Tennessee Guide

 Tennessee is one of the most active tourist destinations in the Southeastern United States thanks to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, big cities like Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga, and the popular cross-country route Interstate 40. The state is home to several top tourist destinations, unique attractions, and the subject of pop culture (Rocky Top, anyone?).

 

FAST FACTS ABOUT TENNESSEE

Currency $USD

Electricity 110V – Type A & Type B Standard Plugs

Time Zone Eastern Time Zone (GMT -5 hrs) & Central Time Zone (GMT -6 hrs)

Popular Tourism Seasons Tennessee enjoys year-round tourism thanks to large attraction cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville. The summer months June – August are particularly busy with schools out and families eager to travel, but the early spring months and late fall months also see a lot of tourism activity. Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has year-round tourism thanks to colorful springs, warm summers, vibrant falls, and winter skiing.

 

GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND

Primary Airports Bristol/Johnson City/Kingsport (TRI), Chattanooga (CHA), Knoxville (TYS), Memphis (MEM), and Nashville (BNA)

Primary Train Stations Newbern (NBN) and Memphis (MEM)

Major Highways Interstates 81, 40, 75, 24, and 65 pass through the state. Highway 64 across the southern border connects Memphis and Chattanooga.

Best Transportation Tennessee is a big state to cross, and traveling by train to do it is just not possible. Amtrak only serves the far western edge of the state through Newbern and Memphis. Flying is possible with lots of regional airports and daily commuter flights between the larger cities. But to really take advantage of everything Tennessee has to offer you’ll need to do it by car.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

 

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CHOOSE YOUR REGION

Northeast

The northeastern most are of the state is home to the Tri-Cities area: Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City, all mid-sized cities and just twenty minutes from each other.

Bristol is home to Bristol Motor Speedway, but the attraction of this small city goes far beyond NASCAR. State Street is famous for running right along the Virginia/Tennessee border separating the two halves of the city. On either side of the street you’ll find lots of great places to eat and shop, and the downtown area is currently booming with new places to stay. Nearby South Holston Lake provides some outdoor recreation as you head closer to Virginia.

Kingsport has a thriving downtown area with local eateries and places to shop, including a huge farmers market during the summer months. Bays Mountain sits atop a near mountain with an animal habitat, hiking and mountain biking trails, a lake, and stargazing opportunities. You can also get out on a lake at Warriors Path State Park, or enjoy some tubing down the Holston River.

Johnson City is home to East Tennessee State University, a mid-sized college that is growing more each year. But it’s so much more than just a college town with a growing downtown area, a nice farmers market on the weekends, Buffalo Mountain for picnics and hiking, and quick access to lots of local towns for outdoor recreation.

Jonesborough is home to the International Storytelling Center and a beautifully renovated Main Street corridor. Visitors can explore the various shops and eateries downtown, or head a little out of town on a road trip down Highway 11E. Down the road you will find Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park where you can explore a little history, do a little hiking, and enjoy a little fishing.

Elizabethton is a small city at the base of much taller mountains. Here visitors will find a nice downtown area with an original covered bridge (used for pedestrians only now). Sycamore Shoals State Park is a nice place to explore along the Watauga River, learn some history about the area, and once a year they have a fantastic reenactment of a famous battle that happened here.

Erwin is a “trail town” along the Appalachian Trail. The small town has a few hostels for hikers to take a load off and get some great food. The downtown area is undergoing renovations with businesses moving in and out all the time, but still features a few places to eat and shop. Rock Creek Park Recreation Area is a popular camping and swimming area, along with a few hiking trails that lead to a waterfall. You can also visit Unaka Mountain by car and hike up the short spur trail to the Beauty Spot for unbeatable views of the local mountains.

Rocky Fork State Park in Flag Pond is the newest state park to open in Tennessee. At the moment it only features a 1-mile stretch of scenic highway along the creek that features many small cascades and waterfalls. Eventual plans include a campground, visitor center, and miles of hiking trails. Other Tennessee state parks in the region include Panther Creek and Norris Dam, each with their own unique attractions centered around TVA lakes.

