What to do in SETTA's Top 10
February 10th, 2015
For those of you who don’t know what we do here at the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association, the dry definition is that we promote ten counties in Southeast Tennessee. Want to know the actual definition? We get to do really cool stuff in order to relay just how cool and fun it is to y’all! I know . . . it’s a sacrifice, but you’re welcome.
If you think ten counties is a lot of space to cover, you would be totally right. It’s taken me over a year to finally remember just where each county is and which major city goes where. And with so much space comes a lot of attractions. From historic sites and rafting excursions to hiking trails and local grub, there are a lot of things to cover in our region—but that’s what we’re here for!
Though ten counties may sound like a lot, we are here to make your trip through Southeast Tennessee a breeze. So here’s a list of our favorite spots in the region broken down by county and city. Make our top ten your top ten on your next visit to Southeast Tennessee.
(Photo: Bridgman House -- outside viewing only)
Sitting at the top of our region is Bledsoe County. Though it is our second smallest county with a population of about 12,841, Bledsoe features one of our region’s most well-known parks. Resting partly in the county seat of Pikeville is Fall Creek Falls State Park, a great place to hike or camp overnight. Founded in 1807, the county was named after Anthony Bledsoe.
- Fall Creek Falls State Park (Pikeville)
- Dr. James A. Ross House (102 Frazier St., Pikeville)
- Bledsoe County Jail (128 Frazier St., Pikeville)(Outside Viewing Only)
(Photo: Red Clay State Historic Park)
Bradley County houses an eclectic group of historical sites from over the years. Cleveland alone, which also happens to be the county seat, houses Red Clay State Historic Park, the last seat of the Cherokee Nation before the removal. Cleveland is also home to the creation of the red-back hymnal. Founded in 1836, Bradley now boasts a population of about 101,848 people.
- Museum Center at 5ive Points (200 Inman St. E, Cleveland)
- Red Clay State Historic Park (1140 Red clay Park Rd. SW, Cleveland)
- Café Roma (220 Ocoee St., N, Cleveland)
- Morris Vineyard and Tennessee Mountainview Winery (346 Union Grove Rd. NE, Charleston)
(Photo: View of Fern Falls)
Known for its vast expanses of wilderness, Grundy County features gorgeous natural features such as the Fiery Gizzard Trail and Savage Gulf Natural State Area. With a population of around 13,498, the county, established in 1844, has many intriguing towns including Beersheba Springs, named after a mineral spring, Gruetli-Laager, founded by immigrants from Switzerland, and Altamont, the county seat.
- Dutch Maid Bakery (109 Main St., Tracy City)
- Monteagle Winery (847 W. Main St., Monteagle)
- Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse (850 W. Man St., Monteagle)
- Swiss Heritage Festival (Gruetli-Laager, Summer event)
(Photo: Walnut Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga)
Right smack dab in the middle of the region is Hamilton County—home to the Scenic City, SETTA, and me! With about 348,673 people, Hamilton contains the largest population in our region. Founded in 1819, this county boasts the county seat of Chattanooga, a lot of Native American and Civil War history, and stunning mountain overlooks.
- Chickamauga/Chattanooga National Military Park (3370 LaFayette Rd., Fort Oglethorpe, GA)
- Tennessee Bouldering Authority (3804 St. Elmo Ave, Chattanooga)
- Rainbow Falls (Signal Mountain)
- 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival (Chattanooga, Fall event)
(Photo: Children's Holocaust Memorial at Whitwell Middle School)
Over the years Marion County has been home to many significant people such as Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee leader, and Sequoyah, the Cherokee scholar who created the Cherokee alphabet. Founded in 1817, Marion now has a population of about 28,374 people and is home to the famous Foster Falls. Jasper is the county seat of this county.
- Dixie Freeze (200 Elm Ave., South Pittsburg)
- Hammer’s (220 S. Cedar Ave., South Pittsburg)
- Buttonwillow Civil War Dinner Theatre (1060 Main St., Whitwell)
- Foster Falls (498 Foster Falls Rd., Sequatchie)
- National Cornbread Festival (South Pittsburg, Spring event)
(Photo: L&N Depot)
Founded in 1819, McMinn County is home to the L&N Depot in Etowah as well as the connecting depot in Niota. Decently sized, the county has about 52,341 residents and was originally established from Indian lands. Not commonly known, the county seat of Athens was the site of an event known as the Battle of Athens in 1946 where residents started an armed assault in the jail to stop county officials from stuffing ballot boxes to fix local elections.
- L&N Depot (727 Tennessee Ave., Etowah)
- McMinn County Living Heritage Museum (522 W. Madison Ave., Athens)
- The Gem Theater (700 Tennessee Ave., Etowah)
(Photo: Head of Household Memorial at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park)
The smallest county in our region, Meigs County boasts a strong resident population of 11,649. Formed from parts of Rhea County in 1836, this area was originally part of the Cherokee Nation. Though a majority of Eastern Tennessee counties voted against secession, Meigs was one of the few to vote in favor of the ordinance. A public history museum that houses the county’s court and family records rests in the county seat of Decatur.
