Cruisin’ Shady Valley
As innkeeper Vikki Woods and I sit on the deck of the Iron Mountain Inn looking off in one direction to view Doe Mountain and the other to gaze at Pond Mountain, she ponders why more people aren’t taking notice of Shady Valley and the mountains southeast of Bristol.
“People forget about us up here,” she says. “And we have so much to offer.”
Her bed and breakfast inn on Iron Mountain offers panoramic view from its spacious decks and guest room balconies. Waves of mountains, unblemished by cell towers or signage, span the horizon. Autumn foliage promises to be spectacular – almost too beautiful to imagine.
Shady Valley, a bowl created by the Holston, Iron and Cross Mountains, ranks high as an ecologically important region of the Southern Appalachians. The Nature Conservancy has reserved white pine and hemlock forests and historic cranberry peat bogs. Doe Mountain was spared from clear cutting— much to the relief of Vikki— when it was purchased by the state to use as a recreation area.
Her quiet retreat with its flower garden and trails offers rest and relaxation. The breakfast menus vary with the seasons because she uses fruits and vegetables from at the local farmers market. Vikki, who also has guests at her chalet and house on Watauga Lake, offers special packages for fishing hunting, horseback riding, hiking and motorcycle tours, plus honeymoon and romance packages.
From the Iron Mountain Inn near Butler, travelers can follow Highway 67 through Shady Valley’s pastureland, cornfields and pumpkin patches to connect with U.S. Highway 421 in Mountain City. With a couple of antiques shops and eateries, the downtown might look sleepy, but there’s no chance of that. Motorcycles varoom as they follow the circuitous route of the “Striped Snake.” For 33 miles and 489 curves, the roadway twists through the valley and crosses three mountains and South Holston Lake.
Many riders stop for totally loaded hotdogs and hamburgers at Shady Valley Country Store at the crossroads with Highway 133. French fries are hot and crispy, T-shirts are always on sale, and the animated conversation is all about bikes. A Harley rider contrasts the Snake to the Tail of the Dragon (U.S. 129 to Deals Gap). She emphasizes the Snake is more about scenery and cruising, rather than thrill-seeking speed. “Here it’s less crowded and safer riding.”
From the store and gas station we follow Highway 133 for about 8 miles and drive through the “shortest tunnel in the world” at Backbone Rock. The 20-foot-long train tunnel is a good photo and a chance to hike in the cool rhododendron thickets along Beaver Dam Creek. It’s a highly prized fly fishing stream, a favorite picnic spot and a rock climbing area. A short loop leads to 45-foot Backbone Falls. A longer and steeper trail connects to the Appalachian Trail.
Back on the road, I backtrack and follow Highway 421 into Bristol, enjoying the curves, rural vistas and beauty of South Holston Lake. Fishermen casting for small-mouth bass dot the lake’s sparkling surface. I needed more time in our day because I could have played at the par 72, 18-hole RedTail Mountain Golf Course and toured Bristol Caverns or Appalachian Caverns. Villa Nove Vineyards expects to open its winery in mid-October. So many reasons to return to this beautiful region of northeast Tennessee!