The 9 Lakes Region of East Tennessee is a road trip destination well known for its winding roads, mountain vistas, sparkling lakes, and beautiful waterfalls. Visitors come again and again to enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons.
Whether you need an “altitude adjustment” or want to indulge in a leisurely ride along the pathways of the early pioneers, there is a scenic drive for you. Fall in East Tennessee is all about the curves and the colors. Planning your ride is about choices, lots of them. Consider:
The region is divided into the 9 lake areas, each featuring interesting things to see, experience, and do. Norris Lake Dam was the first TVA dam built, inundating the deep valley of the Clinch and Powell Rivers. Melton Hill Lake is surrounded by walking trails and is a gateway to Big South Fork and Historic Rugby. Cherokee Lake is rich in Pioneer and Civil War history. Douglas Lake is located in the eastern foothills of the Smokies. The Douglas Lake communities of Dandridge and Newport are also part of the Tennessee Wilderness Road. Chilhowee and Calderwood Lakes are tranquil, almost river like reservoirs, but best known for the twists and turns of the “Tail of the Dragon.” Tellico Lake’s view at the dam is often called the “million dollar” view. Watts Bar Lake is the largest of the lakes and its marshy cover provide a habitat for osprey, heron, and migrating birds. Loudoun Lake is at the heart of the region along with the largest city, Knoxville. This vibrant river city boasts arts, music, outdoor events, and an emerging reputation as one of the best culinary and craft beer towns in the Southeast.
7 Curated Trails
Seven driving trails lead across East Tennessee, hugging nine lakes and two Appalachian ranges — the Smokies and the Cumberland Mountains. Each ride is a 3- 4 hour route offers a different experience and planned stops to shop, dine, or scenic vistas to take that perfect selfie.
5 National Scenic Byways
Or get inspired to drive one or all of the five national scenic byways. Tennessee has ten national scenic byways and five of them are in the 9 Lakes Region.
4 National Parks & 1 National Forest
The 9 Lakes of East Tennessee is also home to 4 National Parks and 1 National Forest. The Cumberland Gap National Historic Park follows the footpath used by buffalo, Native Indians, long hunters and later by Daniel Boone to expand the western frontiers. Known as the Wilderness Road, it provided pioneers a route from Virginia to Kentucky. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park tells the story of the “Secret City” and the history of the development of the first atomic bomb. The vast Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area is 125,000 acres of wilderness and recreational activities. The Cherokee National Forest is bisected by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Waterfalls, twisting roads, mountain climbs, deep gorges, and lake views are waiting to be discovered.
Legends and Lore
It’s All in the Water — East Tennessee has a long history with the distillation of legal and illegal spirits. The reputation of moonshiners and their craft still flourishes along the Whiskey Trail, but cider, wine, and craft beer trails also make for interesting stops. While many of the larger breweries are located in the cities of Knoxville or Maryville, small batch craft industries are building their reputations in tiny communities such as Lancing at the Lilly Pad and Hopyard Brewery and Clinch River Brewing in Norris TN. With the backdrop of the Smokies, majestic views are uncorked at Tsali Notch along with local muscadine wine. For a taste of moonshine history, head to Adventure Distilling Company in Cosby. Live music and people watching are “on tap.”
Southern Hospitality — “Farm to table,” smoky barbeque, biscuits, or “meat and 3”, the Region is serving up southern fare with flair. Some of the best prepared breakfasts and short order cooking will be found in local gas stations. These stores are combinations of gas stops, sundries, and cafes with table seating, serving up grilled sandwiches, daily specials, and take-out options. During the summer months, the marinas offer waterside dining and live music. In the fall and winter, head to one of the food truck parks to experience great food and fun settings. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets are always on the menu.
When you “add it up”, the 9 Lakes has miles and miles of adventures to discover. Gas up for your next great road trip.