- Sandhill Crane Festival (Birchwood, Winter event)
- Meigs County Historical Museum (200 Smith Ave., Decatur)
- Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge (545 Priddy Rd., Birchwood)
(Photo: Ocoee Whitewater Center)
Named after governor and president James K. Polk, Polk County was founded in 1839 from parts of the surrounding counties. Home to about 16,690 loyal residents, Polk features many outstanding natural features such as Benton Falls, which flows through the county seat of Benton. The county is also known for rafting excursions down the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers.
- Benton Falls (Benton)
- Ocoee Mist Farm (Parksville Rd., Benton)
- Chilhowee Gliderport (8261 Highway 411, Benton)
- Ocoee Inn Rafting (2496 US 64, Benton)
- Ocoee ZIPZ (1985 Highway 64, Benton)
(Photo: Courtroom used for the Scopes Trial at the Rhea County Courthouse)
Ever heard of the great Scopes Monkey Trial? Well, the Rhea County seat of Dayton is where it all took place. The oldest of our counties, Rhea was founded in 1807 and now boasts a population of around 32,513. Along with hosting the most famous event in the history of evolution versus creationism, Rhea also held the only female cavalry company in the Civil War—The Rhea County Spartans.
- Scopes Festival (Dayton, Summer event)
- Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness (Dayton)
- Jacob Myers Restaurant on the River (185 Chickamauga Dr., Dayton)
- Spring City Depot (Front St., Spring City)
(Photo: Devilstep Hollow Cave near Crossville)
Last but not least is Sequatchie County, founded in 1857 and named after the Sequatchie Valley which in turn was named after a Cherokee chief from the area. While the population runs close to 14,681 people, Sequatchie is filled with roaming hills and leftover pieces of history. In the county seat of Dunlap rests the remains of the Douglas Coal and Coke Company, which constructed beehive ovens to convert coal into coke.
- Cookie Jar Café (1887 Kelly Cross Rd., Dunlap)
- Coke Ovens Museum (Mountain View Dr., Dunlap)
- Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival (Dunlap, Summer event)
Want to know more? We are currently in the process of a creating a Regional Visitor's Guide that includes all you could ever want to know about Southeast Tennessee. So keep your eyes peeled for when this helpful travelor's guide hits the shelves of your local welcome centers!
The Waterfall Project: Gee Creek Falls
November 18th, 2014
If there is one thing I have learned from my time at SETTA, and with this project in particular, it’s that Southeast Tennessee is an unpredictable place. When I started this series in the summer, I thought it was going to be easy. In my mind I was going to have my complete list of regional waterfalls, hike the trails, and write about them before the end of the year. Now, here it is almost Thanksgiving and I am only on the third waterfall, which wasn’t even on my original list of falls (shocker, right?). I don’t know what this says to you, but this unexpectedly complex process tells me that there is so much more to our region than meets the eye. It’s irregular. It’s out of the ordinary. It’s beautiful.
So, to honor our ever-changing area, I am going to change the pace a little bit and take y’all on a leisurely hike through the Gee Creek Gorge in Polk County. Everything about this hike was different from my first two adventures. I had a new hiking companion (two to be exact), different weather, and I wasn’t even expecting to come across a waterfall when I agreed to go on this trip. I went on this trip to get out of the office for a day and came out of it with a fun experience AND a blog post. Double whammy! Okay, enough talk. Let’s get to the hike.
My hiking companions. Meet Melissa Mortimer (left), saver of historic buildings and expert in all things Fossil. Introducing Jim Caldwell (right), railroad veteran and photography extraordinaire.
Though the weather has made a turn for the chilly recently, the day the three of us went on the hike was perfect—60ish degrees and slightly cloudy. Upon arriving at the trailhead, we began our hike down a wide trail shaded by trees adorned in fall colors. The trail itself was smooth with little rocks to begin with, but as we progressed it narrowed and became slightly rockier. About halfway to the falls is a gorgeous wooden bridge that sets the scene for a perfect nature photoshoot.
Because I'm a literature major and I love quotes, here's a random quote from Isaac Newton: "We build too many walls and not enough bridges." Mmmm. That's deep.
Photoshoot next to the bridge. Now I can check off model from my bucket list.
From this point the trail began to go uphill slightly, but not too much. There were no leg-busting hills or crazy switchback or hidden trails like our last hike. No, the only difficult part of the Gee Creek hike was a small section of the trail where we had to climb the side of a rock wall. Other than that, the trail is the easiest I’ve hiked so far in this series.
Melissa and Jim take on the dreaded rock wall.
