The Sunny Side Trail, one of the 16 Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways, starts at the foot of the Smoky Mountains and heads northeast up through the Tennessee Valley. Following it on its course and stopping along its 179 listed stops will bring you on a tour through a scenic mountain landscape filled with eclectic small towns, roadside attractions and the history of the early years of settlements and statehood. After all, they don't call it the Early Country Trail for nothing.
Continuing northeast on US-321, you'll cruise right into the heart of historic downtown Jonesborough, Tennessee's oldest town. Founded in the midst of the American Revolution, this charmingly preserved district will remind visitors of the colonial towns on the eastern seaboard and challenge the notion that Tennessee's history begins in 1796, the year it became the 16th state.
This region was claimed by North Carolina in those days. But its citizens acted like their patriots cousins to the east. Several of East Tennessee's frontiersmen, living on the fringe of a burgeoning nation, made the trans-Appalachian trek to defeat Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, becoming the infamous Overmountain Men and changing the course of the war.
When those men returned from Kings Mountain, they returned to build the nation they fought to preserve. Much of what can be seen today in downtown Jonesborough is the result; and their handiwork was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
From Jonesborough, the Sunny Side Trail shifts due south, down TN-81 and into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Enter Unicoi County.
Much of this wild landscape is tucked into the folds of the Cherokee National Forest, making it an outdoorsmen's paradise. The Nolichucky River flows cool, clear and fairly shallow through Erwin, the county seat. Opportunities for whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking and fishing, especially fly fishing abound here. And the area is a magnet for hikers of all levels. It has several entrances into the incredibly massive Cherokee National Forest, a stretch of the Appalachian Trail and is home to one of Tennessee's newest state parks - Rocky Fork.
Heading north out of Unicoi County, the Trail brings you to Johnson City. Here at Tennessee Vacation, we are no stranger to this great town, and you should read Mountain Sweeps and Beautiful Eats: Johnson City, Tennessee to find out why. Highlights include, but are definitely not limited to: hiking to the top of Buffalo Mountain Park and stopping for a brew and some tacos at Yee Haw Brewing Company and White Duck Taco Shop.
My travels along the Sunny Side Trail, like yours, will continue on from here on to Mountain City, Bristol and Kingsport. Until then, make your travel plans at www.tntrailsandbyways.com.