Day Trips In and Around East Tennessee
Many of us at Stewart Home Inspection are long-time East Tennessee transplants. Initially attracted to its mountains, lakes, four distinct seasons, the ease of getting around and a low cost of living, we all enjoy a pretty sweet quality of life.
Though the list of reasons we’ve stayed is long, near the top is our proximity to a seemingly endless number of major and minor cities, beaches, mountains, historical sites and recreational activities. And now more than ever, having drivable getaway options is invaluable.
For those looking to move here (and for those who already have), we’ve provided some great options for day or weekend trips below along with approximate drive times.
It has been said that we are within a days’ drive of 90% of the U.S. population. We don’t know if that is accurate or not, but we love having access to so many big city amenities without having to live in one! Here is just a sample of nearby cities and their drive times:
- Nashville – 2 ¼ hrs
- Cincinnati – 2 ¾ hrs
- Atlanta – 3 hrs
- Louisville – 3 ¾ hrs
- Birmingham – 3 ¾ hrs
- Charlotte – 4 hrs
- Indianapolis – 5 ¼ hrs
- Charleston – 6 hrs
- St. Louis - 6 ½ hrs
- Savannah – 6 ½ hrs
- Richmond – 6 ¾ hrs
- Washington DC – 7 ½ hrs
- Chicago – 8 hrs
- New Orleans – 8 ½ hrs
- Orlando – 9 ¼ hrs
- Philadelphia – 9 ¾ hrs
- Manhattan – 11 hrs
Less than 1 hour
Windrock – With 73,000 acres and 300 miles of trails, Windrock claims to be the largest privately owned riding area in the country. In addition to ATV/UTV fun, they also offer some hard core bike trails, campgrounds, cabins and events.
Haw Ridge – Part of the Oak Ridge Greenways, Haw Ridge is convenient to most of West Knoxville and provides 30 miles of trails for hiking and biking enthusiasts alike.
The Lost Sea Adventure in Sweetwater – Dubbed “America’s Largest Underground Lake,” makes for a nice half day outing.
Frozen Head – TN State Park with easy hiking options. Especially stunning in the fall!
Brushy Mountain Prison – located in Petros not far from Frozen Head, it famously housed James Earl Ray. It recently opened to the public with tours, a restaurant and concerts. There’s also an ultra-runner race held nearby that was inspired by Ray’s brief jail break called the Barkley Marathons.
Obed Wild and Scenic – In addition to hiking and rafting activities, as part of the National Parks system, they offer a number of programs including their Coffee and Climb with a Ranger – a great way to safely learn to rock climb, it is held once a month and all ages are welcome.
Ijmas Nature Center - Hike, bike, paddle and swim, climb, exercise, play and more!
Townsend, TN – Tubing and visiting the Tuckaleechee Caverns both make for great, not to mention cheap, day trips.
McCloud Mountain, Duff, TN
Hartford, TN – Great for zip lining and beginner whitewater rafting of the Little Pigeon.
Cherohala Skyway (starting in Tellico Plains, TN) – 43-mile National Scenic Byway from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville. Bald River and Baby Falls are must-sees!
The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap is 11 miles of 318 crazy sharp turns and is known as America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road.
Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville – Our local tourist hub and gateway to the Smoky Mountains offers many activities for a good day trip or more depending on your preferences. Beginner ski slopes, lovely cabins, shops, an indoor chalet, Dollywood, at least three different water parks and every type of typical tourist activity you can think of.
Chattanooga is a vibrant young city with a lot to offer. Their aquarium and Hunter Museum are both impressive. They have tons of tourist attractions that provide some spectacular views including Ruby Falls, Rock City and Park Point.
Fall Creek Falls – “One of Tennessee’s largest and most visited state parks. The park encompasses more than 29,800 acres sprawled across the eastern top of the rugged Cumberland Plateau. Laced with cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams and lush stands of virgin hardwood timber, the park beckons those who enjoy nature at her finest. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States.”
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Corbin, KY – Wonderful property with pleasant hiking trails and fabulous waterfalls.
