An Unforgettable Road Trip Through East Tennessee

An Unforgettable Road Trip Through East Tennessee

How a weekend exploring Chattanooga and Knoxville turned a couple Austinites into lifelong fans of Tennessee.

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My name is Hunter Lawrence and my wife Sarah and I own a photography and marketing businesses out of Austin, Texas. We had the privilege of exploring Eastern Tennessee, starting in Chattanooga and making our way up north through Knoxville and eventually arrive in Bristol.

Day 1: It all begins…Exploring Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Gorge.

Our trek to Tennessee started at 5:30a.m. The coffee was brewed, car packed, and together with our pup Aspen, we were ready to roll. There’s always this unique excitement that wells up inside us whenever we are heading out to a destination we’ve never experienced before. The navigation said it would take us 17 hours to make the trek to Eastern TN from Austin, Texas and let me tell you, every hour of that drive was worth what we were about to experience.

Chattanooga
Stop 1 of 4

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Our first morning started off on the right foot, waking up in our tent on the Tennessee Georgia border, just shy of the city. When we arrived in Chattanooga we headed straight to our hotel, The Chattanooga Choo Choo, an incredibly unique hotel that operates out of a former railroad station and offers guests the option to stay in converted rail cars literally sitting on the train track (obviously not in use anymore haha). It was also dog friendly, which we really appreciated.

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TN Aquarium
TN Aquarium
TN Aquarium
TN Aquarium
Stop 2 of 4

Tennessee Aquarium

From there we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the Tennessee Aquarium for a look at some really amazing exhibits. The location is by far the coolest location of any aquarium I’ve ever seen, sitting right on the Tennessee River. The entire aquarium is set up for you to travel through it as if you were drops of rain in the ecosystem. Escalators move you from level to level allowing you to see everything from local river otters to the new Lemur Forest. We had a blast getting lost in the various environments and found it to be a great way to start our trip.

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Songbirds Guitar Museum
Songbirds Guitar Museum
Stop 3 of 4

Songbirds Guitar Museum

After our visit to the Aquarium, we made our way to Songbirds Guitar Museum. The museum is one of Chattanooga’s newest additions and apparently has the largest collection of vinatge guitars in the USA. We really enjoyed seeing the progression of how guitars varied from different decades, and loved getting access to the private vault, where we got to see some of the rarest and most prized guitars in the world. It was truly a special place to visit.

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Chattanooga
Chattanooga
Chattanooga
Stop 4 of 4

Tennessee River Gorge

The thing we really appreciated about Chattanooga was its easy access to nature. Sarah and I love the outdoors, and really value getting out with our dog Aspen and hiking for miles. We found that this city really appreciated nature as much as we do, and has some of the most accessible trails of any city we’ve ever visited. We asked a few locals what the one spot was that we had to see before leaving town and everyone agreed it was Signal Point. The drive alone was worth the trip; it’s a quick 10-15 trek out of the city but the entire time you’re winding around little mountain roads up to this small parking lot that sits on the edge of the Tennessee River Gorge.  At first we considered just watching the sunset from there, but then we noticed a hiking trail that led you even closer to the river and would give us a completely unobstructed view of the River Valley! I’m telling you, we’ve seen a lot of really beautiful places, but this view, especially at sunset, was one of the most stunning.

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Day 2: Exploring the vibrant city of Knoxville and the edges of the Smoky Mountains.

The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast and coffee at Revelator Coffee Co, and then made the 2-hour trek northeast to Knoxville. We didn’t really know what to expect from Knoxville. We had heard that it was a city currently going through some revitalization, but to be honest, we didn’t have any reference point for what it would be like.

Knoxville
Knoxville
Stop 1 of 3

THE TENNESSEAN Hotel

We were welcomed with the warmest of greetings at The Tennessean Hotel. The hotel staff was by far one of the friendliest staff we’ve ever interacted with. Come to find out, it was the hotel’s opening day, which made our time there all the more special. We took an easy 5-minute walk to Market Square and were met by hundreds of people enjoying a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. We LOVED the energy of the square. From there we walked north and enjoyed amazing coffee at Remedy Coffee.

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Knoxville
Knoxville
Stop 2 of 3

J.C. Holdway

The night continued with dinner at one of Knoxville’s newest restaurants, J.C. Holdway, a beautiful farm to table restaurant serving up some amazing local fare and thoughtfully crafted mixed drinks.  Everything from the appetizers to the dessert was absolutely spot on; definitely don’t miss having a meal there when you visit.  

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Knoxville
Knoxville
Knoxville
Stop 3 of 3

Navitat

Before arriving in Tennessee, we were told that we would be doing an adventure night course at a spot called Navitat. We grew up doing summer camp and on occasion did ropes courses and such, but really didn’t know what this experience would be like. We arrived at the course and after a 5-minute hike through the forest showed up at a fully lit up adventure-forest-world that looked like something out of Avatar.

Seriously, what’s better than zip lining through the forest at night? It was such a fun and memorable experience, and one Sarah and I will talk about for years to come.

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Day 3: Southern Food for the Win and the Birthplace of Country Music.

The next morning we felt like we had only skimmed the surface on all the great food we had been hearing about in Knoxville, so we headed to a quaint breakfast spot called OliBea in the old part of the city. Ya’ll, we’re from Austin so we know what good food is, and OliBea’s breakfast is darn good. The space is has a great vibe and best of all, served some truly authentic southern cuisine sourced from local farms in the area.

OliBea

 

Bristol
Bristol
Stop 1 of 1

Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway

From there, we made the easy hour and a half trip north to the birthplace of country music, Bristol, Tennessee. Our stay was brief, but memorable nonetheless. We immediately headed to the Bristol Motor Speedway to check out this world-renowned racetrack. I’ve never stepped foot in such a massive space in my life. They were paving the track for an upcoming race so we weren’t able to take a car around the track, but we enjoyed hiking up the hundreds of steps to the top of the arena and checking out the views. We honestly have never been too interested in Nascar, but we walked away with a deeper appreciation for the sport.

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Overall, what more could you want in a trip? From the amazing food of Knoxville to the natural beauty of Chattanooga, we feel like we experienced an area that is a true gem in the states. Our trip offered us everything from amazing adventurous hikes, to world-class cuisine, and everything in between. Tennessee, you were amazing… we can’t wait to return!

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