Monterey is a hidden treasure, tucked in a crossroad off Interstate 40 and the gateway to the Cumberland Plateau, about 15 miles east of Cookeville. Once known as Standing Stone, after an historic stone monument left by prehistoric Indians, the town has many tales to tell. You may hear the ghost of Whistlin’ Willie as you explore the Monterey Depot Museum or sense the presence of the Native Americans’ Great Spirit when standing on the towering summit of Bee Rock. “Where Hilltops Kiss the Sky” is the apt slogan of this town that’s perched at an 1,883-foot elevation on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
Discover History and the Great Outdoors in Monterey
Established as a coal mining town in 1893, the railroad brought new life to the sleepy settlement. The last mine closed in 1979 and today, Monterey is popular for its proximity to a kaleidoscope of outdoor activities. Explore Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Oneida and Pickett CCC Memorial State Park to the north in Jamestown, kayak the Caney Fork or Calf Killer rivers to the south and cool off in area waterfalls less than an hour away.
Historic Bee Rock Is for Outdoor Rock Climbing
Bee Rock overlook, on the outskirts of town, is a short walk on a gravel/dirt path. The trail ends abruptly on a flat, rocky outcrop overlooking the entire spectacular Calf Killer River Valley. It was sacred to Native Americans, a vantage point for their protection and a source of fresh honey from wild bees. Rock climbers can tackle some 24 marked climbing routes up the sheer rock face.
Kayaking and Fishing at Meadow Creek Park
Meadow Creek Park hides disused coal mine shafts, remnants from the Meadow Creek Coal Co. that finally closed operations in 1979. Transforming the creek into a dam and secondary water supply for the city, the 300-acre Meadow Creek Park now offers a quiet and scenic lake for kayakers and fishermen and is surrounded by a growing masterplan of hybrid hiking and mountain biking trails. Wilderness campsites and zip lines are in future plans.
Model Trains and More at the Monterey Depot Museum
The Monterey Depot Museum boasts an impressive model train display, but it is not just about trains. Filled with train artifacts, American Indian masks, military memorabilia, coal mining relics, vintage quilts and links to local heroes, it traces the rich mountain heritage from prehistoric Indians to Civil War heroes, coal miners and timber cutters. The highlight of any visit is meeting local historian and museum curator, “Blind Dale” Welch, who was the town’s newspaper publisher for many years. Every item has a story to tell from this master storyteller.
Live Music and Shopping Go Hand in Hand in Monterey
Join in the bluegrass and gospel music jam at Picking at the Market, every Tuesday evening at the Farmers Market pavilion, late spring through the end of October. Bring your chair or instrument for an evening of fun. Every Saturday morning from March through October, return for fresh produce and homemade goods at the Monterey Farmers Market.
Where to Eat in Monterey
Lovely Brew Coffee Shop & Boutique is the perfect find for road trippers. Owner Rebecca Walker opened the coffee shop in 2020 in a restored feed store and serves specialty coffees, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts Monday through Saturday. Browse the small boutique while awaiting your order from the friendly staff.
A couple other places where you can satisfy your hunger pangs include Los Agaves, known for its tasty Mexican fare, or the Convenience Mart on South Holly Street, which offers pizza, soup and salads.
Looking for art and craft treasures? Hello! Market Blessings is home to over 40 cottage businesses under one roof. Established in 2020, it is now owned by four sisters who all have creative and artistic backgrounds. Designed as a place for blessing and encouragement for artists and craftsmen to display and sell their wares, the shop showcases arts, crafts, woodwork, leather, boutiques, home baked goods and handmade creations.
Plan a stop in Monterey next time you’re passing on I-40. It’s the perfect stepping off point to explore nature, history and all this area has to offer.
Explore the Essence of the Smokies
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