If you are looking for an outdoor adventure destination then look no further than Northeast Tennessee. This Johnson City, TN guide will show you why JC is the perfect hub for your long weekend trip!
There are no long drives to get to the adventure from Johnson City. Within 30 minutes you can be hiking at Buffalo Mountain, rafting the Nolichucky, or hanging by the water at Watauga Lake.
The small-town feel here and sense of community also make it a fun place to visit. There are tons of local restaurants and breweries as well as specialty shops downtown to browse.
So you have the best of both worlds! You can get outdoors during the day and then explore the town in the evening. It’s one of the best weekend getaways in the south.
This was such a fun place to explore while I was in town for the Southern Travelers Explore Photography Retreat!
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Day 1 on the Johnson City, TN Guide
Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park or Tweetsie Trail
Hit the ground running at one of Johnson City’s popular spots to bike. Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park is just outside of downtown Johnson City – as in 5 minutes from downtown.
If you are like me and look like a gorilla on a unicycle trying to ride a bike, then have no fear. At Tannery Knobs there are trails easy enough for kids. And if you’re on the other end of the spectrum then they have plenty of advanced terrain for you too!
I understand that mountain biking might be just a little too much for some people so another option is the Tweetsie Trail. This gradually sloped trail runs from Johnson City to Elizabethton and has multiple access points along the way.
If you are traveling solo then just choose part of the trail, ride for a couple miles, then turn around and come back.
If you have two vehicles then set up a shuttle where you park a vehicle at the access point you’ll ride to and then drive to the beginning.
Need a bike? Check out Local Motion Cyclery for rentals.
After your morning on two wheels, venture downtown to see what you can find on your own two feet. The downtown shopping area is very walkable!
For home decor, check out Reclaimed Inspired Goods where you’ll find way too many things you’ll want to buy.
Want some plants to take home? Head to Terrarium Plant Store. I almost left with 10 different succulents.
If you want to do some people watching then take a walk through Founders Park or King Commons Park. Grab a drink at Atlantic Ale House by King Commons and enjoy the view.
Dinner & Drinks
White Duck Taco is located in a historic train depot right next to Yee-Haw Brewing. You can order tacos then walk over to the taproom and get whatever beer you like – their Dunkel is fantastic – and then sit in either space!
While you’re in town make sure you check out all the breweries in Johnson City. You can walk to six of them within a mile!
They also have a huge outdoor area with a large fire pit that is super cozy in the evenings. If you still have room after dinner then check out Mimi’s Cookies & Creamery. Honestly, even if you don’t have room, make room.
At Mimi’s their specialty is the cookie sandwich – scoops of ice cream between a cookie with a topping of your choice. I mean just look at it.
Day 2 in Johnson City
Nolichucky Gorge Rafting Trip (Most Fun on this Johnson City, TN Guide)
If you’ve already read my guide to rafting the Nolichucky with USA Raft, then you know how much fun this is.
But if you haven’t, don’t worry because I’m about to tell you all about it.
Right outside of Erwin, TN you’ll find USA Raft where they lead multiple different rafting trips, SUP trips, have a campground, and so many other fun things.
We took the Nolichucky Gorge trip which is Class III-IV water and it is definitely one of the most fun rafting trips in Tennessee.
The river is technical so you do want people in the boat who are helping to paddle. Our guide was fantastic though and probably could have done it without our help.
No experience is required for this trip though. If you’ve never been white water rafting, you’ll show up at the outpost and sign some waivers first.
Then once it’s time to get everyone together they’ll hand out helmets and PFDs (personal flotation devices). On the ride over in the van, they give you the talk about what to do if things go wrong.
This talk is meant to make you nervous – I get scared every single time that I hear it. It’s good to get on the river with a healthy respect for it!
They want to make sure everyone is paying attention and not goofing off because it can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention.
Rafting is sort of like a natural roller coaster though. The water levels were perfect for us and we definitely had to navigate around the rocks but it wasn’t too scary.
You will have some flat water between rapids where you can talk to your group and relax. The beauty of this river is unreal so make sure to take in your surroundings!
We even saw a bald eagle toward the end of our trip. Once you make it back to USA Raft you’ll help your guide haul the boat up on the bank and then you’re home free.
Don’t forget to tip your guide!
Alternative: Watauga Lake
If you aren’t an adrenaline junkie and rafting seems like too much, then take a kayak out on Watauga Lake.
This lake is pretty calm though it does get crowded with boaters on the weekends and especially on holidays.
Off The Grid Adventures is located right before you get to the lake from Johnson City and you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes. You can even take a tour with them on a jet ski.
The Shook Branch Swimming Area is a popular spot to lay out in the sun and take a swim every once in a while.
While you’re in that area check out Watauga Lake Winery. They have a Vineyard Tasting Room at Villa Nove Vineyard and their main winery is located in the historic Dry Run Schoolhouse.
The Schoolhouse is currently being renovated so be sure to check their Facebook page for updates!
If you went with the rafting option today then on your way back to Johnson City make a stop at Scott’s Farm Market for some ice cream.
In addition to fresh produce and local products, they sell homemade ice cream as Scott’s Scoops.
I had the absolute best Cookies & Cream ice cream that I’ve ever had here. And I’ve tried a lot of Cookies & Cream.
If you are local, count your blessings and go buy some pints today.
Relax With a Sunset View
After you’ve had your fill of sweets make sure to grab a quick bite to eat at one of the great Johnson City restaurants and then head out again.
This time you’ll go to Unaka Mountain where you can find one of the best sunsets in Northeast Tennessee.
Beauty Spot is very popular as the hike is short and easy. Get there early if you plan on going to a sunset show here.
Another option with fewer crowds is to hit Unaka Mountain Overlook, also known as Pleasant Garden. You can drive there pretty easily but if you have time then you can also hike in.
Check out the directions to Unaka Mountain Overlook from Hike Solo Outdoors. It’s #2 on that list.
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Day 3 in Johnson City
I am a huge believer in enjoying both sunrises and sunsets. I am usually up well before sunrise and go to bed not too long after sunset.
Just a short drive outside of town you’ll find Buffalo Mountain Park where you can get a beautiful sunrise view. This park is super close to Johnson City so you don’t have to worry about getting up too awful early.
If you are an early riser though then go ahead and get up here so you can hike to White Rock Overlook. You won’t be disappointed!
Go Chase Some Waterfalls
Johnson City isn’t only blessed with beautiful mountain views, they have tons of nearby waterfalls as well.
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular and can be reached by a moderate 2.6-mile hike. A shorter hike near Jonesborough will lead you to Millstone Creek Falls.
At Unaka Mountain you’ll find a 0.6-mile out and back trail (1.1-miles total) that leads to Red Fork Falls. This one is steep and rocky.
Pack a picnic and enjoy your last lunch in northeast Tennessee on a hike.
Where to Stay in Johnson City
When I visited Johnson City I stayed at the Carnegie Hotel. The Carnegie is the region’s only four-diamond hotel and was the perfect location to explore the city from.
My room was spacious and the bathrooms were luxurious. The staff could not have been kinder or more helpful either!
Other Things to Do in Johnson City
Need some other ideas for things to do in Johnson City? I’ve got you covered!
- Visit the local breweries.
- Go caving.
- Take a fishing excursion.
- Catch some live music.
- Visit nearby Jonesborough.
- Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.
- Take a ghost tour with Appalachian Ghost Tours.
- Are you a motorcycle rider? Check out the Southern Dozen!
- Shop at the Johnson City Farmer’s Market.
- Play disc golf at Winged Deer Park.
Pin for later!