Tennessee's Tri-Cities: Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City
Tennessee's Tri-Cities area is a historical and outdoorsy kind of destination. Actually, it is several destinations rolled into one. The proximity of the Tri-Cities, plus a couple more, like Jonesborough (Tennessee's oldest city), Greeneville, and Elizabethton, make it easy to get around and explore its history and good nature. The upper east Tennessee Tri-Cities are Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City. Think of a triangle with each city at one of the angles and Interstate 81 somewhat bisecting the triangle.
Everyone knows one thing that Bristol has to offer -- the Bristol Motor Speedway, but there is more to this town shared by Tennessee and Virginia. The Speedway has its annual NASCAR races and its Dragway. At the farthest point north on the triangle, the Bristol Caverns and the Burger Bar await visitors. The Caverns are just outside the city. It has steps leading deep inside and then paved walkways wind through its chambers and along the banks of a secret underground river which created these caverns. After taking in the Caverns, check out the Burger Bar, which is rumored to be the restaurant where Hank Williams ate his last meal. It is actually in Bristol, Virginia, but since both states share the name, it is difficult to know when you are in Tennessee or Virginia. The Burger Bar has been in operation serving delicious burgers since 1942.
At the western-most point of the Tri-Cities triangle is Kingsport. Visitors can enjoy the Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, the largest city park in Tennessee. Within its 3550 acres are a 44-acre lake, 38 miles of hiking trails, and a nature center featuring a state-of-the-art planetarium that will dazzle even hard core planetarium-goers. There are also native animals housed around the park, including gray wolves, bobcats, deer, and birds of prey.
The Exchange Place is a living history farm from the 1800s. It once was a self-supporting plantation and was built along the Old Stage Road. It is thought that the name originated from "exchanging" horses and currency due to its location.
Not to be out done, Johnson City, at the southern point of the triangle, has its historical points of interest. Rocky Mount, a living history museum set during the Revolutionary War, served as the territorial capital from 1790 to 1792. Between Johnson City and Elizabethton, which lies just to the northeast, is Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River and the national historic site of the same name. It was the original muster site of the Overmountain Men, patriots who fought a British army at the battle of King’s Mountain. Along with the historic shoals, the park includes a visitor center and museum, the reconstructed Fort Watauga, and the Carter Mansion at another location in Elizabethton. The Carter Mansion was built between 1775 and 1780 by John and Landon Carter, who were both prominent in political and military affairs, and served during the American Revolution. The Mansion is the oldest frame house standing in Tennessee. When Tennessee was admitted into the United States in 1796, Carter County was named for the son, Landon Carter, and the county seat of Elizabethton was named for his wife, Elizabeth Maclin Carter.
Jonesborough, just west of Johnson City and not really part of the triangle, or the Tri-Cities, is Tennessee's oldest town and a walk along its bricked streets and restored buildings will prove it. Travelers can take a stroll past the Chester Inn Museum (built in 1797) to the International Storytelling Center, where the annual National Storytelling Festival is held the first full weekend in October. Across the street is the prominent Washington County Court House. The first courthouse, a log structure, was built in 1779. The current courthouse was built in 1913 and is the centerpiece for the other historic buildings. Jonesborough has many bed and breakfast inns for visitors to experience the oldest town.
This part of Tennessee has a lot of "oldest" things. Because farther southwest from Jonesborough is Greeneville, site of the oldest college in Tennessee -- Tusculum. The Doak House Museum and the Andrew Johnson Museum and Library are located at the college. Samuel Doak, being a Presbyterian minister and lover of higher education, had much to do with establishing early colleges in the area, and the 17th President of the United States called Greeneville home.
Just southeast from one point of the triangle and Johnson City toward the North Carolina border is a very scenic area. Passing through the Cherokee National Forest to Roan Mountain State Park is a beautiful drive. Within the state park's 2006 acres are cabins available for overnight stays, excellent campsites for RVs and primitive camping, trout fishing opportunities, fourteen miles of hiking and biking trails, and a century-old farmstead. The interpretive visitor center with an old fashioned gristmill stands beside the Doe River. The cabins are located in a forested section of the state park near the visitor center.
A ten-mile drive to the top of the 6285-foot Roan Mountain provides a tremendous vista of the surrounding mountains and valleys. At the top of the Roan, where the Appalachian Trail crosses and North Carolina and Tennessee join, the rhododendron gardens are located and during the month of June the flowering shrubs bloom, making it a special place for visitors.
Besides Roan Mountain State Park, there are many spots that visitors can experience Northeast Tennessee's good nature and participate in their favorite outdoor adventures. That’s because Tennessee's Tri-Cities area is a historical and outdoorsy kind of destination.
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