Mountains, Music and History: The Sunny Side of Tennessee

Mountains, Music and History: The Sunny Side of Tennessee

The Sunny Side Trail traces country music’s roots from the backwoods to Main Street, with local eats and tales of history along the way.

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Take a trip to the Sunny Side of Tennessee beginning with one of the oldest mountain ranges known to man leading to the hidden treasures of Appalachia. The Sunny Side Trail traces country music’s roots from the backwoods to Main Street, with local eats and tales along the way.

The Sunny Side Trail starts in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, estimated to be nearly 300 million years old with one of the most visited National Parks in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

horseback riding in smoky moutnains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Your journey begins with outlet shopping and award-winning family theater productions in Sevierville, hometown of iconic country music star Dolly Parton.

Tanger Outlets, Sevierville
Tanger Outlets, Sevierville, TN

A few miles down the road in Pigeon Forge, you won’t want to miss a day at Dollywood or Dollywood’s Splash Country. As you leave Pigeon Forge, visit the Old Mill Square highlighting artists committed to preserving the region’s arts and crafts, as well as showcasing master carpenters and brick masons from the Great Smoky Mountains.

Dollywood rollercoaster
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TN
Dollywood's Splash Country
Dollywood's Splash Country, Pigeon Forge, TN

The winding road leads you to Gatlinburg, and through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. See even more heritage crafters like blacksmiths, basket makers, potters and glassblowers in Gatlinburg’s Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, the largest in the country. Learn how these crafts helped sustain the area’s economy and shaped its culture dating back to the early 1900s. There are plenty of opportunities to observe, appreciate and even take home a piece of this Appalachian craft heritage that draws visitors from all over the world to East Tennessee along the Sunny Side Trail each year.

Enjoy a peaceful, scenic drive with mountain views folks dream of along Highway 321 toward Pittman Center and stop at the Newport Cocke County Museum for exhibits of historic Appalachian tools and Native American artifacts. Or maybe it’s a taste of moonshine from a local distillery in Cocke County that you’re craving.

Follow Highway 321 from Newport toward the vibrant college town of Johnson City. Travel north to discover there’s even more in Northeast Tennessee. Settle in to the rolling countryside and numerous farms nestled within the mountains rising to the east and into the historic town of Greeneville, home of our nation’s 17th president, Andrew Johnson. Take a history tour, visit the home of Andrew Johnson or shop for antiques along Greeneville’s well-preserved downtown.

Andrew Johnson home
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Greeneville, TN
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site
Andrew Johnson statue, Greeneville, TN

Just north, the birthplace of American pioneer David Crockett stands within David Crockett State Park, including a variety of hiking trails, white water rafting along the swift Nolichucky River and a quiet campground that makes for a great overnight pit stop.

David Crockett Birthplace State Park, Limestone, TN
David Crockett Birthplace State Park, Limestone, TN
David Crockett Birthplace State Park
David Crockett Birthplace State Park, Limestone, TN

Next, the Sunny Side Trail takes you about 15 minutes down the road to the Oldest Town in Tennessee that has a big story to tell: Historic Jonesborough. The brick-lined sidewalks capture a glimpse of this quaint little town’s historic significance throughout Main Street, that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn about The Lost State of Franklin, catch a performance at the International Storytelling Center or take a picture with the Mail Pouch Tobacco Sign at Jonesborough's only remaining saloon building.

Enter the Tri-Cities area by way of Johnson City, where noted local dining, craft beer and galleries are abundant. Take the scenic route to Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, where history comes alive from the 18th and 19th centuries. Or, dig for fossils at Gray Fossil Site and Hands On! Museum.

Dinosaur fossil
Gray Fossil Site, Gray, TN

Learn about the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals Historic Area in Elizabethton, stop for a picture with one of the most noted covered bridges in the U.S., and then head into even more mountainous reaches of Northeast Tennessee to see the color burst of rhododendrons at Roan Mountain State Park

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, Elizabethton
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, Elizabethton, TN
Roan Mountain State Park
Roan Mountain State Park, Roan Mountain, TN

There’s plenty of outdoor recreation along the Sunny Side Trail, and now that you’ve found yourself tucked within the Cherokee National Forest, go hiking, rafting and boating, or maybe set aside an afternoon fishing at the hidden gem known as Watauga Lake. You can even join the Appalachian Trail that stretches across 14 states in Unicoi County. And, just aside from Unicoi County lies Rocky Fork State Park, a recommended stop for waterfall tracking. You’ll also enjoy breathtaking views in the valleys and along the high roads in Mountain City.

Watauga Lake
Watauga Lake
waterfall
Rocky Fork State Park (Photo Credit: Andrew Kyle Saucier)

And tucked away in the corner of the state is Bristol, the birthplace of country music and home to the world’s fastest half mile at Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway. Learn how the banjos and ballads of the backwoods made their way from the front porch to center stage as country music paved its way through the state. Take a picture of State Street in downtown Bristol that splits between Tennessee and Virginia, giving Bristol two states to call home.

museum
Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol, TN
speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway, Bristol, TN

As you continue along, pass by Blountville for a visit to the Old Deery Inn and into Piney Flats, home to historic Rocky Mount (former capital of the Southwest territory). In the busy city of Kingsport, see nature and stars, or howl with the wolves at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium. Kingsport is also home to the first “drive-thru only” diner known as Pal’s, where you’ll want to save room for a burger, "Frenchie Fries" and southern sweet tea.

Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium
Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, Kingsport, TN

Ride along Sneedville’s curves (best on a motorcycle) and stop at Rogersville’s historic district for Tennessee heritage and barbecue at Amis Mill Eatery. In Bulls Gap, visit the Archie Campbell Museum and Tourist Center dedicated to the late star of the comedy-variety show “Hee-Haw.” Stop in quaint Dandridge for a milkshake at an original drug store soda fountain and fishing on Douglas Lake.

Tinsley Bible Drug Store
Tinsley Bible Drug Store, Dandridge, TN (Photo credit: Tinsley Bible Drug Store)
fishing on Douglas Lake
Douglas Lake, Dandridge, TN

If you’re one for competitive sports, Morristown is the perfect place for some time on the course, being known as Tennessee’s Disc Golf Capitol. Or, for shopping, you’ll want to hit the Sky Mart in downtown, an overhead sidewalk that was built to avoid floods.

downtown
Downtown Morristown, Morristown, TN

Then, as you head back on the Sunny Side Trail, stop by the Bush’s Visitors Center for a tour of how the No. 1 baked beans in the world are made and a picture with their loveable mascot, “Duke.”

Bush Beans visitor center
Bush Beans Visitor Center, Dandridge, TN

Return to Sevierville after a couple off-trail stops along the way, where a bronze Dolly Parton statue welcomes you back with a warm southern smile.

Dolly Parton statue
Dolly Parton statue, Sevierville, TN

Just as the frontier towns are inviting and charming, getting off the beaten path — sometimes way off — gives you an experience that is pure Tennessee and can only be found on the Sunny Side Trail.

Sunny Side shows you the best of what Northeast and East Tennessee has to offer, from the attractions you’ve heard about for years to the restaurants where the locals meet and you can’t believe you’ve found. Visit our historic churches, our cemeteries, our communities and our main streets. Whether you’re looking for antiques, outdoor adventure or creating a memorable story to tell for many years to come, we welcome you to the sunny side of life along the Sunny Side Trail of Tennessee.

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