The closer we got to the falls, the more secluded I felt. Hiking at Gee Creek was completely different than the other hikes I have been to so far because it didn’t feel like a trail. We were completely submersed in nature, completely isolated from the outside world. Rather than try to describe this hike further, I’m going to let the photos do the talking:
Collection of fall foliage photos? Why not!
Here comes the waterfall, and it looks like . . . could it be?
It is! It's a DOUBLE WATERFALL!
They may be small, but the surrounding area is GORGEOUS.
Even though it’s starting to get cold outside and it feels like we’re in for an early winter, take time this holiday season to get outside and explore. You never know what is hiding in the woods or what treasures you’ll find in our beautiful region. Whether it’s Gee Creek or somewhere else in Southeast Tennessee, make some time between the turkey and stuffing to seek adventure in the great outdoors. I promise it will be a Thanksgiving to remember.
P.S. here's a photo of Melissa and me by Jim Caldwell. This picture may be hanging up beside my desk. [Insert "awww" here].
Directions:From exit 36 on I-75 northeast of downtown Chattanooga, take TN 163 east for 15 miles to US 411 near Delano. Once at US 411, turn right, south and go just a few feet to then turn left on Gee Creek Road. Follow Gee Creek Road over railroad tracks and stay right, continuing with Gee Creek Road as it turns back north and turns into Forest Road 2013. Travel for a total of 2.2 miles from US 411 to reach the signed trailhead, just before a left curve.
Crisp & New: Fall Fun in Southeast Tennessee
September 30th, 2014
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes fall as a fresh start: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” Life starts over. Think about that for a minute. We shape our lives around college football and midterms while nature completely changes its appearance around us. The passing of summer means an unveiling of brighter colors that were once faded by the haze of humidity. Fall means chilly breezes that blow my batons halfway across the football field. It’s that first, deep breath of crisp morning air that makes your lungs tingle with satisfaction.
All these great changes demand attention and Southeast Tennessee provides the perfect means to give that attention—fall festivals. From banjo strumming on the Tennessee River to launching pumpkins across acres of urban farmland, our region knows how to celebrate this breath-taking season. So take a break from the game and stress of everyday life for a family outing full of autumn adventure. I promise you won’t regret missing that big touchdown—it’ll be on tomorrow’s highlight reel anyway.
*All events except for the Etowah Arts & Crafts Fall Festival have a website link attached. Click the name of the event for more information.
Etowah Arts & Crafts Fall FestivalOctober 4 – 5L&N Depot Park, 727 Tennessee Ave., Etowah, TN 37331
Help Etowah celebrate 41 years of fall fun at this year’s arts and crafts fall festival October 4th and 5th. Hosted at the historic L&N Depot Park, the annual event features local food and craft vendors that represent the talent and esteem of this community’s dedicated members. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday, ending at 5 p.m. both days. This is one small-town festival you are not going to want to miss. For more information on this two-day fall fest, call the Etowah Chamber of Commerce at 423-263-2228.October 11Altamont, TN
Named after one of Altamont’s most recognized citizens, the second annual Fannie Moffitt Autumn STOMP will take place October 11th in Altamont, Tenn. Created last year to celebrate the diverse culture and heritage of the town, the stomp includes a $5 breakfast, cruise-in, live entertainment, and quilt show. Local artisans and crafters will be present during the festivities to sell and show off their handmade goods, and there will even be a skit starring the beloved Fannie. The night will end in dancing with the stomp to honor the town’s Scots-Irish and Native American background. Check the Fannie Moffitt Facebook page for updates on the time and location of this great event.October 11Market Park Pavilion & Knight Park, Athens, TN 37303
The small community of Athens hosts a fall festival every October to celebrate the history and harvest of the area. Pumpkintown offers much more than your average gourd get-together. The October 11th festival is packed with fun activities and events such as a pancake breakfast, a bicycle ride, 5K and 1-mile fun run, a mutt strut and doggie costume contest, and hours of live, musical entertainment. Educational booths will be set up along with food vendors so you can learn about the history of this historic community while savoring its local cuisine. Check out the Pumpkintown website for a full festival schedule and band lineup.October 18 – 19Bradley County Courthouse Square, 155 N. Ocoee St., Cleveland, TN 37311
Fall isn’t just about pumpkins and candy, but it’s also the season for apples. Embracing this overlooked fact, the city of Cleveland hosts an apple festival every year. This two-day autumn bash will take place October 18th and 19th and will feature only the best of Cleveland’s community businesses. Local artisans and chefs will be lined along the side of the courthouse square to sell their handmade crafts and delicious treats. There will also be pony rides and children’s activities to keep the young ones busy, while the adults enjoy the live entertainment. Admission to the event varies on age and day, and all proceeds will go toward non-profit organizations. Check out the website for gate pricing and a full list of festival activities.October 18 – 19Ketner’s Mill, Whitwell, TN