Watauga Lake is a great anchor point for day trips and long weekends in the area. Visitors can explore the small towns of Butler, Mountain City, and Shady Valley near the lake. You can also visit the dam or one of the many recreations spots along the miles of lakeshore property. Several campgrounds give you a chance to pitch a tent or pull in your RV for the weekend with fantastic views.

Roan Mountain is a small town with a big flow of traffic as tourists head toward Roan Mountain State Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Rhododendron Gardens. The gardens feature hundreds of bushes that bloom in June each year, attracting thousands of visitors in just a month. You can also enjoy the view from Roan High Knob and search for the foundation ruins of the Cloudland Hotel. Carver’s Gap is a popular place for people to park the car and hop on the Appalachian Trail for a day, taking the short hike up Round Bald and continuing along the Roan Highlands.

East

The East Tennessee region begins at the congruence of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee and continues south through Knoxville to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is one of the most-visited regions of the state with easy access, good roads, and lots to do.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park’s entrance is in Kentucky, the campground is in Virginia, and Wilderness Road Trail is in Tennessee. It’s easy to get to all three through the Cumberland Tunnel that passes beneath the mountain range. The town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee packs a lot into a small area with local eateries, a few places to shop, and a single hotel.

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area spans the Kentucky and Tennessee border. While most of the national recreation area is in Kentucky, visitors will find a large campground, visitor center, and plenty of hiking trails in Tennessee. The small town of Rugby offers a day trip opportunity to explore the original buildings of the town and learn some local history. Oneida is a popular place for people to stay with rental cabins, local eateries, and easy access to the national park.

Knoxville is the “center” of the region, acting as a hub for all kinds of tourism. With a vibrant downtown area around the Market Square, Knoxville has events throughout the year that draw in thousands of visitors. Home to the University of Tennessee, the town is also a proud supporter of the Volunteer teams and academics.

The Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge area has done nothing but grow since it started as a tourist destination decades ago. Home to popular attractions like Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this area is a year-round tourist attraction with warm summer months and skiiing in the colder winter months. Gatlinburg is packed with national tourist attractions, local eateries, arts & crafts, and lots of great scenic views. The national park is the most-visited in the country and can be used for a simple road trip through the mountains, daily hiking excursions, or long camping trips.

Southeast

Chattanooga is quickly becoming one of the top tourist destinations in the state, competing against larger cities like Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. The downtown area of Chattanooga is home to the expansive Tennessee Aquarium, the Walnut Street Bridge (longest footbridge in the country), and a vibrant collection of local places to eat and shop. The city is one of the most physically active with bicycle rentals on every corner, rock climbing adventures around the city, and lots of water activities on the Tennessee River.

Nearby Lookout Mountain, which spreads across the Georgia border, is home to The Big Three tourist attractions: Ruby Falls, The Incline Railway, and Rocky City. In addition to these major attractions is Point Park, part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. You’ll also find lots of fantastic views from a thousand feet above Chattanooga, places to enjoy some hang gliding adventures, and beautiful scenic drives.

 

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RECENT POSTS

Here are a few of the most recent blog posts about Tennessee. Click here to view all posts about the state.

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14 Favorite Photos of Christmas in Knoxville

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Three Days in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Driving through Pigeon Forge can be absolutely overwhelming. The towering business signs, flashing lights, and digital billboards scream at visitors beckoning them to stop for a meal, entertainment, or shopping. I had never spent a night in Pigeon Forge, instead always opting to get through the town as quick as possible to reach Gatlinburg or […]

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My long weekend in Pigeon Forge was over but I wasn’t about to leave Tennessee without a scenic drive first. I zipped through Gatlinburg and hopped on Newfound Gap Road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What a beautiful scenic drive it was. In no time at all I was surrounded by vibrant yellow […]

An Autumn Day in the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

On my first morning in Chattanooga I just couldn’t sleep in. I left my hotel before sunrise. The air outside was cool and crisp. In fact it was downright chilly. I wanted to go someplace I could watch the sunrise but I didn’t want to hike far from my car. I really wasn’t sure where […]