Rocky Top Trail encourages summer road trips
There’s something about summer that instantly encourages a road trip: a fresh music playlist, snacks, friends, and the open road. It’s freedom, it’s summer, and it’s Tennessee as you can take 16 Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways that stretch across the state’s 95 counties.
The Rocky Top trail is a great mix of big-name attractions and small town historic charm. Spelunk, learn, and explore along this 130-stop trail for the ultimate summer getaway. Feel the spirit of Appalachia and try to Instagram the Smokies, but, honestly, pictures just don’t do them justice. Here’s what you can expect along the trail:
The name says it all. This is where the trail starts so grab a brochure and map your course. Take a trolley around Gatlinburg, browse handcrafted artistic treasures, taste some moonshine, and drive, hike, or horseback ride through the most visited national park in the nation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The No. 1 Baked Beans in the World are in Dandridge thanks to the A.J. Bush & Company. Go through the general store, gift shop, theatre, and family cafe’. Learn your weight in beans and snap a shot with Duke. We bet it’ll be your new Facebook profile picture.
Home to Southern food, fun, and thrill, Dollywood is the No. 1 ticketed attraction in Tennessee. Ride the newest FireChaser Express, the nation’s first dual-launch coaster that opened this season; Mystery Mine, Wild Eagle, America’s first wing coaster; and the hair-raising wood coaster, Thunderhead. Entertaining shows, Appalachian demonstrations, food and games make this destination a must-do when you’re in East Tennessee.
Stretch your legs and discover what lies behind the door of the Ramsey House, a 1797 historic house museum open with guided tours. The home was built by Thomas Hope, Knoxville’s first builder, in pink marble and limestone. With the interior and exterior architectural features, it’s no wonder it was considered the finest home in Tennessee of its time. More than 100 acres encompasses the site which is great for a picnic lunch. Be sure to stop in the visitor center for a gift shop and exhibits. The house is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays.
Ijam’s 300 acres welcome you with 10 miles of trails, ponds, lakes, rock formations, and plenty of overlooks for photo ops or reflection. Besides hiking and biking, you can also rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard for $11 an hour or $35 for a full day along Mead’s Quarry Lake. Learn from naturalists with experiences like wildflower walks, bat nights, owl prowls, along with trips to William Hastie Natural Area, Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, the region’s largest wildlife sanctuary, and varies greenways.
Explore what Knoxville has to offer with museums and attractions like Art Market Gallery, Market Square, World’s Fair Park and the Sunsphere, and Crescent Bend, an 1834 home that displays arts from the 17th and 18th centuries, including wallpaper valued at $500,000 which was planned for President Andrew Jackson’s Nashville home.
Lenoir City/ Loudon
Lenoir City welcomes its visitors with a step back in history. From the 1820 Lenoir Home, the founder of Lenoir City’s abode, to the old Cotton Mill, walk the streets and soak up the preserved ruins that surround you. See that Victorian cottage building on Depot St.? Step in and see 19th century relics and documents from settlers.
Travel on to Loudon, about 15 minutes from Lenoir City, and sample some of the finest wine at Tennessee Valley Winery which is a true taste of Tennessee as their grapes are grown and wine sold in state. Stop into Mark’s Diner, which is a Southern Living favorite that uses fresh ingredients on classic homemade meals. Enjoy a day at the farm at Sweetwater Valley Farm where you can learn about milking cows and making cheese in the interactive museum as well as buy treats and souvenirs.
The million-year-old caverns rise up to offer natural beauty as the “Greatest Sight Under the Smokies” in one of the earth’s oldest mountain chains. The Big Room is a must-see, one that you’ll never forget. Also learn about inhabitants of the caves like animals, onyx, rock formations and much more. Cherokee Indians used to utilize the caverns, according to legend, until white settlers discovered the caves around 1800s. In rainy seasons, waterfalls cascade from the valley above, making for some great natural photo-ops.
Wind your way back where you started with stop-offs that include Cades Cove, Headrick Chapel & Cemetery and Bears Valley Antiques in Wears Valley, and Sugarland Cellars in Gatlinburg, which celebrates the rich history through fine wines made on site.
Have you embarked on the Rocky Top Trail? Share your experiences and your favorite pit stops below!