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East Tennessee is a tapestry of unique experiences. Plan a vacation in this beloved region filled with your interests. Do you like strolling a city's downtown or climbing to new heights? A fancy night out with a posh dinner or casual and laidback meal? Kicking your heels up at a music venue or getting thrills from a roller coaster? Below are choices for each of these categories and more to help you jumpstart your visit to this incredible area of the state.
Scenic Hike or Stroll Downtown
America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is your outdoor playground. Make time to walk the steep trail to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park where you can see mountains for miles. Waterfalls like Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, Rainbow falls are popular stops for visitors but smaller cascades can be found in the park as well. Check out this waterfall map. Auto touring is a popular way to experience the park with many traveling the Newfound Gap and Cades Cove Loop roads. However, if you want to escape crowds, try the Foothills Parkway East or Foothills Parkway West which provide many stop-off opportunities for photos of the mountains.
When in Chattanooga, you’ll want to make time to stroll the Bluff View Arts District which celebrates the culinary, horticultural and visual arts of the city. The district is a family owned and operated historic neighborhood with River Gallery featuring local, regional and national artists, gardens, restaurants like Back Inn Café and Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria – old world-style Italian dishes with house-made pastas and sauces, local Rembrandt’s Coffee House, and plazas and courtyards perfect for relaxing. Also check out the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts and the River Gallery Sculpture Garden where you can see beautiful views of Chattanooga, the Tennessee River and stone cliffs.
Stroll Downtown: Mural Walk - Knoxville
The beautiful city of Knoxville is a creative one, too. Walk around the city to marvel at the architecture and murals by local and regional artists. Grab the mural map at the downtown Visitors Center or download the app to check off the murals you visit. Spend the day taking pictures and making memories in Knoxville. Be sure to walk through Strong Alley, a collaboration between businesses and artists, located off Market Square in the alley between Union Avenue and Wall Avenue.
Tennessee Distillery or Winery
Pour some Tennessee into your glass when you visit Old Forge Distillery in Pigeon Forge. The award-winning craft spirits distillery specializes in small-batch recipes including bourbon whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, cream liqueurs and more. Moonshine flavors include chocolate, bananas foster, coffee and even moonshine cherries. Visit the distillery’s craft cocktail bar and one of the mixologists will craft a signature drink as well as seasonal concoctions. You can also have up to 10 moonshine tastings for free (there are 24 moonshine flavors to choose from).
Rolling hills and mountain views in Madisonville will have you thinking you’ve transported to Italy when you visit Tsali Notch Vineyard. Tsali Notch is Tennessee‘s largest muscadine vineyard and produces award-winning wines. Taste a variety of Tennessee Muscadine wines, indigenous to the Southeastern U.S., and enjoy the views while enjoying a family picnic on the grounds. Inside and outside wine tastings are offered. The vineyard also has a large party barn, recently refurbished 19-th century, two-room farmhouse and a reconstructed log building tasting room – all perfect settings for weddings, special events and reunions.
Kid-Friendly Adventure or Adult Outing
Kids and kids at heart have a blast at Dollywood, Tennessee’s No. 1 attraction, in Pigeon Forge. Music, award-winning shows, local makers, thrilling rides and slides make Dollywood a great place to spend a few days. Tucked in the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood offers 40 world-class rides including the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster FireChaser Express, the adrenaline-pumping wooden roller coaster Thunderhead and Lightning Rod, voted one of the Top 10 best coasters in the U.S. by USA Today readers. Little ones will love Wildwood Grove, a section of the park specifically designed for children and families. Enjoy the many festivals hosted throughout the year including the Flower & Food Festival, Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration that offers extended park hours, the Harvest Festival featuring the popular illuminated carved pumpkins and Smoky Mountain Christmas featuring millions of lights and themed shows.
When the stars come out, take in a show at The Down Home, a premiere listening room in Johnson City. The intimately set venue has a ‘come as you are’ atmosphere and hosts a wide range of artists from music legends to upcoming songwriters. The Down Home is even hosting a 2022 Tennessee Songwriters Week Showcase event 7 p.m. Feb. 22 where songwriters compete for a chance to play at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville and win a branded Taylor guitar, a one-year membership to NSAI and more.
