Burger Bar never disappoints with nearly 20 specialty burgers, and you won’t want to leave without taking an obligatory photo with one foot in Virginia and one foot in Tennessee under the iconic Bristol sign.
Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium located in Kingsport features a quiet lake complete with barge rides, hiking and biking trails, ropes and zip lining courses, a nature center, planetarium theater, and animal habitats featuring wolves, bobcats, raptors and reptiles. Kingsport is known for a variety of things, but among the most famous is the Long Island Iced Tea. Visit nearly any restaurant downtown and taste for yourself the original recipe, complete with maple syrup.
Head to one of Tennessee’s oldest towns, Rogersville and you’ll find McKinney’s Restaurant & Tavern located inside the historic Hale Springs Inn (Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk stayed here). Or, Amis Mills Eatery sits on the historic Thomas Amis Estate and serves up some of the best Southern food you’ll find anywhere, all atop a hill that overlooks a stunning stone dam and waterfall.
For even more ways to plan your visit to Northeast Tennessee, see our additional trip ideas.