August 17, 2018
When you cruise into a new town or county in Tennessee, you may realize how some of the best of the state is sometimes hidden in plain sight. Enter Loudon County.
If you’re looking for life on the water in the Volunteer State, look no further. The land is nestled in a fertile valley where the Tennessee and Little Tennessee rivers meet, with the Smokies looming to the east and the Cumberland Plateau to the west. The Tennessee Valley Authority created three lakes here - Tellico, Fort Loudoun and Watts Bar - and the towns of Lenoir City and Loudon thrive on the water’s edge.
Waterside dining, lakeshore hiking, some of the best kayaking in East Tennessee and fried honeybuns. Welcome to Loudon County, Tennessee.
Fuel Up: Ugly Mug Coffee
Whether you’re trying to start the day off right, or just need a pick-me-up when you roll into town, any time spent exploring Loudon County should start at Ugly Mug Coffee. This Memphis-based coffee company serves up cups of ethically-sourced, Tennessee-roasted coffees - hot and cold, y’all - and a menu that includes birthday cake frappes (yes, that is a thing) warm breakfast sandwiches and the most Instagram-able lattes on the Tennessee River.
Ugly Mug Coffee is located at 108 B Street, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37771.
Hoof It: the East Lakeshore National Recreation Trail
Boating is a way of life in Loudon County and the East Lakeshore National Recreation Trail showcases this in the best way showing off coves, overlooks and more.
All said and done, the East Lakeshore Trail is 28.8 miles, but you definitely don’t have to do the whole thing to enjoy it. Numerous trailheads jut into the trail’s length, many with names like Wildcat Pointe and Coytee and Mizell. Experienced hikers could tackle the whole thing in a sunup to sundown jaunt, but you can cut the trail into shorter, more manageable and leisurely segments to enjoy. If you had to choose just one quick hike, make it Mizell Bluff, where you stand high above Tellico Lake and may even see some daredevils taking a leap-of-faith into the water below.
Finger Lickin’: Calhoun’s
East Tennesseans and dedicated visitors know and love Calhoun’s. Known for quality barbecue and an excellent beer selection, Calhoun’s is a favorite - but you’ve never been to a Calhoun’s like the one in Lenoir City. Like downtown Knoxville’s, it’s right on the water. But Lenoir City’s is in the marina, where yachts and fishing boats come and go with the cool breeze off the water. Now, if it’s your first time at a Calhoun’s (which won’t be your last) request a seat on the outdoor patio and order the Trio of fried chicken, barbecue ribs and pulled pork.
And get this. Boaters pull up dockside at Calhoun’s to pick up to-go orders. So, if you ever wanted to have a pontoon and barbecue party, now you know how and where to make your dream come true.
Calhoun’s Lenoir City is located at 4550 City Park Drive, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37772.
Hangin’ with the Heifers: Sweetwater Valley Farm
Have you ever had a fried cheese curd fresh off the griddle? You will at Sweetwater Valley Farm. People apparently show up unannounced - to buy cheese, yes, but also asking whether they’ve got any fresh cheese curds fried up. One taste and you’ll see why. With rows of cheeses - from aged extra sharp cheddars to smoked selections that smell distinctly of bacon - you can take a little (or a lot) of Sweetwater Valley Farm home with you. Additionally, a new farm tour is coming to Sweetwater Valley Farms in 2019.
Sweetwater Valley Farm is located at 17988 West Lee Highway, Philadelphia, Tennessee 37846.
Spaghetti and Grits: Classico Italian & Mama’s Grits
Fresh and authentic (like the previously mentioned cheese curds at Sweetwater Valley Farm) and a little creative (wait for the honeybun). That just seems to be how they do things around Loudon County. And Classico Italian & Mama’s Grits is no different, serving up delicious breakfast options as Larry’s Mama’s Grits in the morning, and lunch and dinner as Classico Italian for the rest of the day. The mama whose grits recipe you’ll want second helpings of is from Larry’s mama; and Larry is still back there, in the kitchen, cooking up the goods and serving up her recipe. Either meal you choose, the restaurant’s double-name won’t seem odd once you take a bite. Take it from the locals. They pack out the booths for every meal, every day.