Historic Museums and Locations or Outdoor Adventure
Visit the pioneer mountain farm-village, The Museum of Appalachia in Clinton to learn more about Southern Appalachia and the people who inhabited the region. The Smithsonian-Affiliate museum has 65 acres full of 25 log cabins, barns, churches, schools, gardens and farm animals. You can see more than 250,000 artifacts held in 3 buildings ranging from folk art to musical instruments, baskets, Native American pieces and more. A gift shop with locally made products and a restaurant that serves Southern Appalachian cooking is also on-site.
Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park in Sevierville is your destination for high-flying fun. Take the waterfall canopy tour, a 2-hour zip line tour over 7 lines, that is a thrilling adventure for everyone, including children as young as 7 years old. Take the adventure up a notch and tackle the Goliath zip line tour, the highest, longest and fastest zip line in the Smokies. You’ll fly 475ft up at 55mph along a half-mile of zip line, taking in the beautiful mountain ranges and the Little Pigeon River. After your ride, walk across America’s longest swinging bridge and try the on-the-ground obstacle course for kids and adults.
Fine Dining or Comfort Food
Elevate your date night with a dining experience at Oliver Royale where local, sustainable and organic ingredients are used as much as possible. Seasonal menus keep offerings fresh, so every visit can be different. You can find pastas made in-house daily and entrees like pan-roasted chicken, steak, salmon, the signature Oliver Burger featuring local Benton’s Ham crisps and much more. Sides like braised collard greens, crispy Brussels sprouts and roasted beets compliment the mouth-watering entrees. Save room for dessert like truffles and macarons, banana spring rolls and tiramisu bread pudding.
For a finger-licking good barbecue meal, head to Southern Craft BBQ in Johnson City. You’ll want to stay awhile and sip through local brews while enjoying the laidback atmosphere. The locally owned business smokes a variety of meat as well as bourbon smoked salmon. Pair a cocktail or local beer with the pulled pork tater tots, chopped brisket nachos, smoked wings, pulled pork tacos and sliced smoked turkey.
Make a stop at the local and adorable Cookie Jar Cafe in Dunlap for Southern comfort food in East Tennessee. Cookie jars donated by locals and patrons adorn the walls of this light-filled café. Dig into fired dill pickle spears, fried chicken salad, bacon cheeseburgers and grilled chicken salad sandwiches. Ribeye steaks, chicken tenders and sides like baked sweet potatoes, pickled beets and fried okra are served up as well.
Cozy Campsite or Luxury Hotel
Grab your friends for a memorable stay at Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains, safari-style camping in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Some tents come with their own private bathrooms and can sleep up to 4 adults and 2 kids. Organic bath products are stocked in your ensuite bathroom, on-site dining and USB batter packs can be found bedside. Fire pits with s’mores every night, on-site dining, complimentary activities like live music, kids activities and morning yoga are just some of the many amenities offered at Under Canvas.
In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, the Carnegie Hotel in Johnson City provides modern amenities while preserving the late 1800s traditional décor. The Austin Springs Spa & Salon will erase stress with massages and other treatments such as facials, hydro therapy, acupuncture, pedicures and manicures. Visit the award-winning Wellington’s Restaurant for a dinner filled with cocktails and regionally inspired dishes like filet mignon, seared salmon and deconstructed Wellington.
Breathe a contented sigh when you arrive at Blackberry Farm in Walland, a luxury hotel and resort that exudes sophistication and elegance. Book an Estate Room, Cottage, Carriage House suite or Home and enjoy cloud-like beds, soft linens and plush robes. Venture out to experience the many activities provided from horseback riding to archery, hiking, fly fishing, paddle sports, spa treatments, clay course and paintball, farmstead field school and wake surfing.
Explore even more East Tennessee attractions, restaurants and places to stay to help plan your next vacation.