Gas prices have edged back up in recent weeks, making vacation plans a little harder on the wallet, but Tri-Cities residents don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy the last part of summer.
Hiking, golfing, rafting, historical attractions, national and state parks and scenic drives and museums can all be part of a family day trip.
“I’m always amazed at what there is to do here,” said president and CEO of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, Gary Mabrey. “We call the time from Memorial Day to Labor Day the 111 days of summer. You can see exactly what there is to do in the area in your local newspaper.”
The most popular rising attraction in the area is the Southern Dozen, which features the 12 “greatest” motorcycle rides in the South. It is gaining recognition around the country.
There are plenty of campgrounds around the area. The Cherokee National Forest has more than 300,000 acres and offers picnicking, water play, miles of trails and camping.
Davy Crockett Birthplace Site in Limestone includes 105 partially wooded acres with 88 campgrounds. The site also has a museum that tells different aspects of the frontiersman’s life. A replica cabin depicts a typical frontier cabin much like the one Crockett lived in.
Camping and outdoor recreation can also be found at Buffalo Mountain Park, where they offer guided nature hikes monthly. The park comprises 725 acres on the north slope of Buffalo Mountain.
For the more adventurous types, there are companies that offer white-water rafting such as Cherokee Adventures, whose specialty is the Nolichucky River. The company also offers lower key activities — Funyaks, riverside camping, mountain biking and rope courses.
USA Raft also offers rafting, along with caving, climbing, tubing, fly fishing, teen adventure camps and lodging. The company goes down the Nolichucky and the French Broad rivers.
Hiking is also plentiful in the region. A portion of the Appalachian Trail runs through Northeast Tennessee and offers a quick getaway into nature. The Sunny Side Trail follows a different path, offering everything from outlet shopping to mountain back roads.
If hiking’s not your thing, and you’d rather take a scenic drive, you don’t have to travel far.
“If you want to drive, you can see the whole area in two days,” Mabrey said. “You can drive from Barter (Theatre) to Jonesborough to Biltmore (in Asheville, N.C.), that’s 130 miles, and you don’t even have to get out of your car.”
The region offers plenty of history. There are Civil War trails that can be explored. There is also a Tennessee Heritage Trail offering not only historic sites but also arts and crafts stops and a Music Trail.
If you need a rest from all the exploring, there are historic places to stay. The Eureka Inn in Jonesborough can trace its roots back to the 1800s.
“This is a historic inn with all the charm of a bed and breakfast,” said innkeeper Maria Bledsoe. “It is just very authentic.”
The Eureka Inn attracts plenty of tourists who come to the region for all kinds of reasons. Some people come for storytelling, some for the races in Bristol and a lot of tourists are history buffs researching their genealogy. When people come once, they tend to keep coming back.
“The mountains are key in attracting people to the region,” Bledsoe said. “This area captures what’s wonderful about the South.”
There are also plenty of bed and breakfast inns to be found in the region. Some of the inns are located conveniently on Main Street in Jonesborough. The Blair-Moore House, dating to the early 1800s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There is a reasonable amount of people who come to the inn, and they live within driving distance,” Jack Moore, owner of Blair-Moore House, said. “They just come to be pampered a little bit.”
There is plenty of shopping around the region, no matter what you might be looking for. There are two golf courses, and plenty of festivals and fairs, including the Appalachian Fair in Gray, the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough and the Unicoi County Apple Festival in Erwin.
Museums in the region include the Gray Fossil Site (ETSU & General Shale Brick Natural History Museum), Hands On! Regional Museum, Tipton-Haynes Historic Site, Rocky Mount Museum and Sycamore Shoals State Historic Site.
No matter what you want to do, you can find it in the Northeast Tennessee region.
“There’s more to do here than I can do in a lifetime,” Mabrey said.