Panther Creek State Park

One of the many great state parks in Tennessee, Panther Creek State Park is located in Morristown, TN in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains.  This park is made up of more than 1,400 acres and houses many opportunities for outdoor activities and lots of fun.  Water sports, camping, boating and little history thrown in to boot make this an extraordinary park to visit while you are in the Smoky Mountains on vacation.  Or maybe, you live in the area and you have never ventured out to the numerous state parks in the area – what are you waiting for?

Panther Creek and Panther Springs have an interesting story behind their names.  Supposedly, the area was originally scouted by one Colonel Bradley of Virginia.  While he and his men were exploring the area, he spied a panther or a mountain lion near the spring.  He took careful aim and shot the animal which fell into the spring.  Thus he named the creek and the spring after the animal that he shot on the banks of the river.

Panther Creek State Park borders the Cherokee Reservoir.  This man made body of water was created by an impoundment of the Holston River on its way to its confluence with the French Broad River – where the Tennessee River is formed.  The Cherokee Reservoir provides a wonderful playground on the placid water.  Panther Creek State Park is about 35 miles from Knoxville and about 45 miles north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Panther Creek State ParkWhen you get to Panther Creek State Park you will find that many of the activities focus around Cherokee Lake.  Boating, boat rentals, a bait shop and more are located right on the shore of the lake.  While you are there, you might as well spend the night in one of the 50 campsites that are located around the lake.  The campsites are full service with electrical hookups, grills, picnic tables and more.  Many people come to Cherokee Lake looking to hook into a big fish.  Bluegill, catfish, crappie, bass and bream can be found in the cool waters of the lake.  Or maybe you want to go for a swim.  The campground has a swimming pool on premises with a high dive and a wading area for the little kids in your family.

If you are looking for a change of pace or just a great weekend excursion to the foothills of the Smokies, Panther Creek State Park has a lot to offer those looking for a day of fun around the lake or for a week long getaway.  Fish, camp, swim, boat and basically get outdoors spending plenty of time in the fun and the sun at Panther Creek.

New River State Park

The New River State Park celebrates one of the oldest rivers in North America and the people and cultures that grew up around it.  The New River is one of the few rivers in the US that flows northward and adding that to its age, you have an unique area that is fun to explore.  The New River State Park has lots of amenities and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure.

The New River is in the northwestern corner of North Carolina.  Potentially, scientist think, this might be one of the oldest rivers in the US.  It was in place before the Appalachian Mountains grew up around it.  For 10,000 years or more the native people of the Smokies and the Appalachians used the New River as a waterway to transport goods back and forth between their communities.  Over the years, as the European settlers moved into the area, the New River area became a hotbed for new communities and settlements.  The easy flow of the river, the farmland surrounding the river and of course trade routes that the river provided made it a no-brainer when people were looking for a place to set up a farmstead.

New River State ParkWhile you are at New River State Park, don’t think you are going to be at a loss for things to do.  Hiking, fishing, camping and picnicking are only a few of the activities that you have to choose from .  Canoeing is probably the number one activity for people coming to the New River area.  The gently flow of the river, the gorgeous scenery around the valley that it has created and of course the relaxation that you experience as you canoe down the New River are just a few of the reasons that people flock to this area. And for flatwater kayakers, there might not be a more picturesque place to get out and play.

If the idea of the number of people that have lived in the area intrigues you, you should spend some time learning about this interesting tract of land around a truly ancient river.  The exhibit hall in the visitors center of the New River State Park houses a hands on interactive museum about the New River and the cultures that grew up around it.  From the science of the river to the native people and even modern times, you will get a look at the history and make-up of the river.  Also, they have a video on canoeing the New River.

The New River State Park in North Carolina makes for a great stop while you are on your vacation in the Smokies.  Spend a day or a weekend hanging out in one of the oldest rivers in North America.  Play in the great outdoors.  Canoe or kayak the river and experience the thrill that it has provided to people since the dawn of time.


