There’s no better way to truly explore the outdoor world than on foot, up close and personal as it were. Our area beckons hikers, of all abilities, with outstanding opportunities to do this, from its city parks and greenways to the backcountry of the Cherokee National Forest and Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Long called “America’s First Western Frontier,” the region is a place of countless natural wonders and mysteries waiting to be discovered. Here are some top trails that will lead to a few such discoveries of your own:

Pinnacle Trail

Located just off Interstate 26 in the scenic community of Unicoi, roughly half way between Johnson City and Erwin, this nearly 5-mile long trail leads to the summit of 3,500–ft. Pinnacle Mountain, a beautiful (and high) restored fire tower and best of all, mountain views forever. Rating: Moderate


Appalachian Trail, Roan Highlands

This section of the A.T. is spectacular, claimed by many hikers to be not only the crown jewel of scenic hikes in NE TN, but actually of the entire Appalachian Trail. Hike north on the A.T. from Carver’s Gap, near Roan Mountain State Park, and travel about 3 miles to Grassy Ridge Bald. Prepare to be stunned. Rating: Moderate


Erwin Linear Trail

This paved walking and biking trail follows N. Indian Creek for most of its 4 miles, from the Nolichucky River to Erwin’s Fishery Park—a great greenway style trail for families. Easiest access is adjacent to I-26 at Exit 37 in Erwin. Rating: Easy


Tweetsie Trail

The now–famous Tweetsie starts in downtown Johnson City, just off Legion Street near Cardinal Baseball Park, and follows the historic Tweetsie Railroad route for about 10 miles to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton. Definitely one of the coolest rails to trails stories in the Southeast. Rating: Easy

Iron Mountain Trail

For the more serious hiker/backpacker, the Iron Mountain Trail runs roughly 18 miles, from the remote mountain community of Shady Valley to the A.T. trail town of Damascus, VA.  Tying into the A.T. at each end of this trail can make for a more challenging 45-mile loop hike. Rating: Moderate to strenuous


Lone Oak Trail

Want a real workout–hike? How about nearly 1,300 feet of elevation gain in about 1 3/4 miles?  Find the Lone Oak trailhead on Dry Creek Road just south of Johnson City and get ready to rev up the ‘ol heart and lungs. Rating:  Strenuous


Cherry Knob Fire Tower Trail

This trail has lots of unique features, including wildlife, lake views, historical buildings and an old fire tower with big views of Kingsport and the surrounding region. start on the Lakeshore Trail at Bays Mountain Park (where you’ll find lots of other great trails also.). Rating: Moderate to strenuous

Photo and text by David Ramsey

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