East Tennessee, in addition to its beautiful rolling scenery, is rich in history and folk life. No trail exhibits this better than the Knoxville/Smokies/Cumberland Trail, which takes you on a journey of living lore from the Tennessee River through the old gateway to the west at Cumberland Gap.
Highlights and Key Points Along the Route
Start your journey at Volunteer Park in Knoxville, where you’ll board a historic paddlewheel and experience life in the age of steam when river travel was the major means of transportation across Tennessee. Then head north to Norris off I-75 to the Museum of Appalachia, which interprets the working life, music, crafts and food of the people of the southern mountains.
From there, continue along I-75 to Cove Lake State Park at the eastern edge of the Cumberland Mountains. In winter, hundreds of Canada geese call this mountain lake home. Loop northeast to Harrogate, and you’ll find some surprising links to our nation’s 16th President at Lincoln Memorial University, the college founded on his vision more than 30 years after his death. Visit the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and find two life masks of the President as well as the cane he carried the night he was assassinated.
You can further explore Tennessee’s role in the push for westward settlement at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, which straddles three states and preserves the V-shaped gap through which both Native American and Caucasian settlers traveled in the 18th and 19th centuries. Find more natural beauty to the southeast at Cherokee Lake, where you can enjoy a day of bass fishing, swimming and picnicking. Head south on Route 25 to Newport, where you’ll see the blue peaks of the Smokies rising to the east. Browse local arts and crafts and enjoy live music at Del Rio Days and satisfy your need for high-speed thrills at the Newport Speedway.
Continue south on 321 along the eastern edge of the Smoky Mountains and stop by the Folklife Center of the Smokies in Cosby for the summer Dulcimer and Harp Festival. Cosby is an often-overlooked access point to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with camping and hiking available along one of the park’s many back roads.
Before you loop back to Knoxville, be sure to explore the folk heritage of Gatlinburg with a tour of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community and the Arrowmont Gallery, which both preserve the historic handicrafts of these mountain highlands.