Elkmont is located between Sugarlands Visitors Center and the Townsend Wye in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  If you are coming from the Sugarlands end of the park then you will travel about 4.9 miles to the turn off to Elkmont which will be on the left as you head toward Cades Cove.  If you are coming in from Townsend, you will travel 12.7 miles from the Wye to the turn off into Elkmont which will be on right hand side of the road.

Elkmont started out as a lumber area in the Smokies.  The Little River Lumber Company started logging this area in the early 20th century.  They put in a railroad system from Townsend to Elkmont to get the lumber out of the area and to get the lumber jacks into the Smokies.  As the forest were cleared, the lumber company started to pull out of the area and the people of Knoxville and Maryville decided to make excursions into the Elkmont area for their summer vacations.

Elkmont quickly became a vacation spot for the uppercrust of society.  The built home sin the area and came back year after year.  The location of Elkmont along the river, the climate during the warmer summer weather and the feeling of being up in the mountains made this area popular enough that in 1912 Charles Carter built the Wonderland Hotel on a hill overlooking Elkmont.  This inn became the ‘in’ place for visitors to stay when they wanted to get away to the mountains.

In the 1930s, the vacation spot of the Smokies begin to change.  As the land was being purchased for the establishment of the National Park, the section known as Elkmont was chosen to be included.  The people that owned the vacation homes and the owners of the Wonderland Hotel were, needless to say unhappy with the loss of their property.  Even though they were going to paid for the land that was being claimed by the US government, they didn’t want to leave the area.  They were provided with life-time leases and though they lasted for a long time, even the Wonderland Hotel closed in 1992.  The homes and the hotel were both left and have continued to decay without upkeep.  Elkmont, the vacation area, have become a ghost town in the Smokies.

Elkmont is one of the best places to see the effect that the Smoky Mountains had on the people that lived around it.  It was an economic source of prosperity to the logging industry, a place to vacation for the elite in the surrounding towns and part of America’s most visited national park.  Now, it has a campground and is the site of the synchronous firefly phenomenon that occurs each spring.  Hiking trails that wind around the ghost town area and one of the older cabins in the Smokies give you a two very unique looks back into history.  Add to that a great place to trout fish and you are looking at plenty of outdoor activities and lots of fun.

Roan Mountain State Park

Roan Mountain State Park (RMSP) sits at the base of Roan Mountain.  Roan Mountain rises 6,285 feet above sea level and there is no better way to see all of Roan Mountain then by sending a weekend at Roan Mountain State Park.  Swimming, hiking, fishing, camping or staying in a cabin, all of this and more await you in one of the most beautiful state park on the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains.

Roan Mountain is the big draw for this state park.  The twisting mountain road that gets you to the top are only part of the fun.  The hiking trails at the top of Roan Mountain offer spectacular views of the mountains to the east and the valleys to the west.  Also at the top of the mountain, in the spring, visitors are welcomed by a covering of pink from the blooming of the catawaba rhododendron that inhabit the rhododendron garden.  This garden has one of the best collections of rhododendrons you will find in the Smoky Mountains.  People come from all over the country to see the rhododendrons that bloom in this garden above 3,000 feet.

Roan Mountain State Park gives you plenty of options if you would like to stay overnight.  Many people choose to stay in the campground that includes 107 camp sites.  Or if you want a few more amenities, they also have 30 cabins in the park.  These cabins sleep up to 4 people, have a fully outfitted kitchen, full bath, a wood burner stove and a heater.  You can stay out in the wilderness without having to break out the tent or pull in an RV.

While you are at the RMSP you can fish, hike or swim (during season).  Or you can take part in one of their many special events:

Roan Mountain State ParkWinter Naturalist Rally
Easter Egg Hunt
Spring Naturalist’s Rally
Jr. Trout Tournament
Memorial Day Celebration
Diamond Jubilee
Rhododendron Festival
Independance Day Celebration
Jr. Ranger Camp
Xtreme Roan Adventures Youth Rally
Fall Naturalist’s Rally
Chili Cook-off
Autumn Harvest 
Halloween in the Campground
Old Time Yule

Make sure that you visit Roan Mountain State Park, the next time you are in the Smoky Mountain area.  Depending on your visit, you may want to take the time to drive to the top of Roan Mountain and check out the rhododendrons when they are in bloom.  Spend some time at the base of the mountain exploring the many activities that RMSP has to offer people that visit the area.

