The Sunny Side Trail, one of the 16 Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways, starts at the foot of the Great 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.
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US-321 cruises through pleasant Newport, located on the Pigeon River and on to the curiously named Parrotsville, acknowledged as Tennessee's third oldest town. Along this route, you are witnessing a landscape much like the one the early Cherokee, and later, the American settlers saw.
Try and find a quiet spot, in one of the in-between places out where the fields and the mountains are all you can see.
Get out of the car.
Listen to the breeze in the grass, in the trees.
Let the silence of the countryside fill your senses.
You'll see it and feel it.
Onto Greeneville another one of Tennessee's oldest settlements and the home of President Andrew Johnson. This tailor turned politician had the heavy responsibility of becoming President of the United States after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
His story, from humble beginnings on to his presidency, impeachment and death are displayed in vivid detail, thanks to the National Park Service which runs a series of sites dedicated to preserving his legacy.
The Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, where he is buried, and the Andrew Johnson Historic Site, containing his original tailor's shop, are all available for free tours. The Site is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tours are limited to 12 persons and are on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there early to claim your spot!
Other sites of note in downtown Greeneville include the General Morgan Inn, named after a famed Confederate cavalry general who was killed near this spot during the Civil War. Luxury and southern charm meet for an unforgettable stay. The 51 spacious guest rooms come with high-speed WiFi, Bath & Body Works toiletries, flat-screen televisions and more.
Other stops along the trail include the circa 1810 Cumberland Presbyterian Church and historic Tusculum University, the oldest higher education institution in Tennessee, founded in 1794.
The Dickson-Williams Mansion, built in 1821, was home to Greeneville’s first postmaster, William Dickson. Confederate and Union soldiers were entertained here and this site was where General Morgan spent his last night. Inside, you'll find replica furniture pieces mixed with items originally displayed in the home on view. Tours begin from General Morgan Inn.
Afterward, follow the Sunny Side Trail markers to a site commemorating a man who is undoubtedly one of the most famous Americans of all time: David Crockett. This famous frontiersmen, politician and defender of the Alamo may not have died in Tennessee, but Tennessee was where he was born. Get a feel for his life and legacy by starting where he did, in Limestone, Tennessee.
Approximately 105 acres of riverside woodland have been preserved along the Nolichucky River for the David Crockett Birthplace State Park. There is an 18th century living farmstead, replica cabin, visitor center exhibits and a limestone marker that helps tell the frontiersman’s story. The state park has 88 campsites – 40 of them have full hook-ups, 30 have water and electric only and 18 are primitive sites. Spend some time exploring the trails ranging from easy to moderate: the Limestone Creek Trail is 0.3 miles with a natural surface; the Meadow View Trail is 0.5 miles and the River Bluff Trail, ranked as moderate, is 0.3 miles. Catch smallmouth bass and catfish in the Nolichucky River or spend some time exploring the river at your pace in a canoe or kayak.
My travels along the Sunny Side Trail, like yours, will continue from here, on to Jonesborough, Johnson City and Bristol.