Elizabethton: A Tennessee Treasure
You can experience the highs and lows of the Elizabethton area without doing too much driving. The small town east of the Tri-Cities in northeast Tennessee keeps all of its fun close together.
I like to start at the top with a trip to Carver’s Gap, elevation 5,512 feet. This gap in the ridgeline is 8 miles past Roan Mountain State Park on Highway 143. It’s an easy access to the Appalachian Trail, the legendary footpath that marks its 75th anniversary this year. In following the trail to the top of a bald, I gain an awesome view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. AT hikers pay a supreme compliment, often calling this one of the most beautiful sections of the 2,184-mile trail. If you have a family with small children this might be the best place on earth to start them toward appreciating the natural beauty of Appalachia. The view of the mountains marching to the horizon is truly breathtaking, and the 30-minute hike is just long enough for small children to make it an adventure.
Roan Mountain State Park has much else to offer, especially in early summer when the rhododendron are in bloom. The park also has a swimming pool, pavilions, and the lovely historic Miller Farmstead. The white frame house, built in 1908, is open to visitors. The gardens are a labor of love for Beth Jarrett, a family member who serves as on-site interpreter. While tending the chickens, she talks about farm life when children walked to school and used candles and lanterns for light.
Roan Mountain is southeast of Elizabethton. As you go through Hampton on Highway 19E, you can turn on U.S. Highway 321 to reach the trailhead for Laurel Fork Falls. The 40-foot high, 50-foot wide falls are a magnificent payoff for a challenging hike. The cascade tumbles into white, rolling foam over a series of rocks.
U.S. Highway 321 hugs the banks of Watauga Lake. I take a relaxing stroll through the Watauga Point Recreational Area where shade pines and constant breezes off the water make the park comfortable for picknicking and watching sailboats and pontoon crafts. The lake also has areas roped off for swimming with sand beaches and several marinas including Lakeshore Marina.
My descent from the highs of the Blue Ridge was complete when I plunge into a deep Blue Hole. A series of four falls produces a small but idyllic swimming hole. I encourage everyone to plant yourself under the cascade and let the water chill and refresh. From the plunge pool you can watch rock climbers descending from bluffs and feel the cool breezes sweeping down from the spring-fed cascade. Blue Hole Falls requires a short, but steep, hike from the parking lot. It is on Panhandle Road, off Highway 91 north of Elizabethton.
The Tri-Cities area has a second outstanding state park — Warrior’s Path in Kingsport. The park marina serves boaters at Patrick Henry Reservoir, plus has a swimming beach, pool, cabins, campsites and hiking trails.
The state park has received national recognition for Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground, a unique play area designed to provide fun and learning opportunities for children of all abilities. In April, the new Palmer Center Foundation Amphitheater opened as part of the Tennessee State Park’s 75th anniversary celebration. Special events of all kind are held at this outdoor performance space.