Cades Cove

Cades CoveCades Cove is the most popular auto tour and the most popular spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  As an auto tour, Cades Cove is second to none.  As a place just to go experience the beauty of the Smokies and hang out in nature, there might not be a better place in the southeast.  Formerly a thriving Appalachian community, Cades Cove quickly shows you why people chose to call this area home.

Before the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove was a typical mountain community.  Small farms, cattle herds, churches, all of the usual buildings and community areas that a valley community might need were located in Cades Cove.  The first settlers to the area were the Oliver’s.  John Oliver, a War of 1812 veteran, came to the area.  And while he and his wife Lucretia had a rough first winter the fertile land and the protected nature of the valley brought in many more settlers.  At its height, in the early 1800s, the population of Cades cove was more then 650 people.  There were quite a few farmsteads and there was even a post office with the Sevierville Post office running a weekly route to the cove for mail service.

Cades CoveThe people of Cades Cove farmed the land, fellowshipped with each other and were happy for the most part.  Then in the early 1900s, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park went from being an idea to being a reality.  The people of Cades Cove were the most resistant to the creation of the park and to their inclusion in the park.  In 1927 the General Assembly of the state of Tennessee declared that Cades Cove would be included in the GSMNP.  The residents of the Cove fought the inclusion but in the end they were forced out of the area.  In the end, some of the residents were given a lifetime lease.  In fact the last resident out of Cades Cove was Kermit Caughron who passed way in 1995 and his home was dismantled soon after that.

Cades CoveToday you get to tour a Cades Cove that looked much as it did in the early 1900s.  The eleven mile loop road around the Cove gives you access to all the historic structures, hiking trails and of course the wildlife that the cove is famous for.  Before you enter the Cove you come to the riding staples, a picnic area and the campground and store.  Cades Cove has it all.

A few tips for visiting Cades Cove

  • Bring a picnic. You may find you are there longer then you thought.
  • Allow yourself at least two hours to go around the loop road during season and on the weekends.  It is only 11 miles but it can take a long time when it is crowded.
  • Stop at the Campground store and get ice cream if they are open.
  • On Wednesday and Saturday morning the loop road is closed to cars to let the bicyclists have fun on a closed course.

Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park

Tennessee has some great historic sites.  Being a territory during the Revolutionary War, becoming a state soon after left Tennessee as a border state of a burgeoning country and many American heroes passed through the area.  From Sam Houston to Daniel Boone, these early American’s left there touch on the Tennessee side of the Smokies.  Another of those people that passed through the area was Davy Crockett.  In fact, he was born in the area that would become the town of Limestone, TN.  His birthplace has become the site of a great state park:  Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park.

The state of Tennessee has preserved this area and the cabin that sits in its heart as a legacy to the past and to the personage of Davy Crockett.  Limestone, TN is the closest town to the state park.  As you travel through East Tennessee along I-81 you will see an exit for 11E. Take that exit and you are going to wind through beautiful landscape back to the state park.  Follow the signs, it is easy to find and the drive to this state park is only part of the fun.

Davy Crockett was born August 17, 1786 in the Limestone community of Tennessee.  The cabin that is sitting on the site is not the original cabin but it is a replica of what the Crockett cabin might have looked like.  It is the same size and shape of the cabins that were customary during that time.  Crockett grew up in this area and of course would eventually go on to become a representative of the state of Tennessee and would even be touted in popular culture on the 1950s TV show that bore his name.

Davy Crockett Birthplace State ParkPart of the fun of coming to the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park is being in the setting, on the site where Davy Crockett grew up.  The Nolichucky River that he fished in when he was young is a stone’s throw from the cabin.  The gentle roll of the landscape is probably the same as what he helped his family farm on and part of the reason that his parents choose this piece of land to settle on.  When you are done exploring the cabin, go to the Crockett Monument located in front of the cabin.  Find the natural stone from your state of origin.  Go to the Davy Crockett museum and learn not only about Davy Crockett the man but Davy Crockett the legend.

