Whether you come for the mountains, the culture of good beer and southern food, or the renovation-boom that is taking off in the Tri-Cities, Northeast Tennessee has a marvel of hidden gems that only a true local can spill the beans about.
Catch the sunrise at Beauty Spot
Whilst along your journey in Appalachia, you will often ponder the question to yourself, "Am I in Tennessee or North Carolina?" And it becomes a sort of fun game to be in two states in one day during most of your adventuring.
Situated along the Appalachian Trail, Beauty Spot borders Tennessee and North Carolina. If you're self-disciplined enough to set the alarm before the moon goes down, plan to catch the sunrise atop Unaka Mountain for a spine tingling experience. Get there around 5am for a little pre-sun stargazing. Bring coffee, a friend, or heck- this is the place to get down on one knee and execute proposal.
Treasure Hunt for Hidden Breweries
The town you all know for the famous Wagon Wheel song is on the maps now for great craft beer. Johnson City, Tennessee, hosts five unique craft breweries. Being only a short excursion on the other side of Sam's Gap from Asheville, North Carolina, it's no wonder good beer has finally found its way into Northeast Tennessee.
Johnson City Brewing Company
Little Animals Brewing Company- Coming to Downtown Johnson City late 2019-early 2020!
Great Oak Brewing
*Too many good breweries to mention dwell among the Tri-Cities Region in Bristol and Kingsport.- so add those cities to your treasure hunt as well.*
Adventure Pickle Local Favorite-
Check out DEPOT STREET (on the DL), because
this one is special.
The best local secret has slipped out over the years- SCRATCH PIZZA. Order a "Trust" and don't think about what to eat for dinner any further. Freshly grown ingredients. Pesto. White Sauce. Tomato Sauce. It doesn't matter what ends up on this 'za, it's all goooood.
Moto's for Japanese.
RIP China Garden.
Wild Wing Cafe for wings (RIP Alley Kat's).
Freiberg's for German/ Something Different.
Barbarito's for the Queso.
Thai Am for something that will blow you away.
Olde Towne Pancake House for breakfast in Tennessee's oldest city.
PAL'S for the best fast food, duh (Get the cheddar rounds before 10:30 am).
Mountain View Restaurant for a good home-cooked meal (Be sure to swing by the
Country Market next door and grab a coffee from Bear Tracks).
Country Diner in Watauga for the best cheeseburger & fries- good luck hunting this one down.
Hike Laurel Falls
The Northeastern Tennessee region is full of day trips and longer adventures. Venturing out within two hours of Johnson City, you will find an abundance of trailheads and hidden wonders of Appalachia. Laurel Falls is a local favorite among hikers and especially eye candy in the fall months. Make it an overnighter or day hike, and take your time breathing in that fresh mountain air.
Other favorite local hikes:
Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower
The Linville Gorge
'Splore Festivals Galore
It is the official state of Bonnaroo, after all, but that is not the only festival happening 'round these parts. Forty-five minutes over the mountain from Johnson City, you find yourself in Bannker Elk which hosts the annual Woolly Worm Festival every October. Gather in awe as contestants cross their fingers at holding the fastest woolly worm. One of this year's participants was gracefully named "Bob Ross." The Blue Plum Festival and Meet the Mountains Festival both invite guests out to explore the Tri-Cities Region in downtown Johnson City every summer. The annual UMOJA Festival works to unite diverse cultures through art and education. Whether you are a business or a friend, your local guide will not let you miss out on these Appalachian traditions.
MTB NE TENN
Dude. There are so many great biking trails in this area- where to begin? Paint Creek is a 19.9 mile full day bike ride located deep within the TN/ NC borders. It's an adventure alone getting there, a great way to test your lungs on the uphill climb, and an absolute blast on the single-track ride down. Take a dip in the French Broad River post-ride success, and say a grateful prayer for this one, because Paint Creek is where it's at.
Pinnacle Mtn for a good uphill/ switchback climb.
Steele Creek Park for tech & rocks.
Bay's Mountain for diversity & woods.
Check out the new Tannery Knobs Mountain Biking Park- a skills park for all ages.
Winged Deer Park for the fam.
The VA Creeper Trail is a bucket list must.
Catch a Show in Asheville
Matisyahu @ Salvage Station
If you're kicking it with a true local, then catching a show at the Orange Peel was a favorite pastime growing up. Asheville, one of the coolest cities in America, is right over the mountain from Johnson City and is always good for the soul. Venues like the Isis Music Hall and the Salvage Station provide unique experiences to see some favorite musicians- like Matisyahu and Of Good Nature. It's never a bad idea to get there several hours early and test the local brew from places like Highland Brewing, The Wedge, and Wicked Weed. Honestly, you could spend weeks trying some of the best craft beers in the country all within a few blocks around Asheville.
Kayak Boone River
This image is brought to you by Complete Creations Landscaping
What used to be known as Boone Lake to many has now become a mystic river of sorts. The Watauga River feeds into the now Boone River, leaving an apocalyptic feel of pontoon boats and suspended boat docks hanging several feet above the water. After a suspicious crack in the TVA dam, the local swimming and boating lake has transitioned into a kayaking haven. Only a deep-rooted local can really let you in on this one.
Throw the pup in the kayak and soak in mountain views around Watauga Lake with fun paddles to Goose Island or fish the muddy banks for some stellar smallmouth bass, trout, and walleye.
If whitewater is your name and kayaking your game, don't miss out on the Nolichucky River with drop-ins at Chestoa and USA Raft Adventure Resort for a lighter ride of Class IIIs or right over the NC border for some upper Class Vs.
Tennessee is a spelunker's paradise, if you know where to look. A native's favorite cave sits in the backyard of a quaint country man. Once you sign the waiver, you will likely be asked if you want to "camp in the cave for an extra five bucks." It's not a bad idea, but you can explore quite a bit of this cave within 5 or 6 hours. And the best part, you don't need daylight to do so. Caves always remain the same temperature and hope this doesn't come by surprise, but they are always dark.
One of my favorite times to start this adventure is midnight. It adds an extra bit of spice to the journey and leaves daylight open to other adventures. Anyways, highly recommend checking out Worley's. And folks, you will get wet (and muddy) on this ride.
Best to ask a local for directions, it's a bit tricky.
End The Day Driving Down a Good Backroad
Yeah, yeah- all the country songs are doing it. Driving down an old dirt road ain't no joke to a local Tennessean. At the end of the day, nothing feeds the soul more than a drive to nowhere with views of the farm and mountains off in the distance. This is what our culture here is all about. We like to sit on the porch and drink beer, think about life, and get up early for a long day's work so we have time to play hard.
The simple life of living in Northeast Tennessee is what makes it such a special place, and we are grateful to call it home. It seems no matter how far we roam, Appalachia is always calling us back.
Roots run deep here, and you can see it best from the eyes of a local.
Traveler. Writer. Mom.