Rock Island State Park - Words cannot do this place justice. There is a giant gorge that you can walk down into when the dam is not releasing water. There are multiple, wonderful waterfalls and some outstanding hiking and camping options. It is amazing to see in person how different everything looks after major rains and releases.
Big South Fork National River and Rec Area - “Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.”
Ocoee Whitewater Rafting – More than just whitewater rafting!
2- 2 ½ hours
Cumberland Caverns – not too far down the road from Rock Island State Park. A truly cool cave experience where the main room is grand and hosts concerts and other events year-round.
Asheville – neat hipster city with a whole lot to offer. Biltmore never disappoints.
Nantahala Gorge & Bryson City, NC – Quaint little town with a historic, flower lined strip of restaurants and shops. Whitewater raft or ducky down the Nantahala. There are a number of outfitters you can try, Nantahala Outdoor Center being a great one with a lot to offer!
Virginia Creeper Trail – “A 34.3-mile rail-to-recreation trail, traversing through two counties from Abingdon, Virginia, through Damascus, and ending just past Whitetop Station in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, at the Virginia-North Carolina border. In the 34 years since its opening, the Creeper Trail remains one of the country’s premier rail-trails, honored as the inductee into the 2014 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame and a recipient of numerous local, regional and national accolades.”
Blue Ridge Parkway – Spanning nearly 470 miles, the views are breathtaking. Two favorite spots are Mt Mitchell and Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob offers a near 360 degree view that, in the fall, is majestic. The trail there is steep but the views from the top are worth the effort for sure.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center – One of the coolest experiences ever. Located at the very beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the center and its grounds are very nice and the rangers will tell you if the Elk are out. Sometimes viewable from the road, it is not uncommon to spot a large herd of them roaming about.
2 ½ – 3 ½ hours
Lake Lure, NC
Looking Glass Falls
Table Rock Mountain
Sliding Rock & Flat Rock in Pisgah National Forest
Land of Oz, Beech Mountain NC
The Devil’s Bathtub & Waterfall - Scott County, VA
Grayson Highlands State Park
3 ½ – 4 ½ hours
Tallulah Falls, GA
Mammoth Cave, KY
Roanoke VA – Anthem Go Outside Festival
The East & Gulf Coasts offer hundreds of beaches & islands within a 7-10 hour drive.
Navarre / Pensacola Beach 7 ½ hrs – Part of a 100 mile stretch nicknamed “The Emerald Coast,” this area boasts beautiful white sand beaches and hosts protected National Seashores that are incredible.
St Augustine - 8 hrs – St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city with the oldest street in the country. It is home to some remarkable Spanish colonial architecture, the Castillo de San Marcos fortress, the Fountain of Youth and some super sweet art galleries. Flagler College provides an excellent tour. Originally built as the Ponce de Leon hotel, it lives up to its opulent description.
Panama City Beach – 8 hrs Rent a condo on the beach far enough removed from the concentration of tourists and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Amelia Island / Fernandina Beach – 8 ¼ hrs beach, Fort Clinch State Park and a beach nearby that is made up entirely of sea shells. Villa Villa Kula offers a nostalgic trip for anyone who loved Pippi Longstocking as a child.
St Petersburg / Clearwater/Tampa/Treasure Island – 9 ½ hrs Great beaches, retro signage/store fronts, the Dali Museum, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home to the Dolphin Tale’s Winter) all make this area well worth the drive.
Virginia Beach – 8 ½ hrs They have a great boardwalk, some very nice military and police memorials and the Annual Neptune Festival and Sand Sculpture Contest are not to be missed.
Pleasure Island – 7 ½ hrs boardwalk, beach, shops, surfing and the Historic Fort Fisher. Britt’s Donuts are worth the wait in line, but only if you buy more than 2 per person.
Outer Banks – 9 hrs to Kitty Hawk….Ocracoke & Corolla. The Wright Brothers, wild horses and light houses.
Jekyll Island – 7 ¾ hrs Offers some interesting history and Driftwood Beach provides nice photo ops.
Hilton Head – 6 ¾ hrs