Classico Italian & Mama’s Grits is located at 206 Village Square, Loudon, Tennessee 37774.
What’s In A Name: Lenoir City Museum & Cotton Mill Site
Arriving in any new town and you’ll do yourself a favor by cruising into the local history museum. The Lenoir City Museum is filled with relics and antiques that tell the story of Loudon County through settlement, war and industry. Like much of Tennessee, most of the land that makes up Loudon County was once owned by a North Carolina Revolutionary War officer, for whose service he received a massive land grant. Not surprisingly, the man’s name was Lenoir, for whom the city is named. The county, on the other hand, is named after nearby Fort Loudoun, a British colonial-era fort to the south.
The Lenoir City Museum & Cotton Mill Site are located at 110 East Depot Street, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37771.
Taste A Fried Honeybun: Greenback Drug Company & Diner
It’s like something you’d expect to see on the Food Network. Greenback Drug Company & Diner opens the wrapper of a simple honeybun, the same kind you grew up eating. Only they butter a side, set it on the grill top and drop a metal lid over it to steam. When it’s done and fried in the butter, they plate this sweet, fragrant treat and bring it over to the ice cream cooler and scoop a large serving of vanilla ice cream on top, where it begins to melt over the warm honeybun. Then, finally, it’s topped with chocolate syrup and set before you on the counter. A bite reminds you of a treat from a county fair, or maybe the best donut you’ve ever had. Either way, loosen your belt.
Greenback Drug Company & Diner is located at 6729 Morganton Road, Greenback, Tennessee 37742.
Sips Up: Tennessee Valley Winery
Tennessee Valley Winery, located right off I-75, is a hilltop sanctuary for wine lovers. Unquestionably one of the oldest family-operated wineries in the Volunteer State, the wide selection of vino offered here - from pink muscadine and American vidal blanc to Cherokee red and wild cherry - have received more than 800 awards and accolades. They’ve even been served in the White House.
Tennessee Valley Winer is located at 15606 Hotchkiss Valley Road, East Loudon, Tennessee 37774.
Feasting, Not Fasting: The Burgers
Fried pickles. Freedom burgers. Fried catfish. Bavarian Chicca-Boom schnitzel. Seven kinds of ‘dawgs. The original The Burgers is located in Knoxville, just a few miles down the road. In Lenoir City, they’ve captured some of that SEC college town feel. The place is packed with people ready for a platter loaded down with more fries than you’ve ever seen anyone eat. There’s a courtyard outside with cornhole and a bar. It’s like a UT tailgate year-round, which is great during football season, and even better in the off season, when fans are craving that pre-game atmosphere even when the stadium lights are off.
The Burgers is located at 540 US-321, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37771.
Paddling the Lakes
Watts Bar Lake and Fort Loudoun Lake. The Tennessee River and the Little Tennessee River. Tellico Lake. The very heart of Loudon County is water. From yachting to pontoons, fishing to kayaks, Loudon County is a water recreation paradise. And word is that the fast-growing water recreation in the Volunteer State is kayaking. It’s a reasonably accessible and affordable activity. And thanks to River Sports Outfitters, you don’t even have to haul your own kayak or paddle board to Loudon County to get on the lake. They’ve set up Loudon County’s first kayak rental spot on Fort Loudoun Lake at Lenoir City Park.
Lenoir City Park is located at 6707 City Park Drive, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37772.
Blue Heron Restaurant at Tellico Village Yacht Club
Finally, a weekend away ought to always include a fine dining experience. Enter Blue Heron Restaurant at the Tellico Village Yacht Club. It’s good to note you don’t have to wear cocktail dresses and sport coats to grab a bite here. While the restaurant is located in a private lakefront community, it is available to non-members. So feel free to come for mussels and pecan breaded brie, slow roasted prime rib and pan-seared salmon, all served in a dining room above Tellico Lake, overlooking the Appalachian foothills with the mountains fading from blue to grey in the distance.
Blue Heron Restaurant at Tellico Village Yacht Club is located at 100 Sequoyah Road, Loudon, Tennessee 37774.