Or maybe you are looking for a great place to camp for the night or the weekend.  The Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park has a great, full service campground.  The have a swimming pool complex that is open during the season.  A pavilion by the river and a boat ramp offer plenty of opportunities to play in the water or do some serious fishing.  Get out and explore the state parks of the great state of Tennessee, spend some time analyzing the past of our nation and the state.  Visit the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park.

Elk Knob State Park

Elk Knob State ParkElk Knob is one of the newer state parks in the state of North Carolina.  Located near the New River, the land for this park was donated in 2003 and was soon after given to the park service in North Carolina to care for the land.  This park, primarily, protects one of the amphibolite peaks in western North Carolina.  The park service now protects this area and keeps it from being developed so that generations to come can visit the resources of the southern Appalachians.

Elk Knob is named, obviously, for the elk herds that roamed the lands under its panoramic view.  Thousands of years ago, the native people of the area that would be called the Cherokee, hunted the elk that numbered in the thousands.  Though the elk has been moved on, the view over the surrounding valleys are still there.  Elk Knob is the second tallest peak in Watauga County, standing 5,520 feet.  It is easy to see when you stand at the top of this mountain the reason why it might have been an elk herd tracking point for the Cherokee.

While you are Elk Knob, you can go camping, hiking or bring the family for a picnic.  And there is even something a little different about Elk Knob.  Due to the altitude and the terrain, you will be able to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the frozen winter wonderland.  While many of the other parks are closed during the winter, the park service tries to keep Elk Knob open so that people can enjoy a winter time activity that is usually off limits in the national park.

Elk Knob State ParkAnother unique aspect the Elk Knob offers to the visitors that come to the area each year is the chance to take some great photos of the wildflowers that carpet the floor of the mountainsides.  Whether you are a professional photography or strictly an amateur, the wildflowers that come out in the spring will keep you guessing as to where you would like to point your camera.  And trust me, you will see professionals crawling along the landscape looking for tat perfect shot as well.

Pay a visit to Elk Knob the next time you are in western North Carolina.  It is a park that keep changing every time you turn around.  They are constantly improving the area and adding more and more activities.  Visit it at different times throughout the year and see how the season effect not only what you can do but the way that the landscape looks as well.

Indian Mountain State Park

Indian Mountain State ParkIt is no surprise that at one point the mountains in Tennessee felt the effects of strip mining.  Jellico Mountain, which towers over Indian Mountain State Park was once the site of a strip mine.  The state of Tennessee decided to reclaim this land see if they could make it a recreational area for the citizens of the state.  Today it is one of the most beautiful of the state parks in East Tennessee.  With plenty of activities and scenery galore, there is always something to do at Indian Mountain.

Jellico Mountains was transferred to the possession of the United States in the early 1880s from the Cherokee .  At this same time a high quality form of coal was discovered on Jellico Mountain.  This came to be known as Jellico coal.  Mining operations commenced.  Soon after, the railroad arrived and the strip mining of the area started.  Campbell County became the highest producer of coal in Tennessee.  By the 50s surface mining was the preferred method of mining, underground mining having been the best option before this point. At this time, Saxton Coal Company operated the mine that was located where Indian Mountain State Park is now.  Jellico was left with a strip of land that was virtually unusable.

Or was it?

Indian Mountain State ParkThe city of Jellico began to ask the question: what can we do with this land?  They worked with state and federal agencies and after they obtained the rights to the land, they started to make improvements.  They took an almost completely denuded strip of land and have turned it into a recreational area that is second to none.  They have turned what was once and eye sore into a place of beautiful scenery and outdoor activity for all the people of East Tennessee and the country to enjoy.

Today you can camp overnight in one of the 49 fully equipped campsites, you can hangout with your family and friends in one of the picnic pavilions, swim in the swimming pool or enjoy any of the hiking trails.  The ponds that were transformed from pits in the days of the mining company into ponds that are stocked and have become truly great fishing areas.  Stocked with bluegill, large-mouth bass, crappie and catfish. Indian Mountain State Park is a great place to come and hang out in the countryside, enjoying the sunshine and beauty or the natural surroundings in a place that has been brought back from the edge of nothingness.

