6 Must Visit Spots in the 9 Lakes of East Tennessee
If you’re looking for a great vacation spot surrounded by water, the 9 Lakes of East Tennessee region is worth checking out. The lakes surround the 16 counties around Knoxville and are all within an hour’s drive of the city. There are way too many things to do to mention, so we’ve narrowed it down to the six spots you MUST visit!
1. Fort Loudon Lake
The fish are biting at Fort Loudon Lake. This lake, in Lenoir City, is a destination for bass anglers. You can also catch crappie, catfish, and bluegill, but the lake is teeming with bass! Much of it is edible, but be aware of advisories for all the 9 Lakes of East Tennessee against eating catfish and large-mouth bass over 2 pounds. Fort Loudon covers more than 14,000 acres with 360 miles of shoreline.
2. Wine Country
East Tennessee is home to some of the best wineries around. The area features three wine trails and 20 wineries. The Foothills Wine and Cider Trail features five wineries, starting at Tsali Notch Vineyard in Madisonville and ending at Pigeon River Winery in Hartford. You can also ride ATVs and ziplines on this trail and cross America’s longest swinging bridge.
The Great Valley Wine Trail takes you through four wineries, two of which are on working family farms. One is an estate vineyard, and the other is in the city of Sevierville, which is where the trail begins at Hillside Winery. It wraps up at The Winery at Seven Springs Farm in Maynardville. This tour features wine tastings, souvenir glasses and the historic “Thunder Road” of Highway 61, made famous by whiskey runners during Prohibition.
The Rocky Top Wine Trail is in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains in Pigeon Forge. You can choose from 75 different wines to taste and five wineries that offer free tastings! Start at any of the wineries, pick up a passport, and get it stamped by each one you visit. Pick up a free souvenir glass. Visit all five wineries for another free gift.
No matter which of these wine trails you choose, plan on spending two to three days exploring, so you don’t miss anything!
3. Tellico Plains
If gorgeous scenery is what you’re after, the Tellico Plains area fits the bill. With many outdoor activities, this town sits at the entrance of the Cherokee National Forest, on a tributary of the Little Tennessee River. Nearly 30,000 acres of remote backcountry surround the river corridors, which are excellent for rafting, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, and fishing. The Tellico River wins national acclaim as a premier trout stream. The Bald River Falls are 80-100 feet tall and considered to be among the most impressive falls in East Tennessee. You’ll find them on the Bald River, just before it runs into the Tellico.
Ever heard of disc golf? Stop by Morristown, and you’ll learn all about it. The city is Tennessee’s Disc Golf Capital. You’ll find four championship-caliber courses. It’s no surprise the city plays host to the annual state disc golf tournament. People from around the world travel to Morristown to test their skills on these courses, which can be quite challenging.
The nearest of the 9 lakes is Cherokee Lake. Head over to this 59-mile long body of water for some boating, camping, fishing, swimming, or hiking. There are 463 miles of shoreline for you to explore!
5. Lost Sea
For a unique adventure, go down into the earth at the Lost Sea in Sweetwater, about 20 miles west of Fort Loudon Lake. It’s American’s largest underground lake at 4.5 acres — and that’s just the part that’s visible. The lake goes on and on in the vast cave system. The cave was once used by Native Americans and, later, by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, where they mined sodium nitrate for gunpowder. The history of the Lost Sea goes back even further. The 20,000-year-old bones of a Pleistocene jaguar were found in the cave in 1939 and are now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Tours of these Tennessee caverns include a ¾ mile walk on steep pathways and a boat ride on the underground lake. Plan on spending about an hour-and-a-half on your adventure.
6. Seven Islands State Birding Park
The early bird may catch the worm, but early birders catch the best sightings at Seven Islands State Birding Park! This 416-acre park offers some of the best bird watching in the country. Seven Islands State Birding Park sits on the French Broad River about 24 miles from Douglas Lake. Nearly 200 species of birds have been spotted here, including red-bellied woodpeckers, ruby-throated kinglets, and prairie warblers. There are 8 miles of mowed trails, as well as 1.2 miles of paved greenway. You’ll spot birds in ecosystems that include meadows, forests, rivers, and grassy fields. The park is a must-visit for all bird watchers, from beginners to the most experienced.
These are only six of the must-visit spots the 9 Lakes of East Tennessee has to offer. Of course, there are too many others to mention, so you may just have to pack a bag and go see them for yourself!
Amira Hamdan is a traveler who loves to write and a writer who loves to travel. Plunk her down in a new place, and she will find the best local cuisine by noon and the best campsite or B&B by nightfall.