15 Best Things to Do in East Tennessee

Home to a plethora of natural wonders including America’s most popular national park, East Tennessee is a nature-lover’s dream—but that’s not all that the area has to offer. Get ready for country music, beer trails, historical mansions, and much more with our top recommendations for things to do in East Tennessee.

  1. Newfound Gap: The most prominent mountain pass in the Smokies is a must for your bucket list. Visitors enjoy the refreshing cool air, the views, and the fact that you can straddle the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina.
mountain pass in the Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains’ most famous mountain pass is popular for a reason. Photo © Sepavo/Dreamstime.

2. Cades Cove: Historic cabins, churches, and farms dot this uber-popular pastoral mountain cove, ideal for walking, biking, and scenic drives.

3. Andrews Bald: Accessible only on foot, this landscape of wild grasses, wildflowers, rhododendrons, and clear air is the perfect destination for a day hike.

hiking trail covered with grass
One of the many hiking trails in Andrews Bald. Photo © Kelly Vandellen/Dreamstime.

4. Arrowmont: Equal parts arts school, gallery, and history lesson, this craft community is the heartbeat of Appalachian decorative arts.

5. Dollywood: With roller coasters, live music, artisans, fireworks, and love of the mountains, Dolly Parton’s Pigeon Forge theme park is the definition of good, clean fun, (with spectacular views!).

6. The Sunsphere: The gold-plated globe of the Sunsphere defines the Knoxville skyline. Ride to the top for epic views or use it as a backdrop for your World’s Fair Park photos.

view of Knoxville skyline
Ride to the top of the Sunsphere and catch a glimpse of Knoxville’s iconic skyline. Photo © Sepavo/Dreamstime.

7. Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage: Wildflowers in the Smokies are legendary, and this five-day event organized by the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park puts them in the spotlight every April. Visitors can expect everything from wildflowers and fauna to natural history walks, photographic tours, art classes, and indoor seminars.

8. Pancake Pandemonium: Whatever the origin, visitors and locals alike agree that pancakes are the preferred breakfast around these parts. It’s nearly impossible to try just one version—have your pick between Pancake Pantry, Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin, Log Cabin Pancake House, Atrium Pancakes and Little House of Pancakes.

9. Birthplace of Country Music Museum: Learn about the now-giant genre’s modest beginnings at this interactive museum and live music venue.

The Birthplace of Country Music museum
Learn all there is to know about the origins of country music. Photo © Malcolm Wilson/Birthplace of Country Music.

10. Gray Fossil Site and Hands On! Discovery Center: This major fossil site is home to engaging and educational exhibits of prehistoric Tennessee as well as an interactive museum of arts and sciences.

11. Andrew Johnson National Historic Site: The home and the tailor shop of Andrew Johnson in Greeneville serve as a memorial to one of the most controversial commanders-in-chief.

a red building that was once Andrew Johnson's home
Take a look into the life of an infamous commander-in-chief. Photo © Zrf/Dreamstime.

12. Brewly Noted Beer Trail: The recent crop of craft breweries in the Tri-Cities area spurred the creation of the country’s first and only multi-state beer trail, which includes Tennessee favorites like Johnson City Brewing Company and JRH Brewing.

13. Roan Mountain: Quite possibly the loveliest natural site in northeastern Tennessee, this high mountain ridge is noted for its open balds and rhododendron gardens.

rhododendrons on a mountain
Stop and smell the flowers as you climb Roan Mountain. Photo © kellyvandellen/iStock.

14. The Miller Homestead: This 1908 farmhouse near the Roan Mountain has been restored to show traditional mountain life. On summer weekends, special storytelling, music, and arts-and-crafts programs keep it alive.

15. Titanic Museum: You’ve seen the movie—now experience life on the Titanic for yourself. Featuring a collection of artifacts and photographs, as well as an actual desk chair from the ship and a replica of the grand staircase, the museum also assigns each guest a boarding pass that corresponds to a real-life passenger. You can look forward to finding out the fate of your passenger at the end of the exhibition!

Margaret Littman

About the Author

Margaret Littman is both an old-timer and a relative newcomer to Nashville. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, she left Tennessee for points north over the course of her writing career. But after 17 years she could no longer resist the siren song of the Parthenon, bluegrass music, or fried pickles, so she returned to Nashville, where she writes about Music City, Southeast travel, food, pets, and more. An avid stand-up paddler, she loves being a day trip away from the Tennessee River to the south, Reelfoot Lake to the west, and Norris Dam to the east.

There’s nothing Margaret loves more than telling natives something they didn’t know about their home state. And with 75,000 miles on her station wagon already, she has lots of ideas for little-known places to listen to music, eat barbecue, paddle a lake, hike to a waterfall, or buy works by local artists.

Margaret’s work has appeared in national and regional magazines, including Wine Enthusiast, Entrepreneur, The Tennessean, and many others. She is the author of several guidebooks as well as the Nashville Essential Guide.

Margaret has loved lots of places she’s lived, but the day she looked down and realized she was wearing cowboy boots in synagogue, she knew she had become a Nashvillian.

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