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A Family Trip to East Tennessee

Looking for a great family trip that combines history, learning and fun? In the mountains of East Tennessee, melting snows flow from cold mountaintops to form the Nolichucky River, where John Crockett came to build a log cabin soon after the Revolutionary War.

When his son Davy was born here in 1786,  Northeast Tennessee was still a wild frontier, but settlers had been trickling in since 1775 when Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Trail from Virginia to central Kentucky. East Tennessee is a great family trip, with activities that are fun for the whole family.


Now that spring is approaching, come explore rugged  hills where pioneers walked and introduce your family unspoiled natural sites,  historic treasures, country music shrines,  fly fishing, NASCAR races and one of the nation’s most exciting archeological digs.

First, a geography lesson. Eastern Tennessee is  a pie-shaped wedge east of Knoxville. It’s bounded to the south by the Appalachian Mountains and to the north by the Virginia border. You could drive Interstate 81 from Knoxville to Bristol, but you’d miss the backroads magic of Davy Crockett country. Instead take lesser roads that thread through hills and into forgotten villages.  Your home base might a cabin or campsite in one of the area’s state parks, an historic  inn, or one of the chain motels found just off the interstates.

At state parks (state.tn.us/environment/parks/)  you’ll find boundless fishing,  hiking,  camping and ranger-led programs. Some area parks also have lakes or rivers for boating, kayaking and canoeing. Here’s a tiny sampling of sightseeing highlights in the hills where Crocket was once “king of the wild frontier” and where, much earlier, Daniel Boone carved on a tree that he “kilt a bar on this site.” It’s still here. See if you can find it.

The Appalachian Trail traverses this part of Tennessee, so hike local sections  or start here for a major hike north to Maine or South to Georgia. 304-535-6278, nps.gob/appa.

Downtown Bristol. The Virginia-Tennessee state line runs down the middle of State Street. Walk the historic shopping district to see a farmer’s market where concerts are held often, the majestic Paramount Center for the Arts in a restored 1930s movie palace,  monuments galore and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. State Street is also lined with funky restaurants and bars. Go pub-hopping for the music as well as noshing.

Bristol Motor Speedway is more than a one-day wonder Open every day are the museum, gift shop, the race course where you can walk the steep embankment or catch a ride in a pace car . Bristol Dragway is next door.  Check ahead for race schedules and also for the tracks’  year-round concerts and special events.  423-989-6900, bristolmotorspeedway.com.

Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, Limestone, has a museum and a replica of the cabin where Crockett was born. At the park, fish the Nolichucky River for bass, crappie, bluegill, redeye and catfish.

Exchange Place, Kingsport, looks much as it did  in the 1850s when it was a

stagecoach stop on the Wilderness Road.  See real homesteads, the original general store and post office, and the schoolhouse . Strolling the grounds, you’re on the original, unpaved road built by Daniel Boone. You might see living quilters, real farmers working the fields or barns and volunteers gathering walnuts to make ink for quill pens.  Call ahead for news of special events such as storytelling by firelight.  423-288-6071, (www) exchangeplace.info.

Fly fishing, Johnson City area. Fish the Holston and Nolichucky rivers, Watauga Lake, and countless tail waters and little-known streams. Get a savvy guide from Mahoney’s Sports, 800-835-5152.  The mountain scenery is  as exciting as the angling.

Gray Fossil Site. South of Kingsport, see an amazing find of prehistoric bones. Discovered in 2001, the ancient sinkhole has already yielded a complete rhino family, tapirs, camels, a three-toed horse, an elephant and much more. Admission to the superb Gray Fossil Museum is free. For a small cost get a guided tour to the dig site. The whole family is welcome to help with the sifting. A few years ago,  a 10-year-old girl found a tapir toe bone that others had missed.  423-439-3659, etsu.edu/grayfossilsite/

Greenville. Splurge on lunch at the stately General Morgan Inn, then stroll the historic downtown with its quaint shops and old homes. A cannonball from one Civil War skirmish can  be seen in the church near the Inn; a street marker notes the death of General John Hunt Morgan, “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy,” who  led a daring raid deep into the Union state of Ohio. This iw where Yankees, in hot pursuit, caught up with hime. Greenville, settled in 1783, is also the home of President Andrew Johnson. whose home is open for tours. 423- 639-7102, mainstreetgreeneville.com.

Sycamore Shoals State Park, Elizabethton. Bring a picnic and come here for a history lesson. Under the British, colonists were forbidden to settle west of the Appalachians but defiant Over Mountain Men not only homesteaded here, they beat the British at the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina. Check ahead for special events including presentations of the outdoor drama Liberty. 423-543-5808 tennessee.gov/environment/parks/syncamoreshoals.

If You Go

For more information: Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, Tennessee Tower,

312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 25th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243, www.tntourism.com

(615) 741-2159, Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Central Time.

by Janet Groene


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