Welcome to Discovering East Tennessee

East Tennessee is a verdant land of rugged mountains, rolling farmlands, and deep, wild river gorges. The recreational possibilities are endless. There are family amusement parks, charming cities, beautiful resorts, forests, parks and rivers, plus a rich and colorful history to explore..

In fact, you'll find a surprising variety of things to see and do in this corner of Tennessee. It's a great place for family fun, outdoor recreation, romance, music, culture and history.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors

East Tennessee's natural beauty draws visitors from around the world. TheGreat Smoky Mountains National Park is the main attraction, with its amazing variety of plant and animal life, peaceful cascading streams, and misty mountain vistas. It's the most visited national park in the country for good reason.

The Smokies are also a great destination for family vacations and romantic getaways. You'll find a variety of amusements and entertainments in Pigeon ForgeGatlinburg, and Townsend. For starters, there's DollywoodRipleys Aquarium of the Smokies, and Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee's only winter ski resort. You'll also find live musical and theatrical entertainments, family amusement parks, and lots of shopping.

Lodging in the Smokies is varied, abundant, and easy on your budget. Rental cabins are very popular with families and groups, or for romantic getaways. You'll also find a variety of hotels, motels, condos and timeshares to choose from.

But the Smokies are only a small part of what East Tennessee has to offer. Head up to Roan Mountainin June to see the profuse display of blooming rhododendrons. Or check out the rugged grandeur of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. And let's not forget about all the state parks and regional parks in this neck of the woods.

You'll find numerous trails to explore, on foot, on horseback or on a mountain bike. Rough it by going backpacking or camping, stay in a rustic cabin, or live it up in a luxurious lodge or resort. Your choice.

So, what's to do outdoors in east Tennessee? How about...

  • hiking
  • camping
  • whitewater rafting (or kayaking, or canoeing)
  • fishing
  • horseback riding
  • golfing
  • photographing
  • mountain biking
  • boating
  • rock climbing
  • wildlife watching
  • relaxing
  • skiing (water and snow)
  • sky diving
  • hunting

Have Fun in the City

Don't forget to explore east Tennessee's charming and sophisticated cities. There are three metropolitan areas here: Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities.

Knoxville is situated on the Tennessee River, right in the center of the region. It offers a variety of cultural attractions, outdoor activities, and entertainments. Knoxville has its own symphony, opera and ballet, plus a variety of musical venues and live theatrical performances. Museums, galleries, historical sites, and parks are plentiful.

The Knoxville Zoo, with its new Kid's Cove area, is a family favorite. And if you come in the spring, so much the better. You'll want to check out the Dogwood Arts Festival as it celebrates the region's annual display of springtime exuberance with special events, art shows, garden tours and Dogwood Trails.

To the south, Chattanooga has transformed its riverfront into a real jewel. Within the area of a few city blocks, you'll find the amazing Tennessee Aquarium (a must-see attraction), the IMAX 3D Theater, the Creative Discovery Museum and the Bluff Area Art District. Take a riverboat tour on the Tennessee River or head up to nearby Lookout Mountain to enjoy the amazing rock formations in Rock City, or to explore Civil War history at Point Park.

Chattanooga offers a variety of musical and theatrical performances, including the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and free summertime concerts on the riverfront. The city is rich in history, beauty, and culture.

The Tri-Cities in Northeast Tennessee includes the cities of Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, as well as the surrounding smaller towns. Life is more rural and laid back here, with an emphasis on historical and natural attractions. The Bristol Motor Speedway is the largest major attraction, but there are also small theaters, galleries, and musical venues.

Explore Tennessee History

East Tennessee has a rich history, full of colorful characters and pivotal events. You can experience that history at the region's many historic sites and museums. Explore the birthplace of Davy Crockett or the home of President Andrew Johnson in the historic town of Greeneville.

Head up to Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee, for the Storytelling Festival, held on the first full weekend in October. Or explore Victorian utopian dreams in the tiny village of Rugby.

You can learn about the Cherokee, and the writing system Sequoyah invented for them, at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, while the Museum of Appalachia in Norris keeps the culture of the mountain folk alive.

To really get immersed in history, plan your visit during one of the living history events held at many of the state's historic sites and museums. Re-enactors in period costume will take you back to the days of the frontier, demonstrate Cherokee culture, or show you how things stood during the Civil War.

The Lay of the Land

Topography has the capacity to shape the history and character of a people in surprising ways. East Tennessee's mountains, rivers, and valleys have certainly shaped its people and its history. The mountains have served to isolate the people, leading to a culture of self-reliance and the creativity that comes from necessity. Music, crafts and the Volunteer spirit are hallmarks of the region.

The state of Tennessee is officially divided into Three Grand Divisions, represented by the three stars in the Tennessee flag:

  • West Tennessee, dominated by flat agricultural land and the city of Memphis
  • Middle Tennessee, where the land rolls gently and Nashville sets the pace
  • East Tennessee, whose mountains, rivers and rugged hills make this the most appealing of the three divisions

East Tennessee can itself be divided into three regions.

  • To the west, the Cumberland Plateau is a rugged area of deep river gorges and dense hardwood forests. The infertile soil and rugged terrain kept the Plateau isolated, and it's still the most sparsely populated area in East Tennessee. This is a great place for outdoor activities and getting away from it all.
  • The Tennessee Valley extends down the center of East Tennessee, but it's not really a valley at all, geologically speaking. It's much more interesting than that. Lush rolling hills and ridges divide the land into a series of valleys, with the Tennessee River and its many tributaries running down the center. The major metropolitan areas are located here, and you'll find quite a variety of things to do.
  • The Unaka Mountains form Tennessee's eastern border. Part of the Appalachian chain, the Unakas are divided into three parts, the Upper Unakas to the north, the Lower Unakas to the south, with the Great Smoky Mountains sandwiched in between. The beauty of the mountains of East Tennessee draws visitors from around the world.

Welcome to East Tennessee!