Mount Jefferson State Park

Mount Jefferson is a great rocky prominence that juts 1600 feet above the surrounding area.  Used as a landmark for people that travel in the area, Mount Jefferson is not only an amazing physical feature on the outskirts of the new River area but it is a remarkable container for countless species of plants and animals.  In modern times, this has become a State Natural Area, that is designed to tell people about the mountain, the history of the area and protect some of the species that live in its shadow.

Mount Jefferson State ParkMount Jefferson has gone by many names in its long history.  For a number of years before the American Revolution, the mountain was called Panther Mountain.  This was due to the legend that a child was killed by a panther on the mountain itself.  In 1952, the mountain was named after Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.  This was due to a 1749 visit by Thomas Jefferson and his father as they surveyed what would become the border of North Carolina and Virginia.  Now, Mount Jefferson is a tribute to the man and a landmark state park that allows people to come and play outside in the great wide open spaces.

Due to the extreme nature of the mountain itself, the activities are built around the exploring the mountain and teaching about the mountain.  The Park rangers that manage the land provide education talks about the area and interpretive programs to allow you to learn more about Mount Jefferson and the part that it plays in the ecosystem.  In fact, if you call and schedule it ahead of time, they will supply a park ranger or a local historian to give you a private tour of the mountain.

Mount Jefferson State ParkBesides the history that surrounds the name and nature of the mountain, Mount Jefferson is home to thousands of species of plants and animals.  Due to the diversity in the altitude, the forests and the animals are broken up by the elevations.  The hardwood forest at the top of the mountain contain a much different set of animals and shrubs then you will find at the lower levels of Mount Jefferson.

Mount Jefferson, one of the most majestic mountains in the Southern Appalachians, is a North Carolina State Park.  Beautiful scenery brought Thomas Jefferson and his father to the area to establish the border between Virginia and North Carolina.  Now the Mountain and the state park bear his name.  Bring the family and your friends to the slopes of Mount Jefferson State Park.  Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the activities and learn about the ecology of this steep environment.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell State ParkThe highest point east of the Mississippi River is Mount Mitchell.  Rising more than a mile into the sky, Mount Mitchell is as majestic from the bottom of the mountain as it is from the peak.  The facilities at Mount Mitchell allow you to learn more about the geology and history of this amazing land mass.  Also while you are there, you can picnic, hike and spend the day on the tallest piece of land on the east coast.

Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Tennessee side of the Smokies is nothing in comparison to Mount Mitchell.  From the base this monolith seems to scrape the clouds.  On most days, Mount Mitchell is surrounded by a mist of clouds that seem to be unable to get high enough to go over the top of the mountain.  Once you drive to the park you might decide to hike to the top at the summit platform.  This is a short walk but it literally gets you to the highest point on the east coast.  You breathe will be taken away by the incredible view of the mountains and valley around you.

Hiking is only one of the activities at Mount Mitchell State Park.  You can camp on the mountain, picnic or learn more about the history and structure of Mount Mitchell itself.  If you are wanting to bring a small group or a school group, they have small classrooms and prepared materials to teach about the land, the ecology, the wildlife and how Mount Mitchel has figured into the history of our country.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell State ParkAnd make sure that you visit the exhibit hall.  In the hall, look for the information about Big Tom Wilson.  They have a replica of the cabin he lived in and even artifacts from his life.  Big Tom was one of the guides that led the scientist to the peaks of the mountain during the 19th century.  He is also the man that went in after Dr Elisha Mitchell’s body when he did not return on his last trip up the mountain.  Of course, Mount Mitchell is named after Elisha Mitchell, the person that pushed for the naming of Mt Mitchell as the tallest peak.

Mount Mitchell is a stop that everybody needs to make at least once when while you visit the southern Appalachian mountains.  If you are cruising around the North Carolina side of the Smokies, make the drive up Mount Mitchell.  Explore the summit and learn more about the area and the people.  Take in the scenery, shoot some pictures, do some hiking and have a great day on top of the world on the east coast.