Ever wish you could go back to a simpler time where there weren’t any of today’s modern distractions? Then look no further than the Ketner’s Mill Country Arts Fair in Whitwell, Tenn. This two-day festival brings guests back to the days of cornmeal grinding and covered wagons at Ketner’s Mill, which was once a booming producer of cornmeal in the Sequatchie Valley. Though the mill no longer operates year-round, it starts churning again in time for the fair. Guests can tour the mill during the fair and learn all the ins and outs of cornmeal production. The fair is home to some of the best artisans and crafters in the region, bringing in a wide range of pieces from folk art and pottery to woodworking and jewelry. Other featured activities include a petting zoo, canoe rides along the Sequatchie River, and wagon rides. Directions to the mill and admission prices can be found on the Ketner’s Mill website.October 31 – November 1Rhea County Courthouse Square, 1475 Market St., Dayton, TN 37321
Looking to mix up your tired, humdrum Halloween routine? Head to downtown Dayton October 31st and November 1st for an alternative Halloween night you won’t forget. The two-day festival includes local food and craft vendors, as well as live entertainment. Guests can test their vocals in the “Scary-Oke” contest or put their autumn treats on display in the “Perfectly Pumpkin” desert bake-off. There will also be a costume contest with prizes for the best dressed in each age category. Finally, finish off the evening with downtown treating and a movie in the park after dark. A full list of PumpkinFest activities can be found on the MainStreet Dayton website.November 1Crabtree Farms, 1000 E. 30 St., Chattanooga, TN 37409
It’s November 1st and you have somehow succeeded in preserving your carved pumpkins all the way through Halloween. Now what? Smash them, of course! To bring in November with good cheer, Crabtree Farms is hosting a fall harvest Pumpkin Smash the day after Halloween. Bring your leftover pumpkins etched with witches and scary faces to the festival and launch them across an open field using the Pumpkin chuckin’ trebuchet. Along with this cathartic activity, guests can look forward to a traditional pie eating contest, a BB gun shoot out, tractor rides, and country games such as corn hole and potato sack races. Also be sure to bring your own food to fry at one of the farm’s fry stations. Admission to the festival is $2, so be sure to come out and enjoy some post-Halloween excitement at this urban Chattanooga farm. Crabtree Farms will be accepting whole or carved pumpkin donations for the smash everyday up until the day of the festival. Check out the farm’s website on how to donate or get involved with the smash.November 1Morris Vineyards (Charleston, TN), Savannah Oaks Winery (Delano, TN), and Ocoee Winery (Cleveland, TN)
Spend the first day of November relaxing with a glass of wine surrounded by the warm colors of fall at the Ocoee Grape Escape. This regional wine tour will take guests to three of Southeast Tennessee’s finest local wineries where they will have the opportunity to taste award-winning, 100% Tennessean wines. Apple Valley Orchard, Sweetwater Valley Farm, and Sweets n’ Treats will join in the tour to provide samples of their homemade food products to pair with the supplied hors d’oeuvres. Along with the local fare, guests will enjoy tours of the wineries and live, musical entertainment. Tickets to the tour are $25, which includes admission to all three vineyards and a commemorative wine glass. Tickets are available at the participating wineries or at the Polk County Chamber of Commerce. With Christmas right around the corner, the Ocoee Grape Escape is the perfect event to ring in the penultimate month of 2014.
Pumpkins, and mazes, and spooks! Oh, my!
How many times can we say the phrase “fall fun” in this blog post? Clearly not enough because there is literally THAT much stuff to do down here. Check out these awesome autumn attractions that are open through the month of October.
- Old McDonald’s Farm: 16705 Coulterville Rd., Sale Creek, TN 37373
- Open: Saturdays (10 a.m. – 7 p.m.) and Sundays (12-7 p.m.) from Sept. 20 – Nov. 2
- Mayfield Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch, & Haunted Trail: 257 Highway 307, Athens, TN 37303
- Open: Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch Saturdays (10 a.m. – 9 p.m.) and Sundays (1 – 7 p.m.) until Nov. 2
- Haunted Trail runs Fridays and Saturdays (7 – 11 p.m.) from Oct. 4 – Nov. 1
- The Enchanted Maze at Blowing Springs Farm: 217 Chattanooga Valley Rd., Flinstone, GA 30725
- Open: Thursdays through Sundays until Nov. 2 (hours vary each day)
- Acres of Darkness at Audubon Acres: 900 N. Sanctuary Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37421
- Open: Fridays and Saturdays (8 – 11 p.m.) from Oct. 4 – 31
- Guthrie Pumpkin Farm & Corn Maze: 490 County Road 67, Riceville, TN 37370
- Open: Fridays and Saturdays (7 – 11 p.m.) through Oct. 31