A peaceful scene from the barge ride at Bays Mountain Lake.

So many new discoveries awaited us on a recent trip through the Northeast Tennessee TriCities (Kingsport, Johnson City, Bristol) and beyond, including Northeast Tennessees Sunny Side Trail. One of 16 unique trails in the State, Sunny Side Trail begins in the Great Smoky Mountains and meanders through the Cherokee National Forest along the scenic back roads and lush countryside, and leads to the wondrous Appalachian Mountains. In other words, this trail lets you explore some of Americas first frontier.

Tour guides bring history to life at the General Longstreet Headquarters.

Country music, NASCAR races, storytelling and everything else country is the pulse of this destination. I fell in love with Northeast Tennessee. Along the Sunny Side Trail Kingsport, Johnson City, Jonesborough, Greenville, Rogersville, Morristown and the City of Bristol were the major stops along the Sunny Side Trail.

The delightful small towns, the welcoming folks, and a sense of peacefulness oozed from every horizon. It was exciting to learn that Northeast Tennessee is not only known for Davy Crockett and NASCAR, but it is also known as the birthplace of Country Music, and it is home to the International Storytelling Center. Here you will find a wide variety of outdoor activities for family fun, along with spectacular foliage in the fall.

Amazements that warmed my heart, as we traveled several days in and around the Sunny Side Trail, were the friendly people and their hometown pride. While driving into any one of the small towns, seasonal decorations and U.S. flags seemed to appear from every direction. The picturesque scenarios were like pictures from a Norman Rockwell calendar.

We started our tour in Bristol. Did you know that Bristol is designated as the official Birthplace of Country Music, and home to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Festival? We visited the location of the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum to get a sneak preview of what is to be. Lets just say that no one will be disappointed. This new museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, is set to open in August 2014. Bristols exciting live music scene is posted on pickbristol.com.

The Bristol Sign, located on the state line of Tennessee and Virginia is a unique 100-year-old landmark in the City of Bristol. Interestingly, the state line runs down the middle of State Street, which means you need only cross the street to be out-of-state.

The Bristol Caverns and historic downtown Bristol, including the ACMA Mountain Music Museum are examples of more things to see and do in Bristol. We discovered our artistic abilities at Blowfish Emporium for art and shopping. That is where I learned to paint (somewhat), while sipping on strawberry flavored Tennessee moonshine. Cant get much better than that!

The Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway becomes a holiday wonderland each year before Thanksgiving with more than two million lights, and is the perfect, fun family activity. A thrilling ride in a pace car at the Bristol Motor Speedway is where we found the worlds fastest half mile, and it really got my juices flowing. In fact, it made me wonder what other exciting locations were waiting for me in the TriCities area and, of course, the Sunny Side Trail.

The International Storytelling Center is located in the heart of Jonesborough, where tall tales are the norm.

We enjoyed a refreshing visit to the Stickley Farm Maze and Zipline in the Kingsport area. Getting lost in the maze, and discovering that the zipline is a fun place to bring the entire family was well worth the visit.

And Bellamy Hardware, a 100-year-old hardware establishment, is a perfect venue, where visitors enjoy area bluegrass bands a real treat! Not many people know that the Meadow View Conference Resort and Convention Center in Kingsport is the only Marriott property that can claim its own on-site winery Reedy Creek Cellars. Now you know.

Be transported back in time when you visit Kingsports Exchange Place, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown Kingsport is full of charm, including art galleries, antique stores and specialty shops, where shoppers are sure to enthusiastically while away the hours.

Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, is also found near Kingsport, and has a 3,000 acre nature preserve and a 44-acre lake with a barge ride. A 300-foot zipline and interactive ropes course is included, and the trails are opened for cross country skiing in the winter. It is home to Steadman Mountain Heritage Farmstead Museum, for a glimpse of pioneer and life in the 19th century. Interpretive habitats for wolves, bobcat, deer, otters, raptors and more, offer kids of all ages a chance to see wild animals up close. I particularly enjoyed seeing the wolf habitat.

Dating back to 1791, the Rocky Mount Historic Site and Museum gives visitors the chance to experience the living history of the early settlers. Located in Piney Flats, Rocky Mount served as capitol of the Southwest Territory, which became the State of Tennessee in 1796. It is also known as the Cobb-Massengill House and comes alive as visitors pass through.

The famous Burger Bar in Bristol keeps the 50’s alive.

Founded in 1779, Jonesborough is the states oldest city, where brick-lined streets, inns and shops instantly bring visitors back to the Civil War era. Jonesborough is enchanting and makes one want to stay for just a while longer. Did you know that Jonesborough is the storytelling capitol of the world, and is the home of the International Storytelling Festival? Tall tales are encouraged here, and a degree in Storytelling is actually offered at the East Tennessee State University. We were thoroughly entertained one evening by storytelling performed by Jay OCallahan at the International Storytelling Center, which is conveniently located just a short walk from our accommodations for the night Blair-Moore House Bed & Breakfast. This lovely, restored, early 1800s house is as charming as it is authentic.

Rogersville is home to the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum. This town is considered to be the birthplace of Tennessee Journalism. Historic downtown Rogersville should definitely be one of your places to shop and explore. Home to the Tipton-Hayes State Historic Site, Johnson City is also the stomping grounds for East Tennessee State University and the Reese Museum. This museum showcases the early history of country music in the TriCities area as a permanent exhibit.

Bring the family to discover the excitement abounding at the Gray Fossil Site, which is located at the East Tennessee State University Natural History Museum and Visitor Center in Johnson City. It seems that road construction crews discovered one of the worlds largest and deepest fossil sites, while widening 1-75. The dig is ongoing and the findings are amazing. Also located near Johnson City is the Tipton-Hayes State Historic Site, often called the Tipton-Hayes House. Eleven buildings at this site tell the story of Tennessee, from the early settlement history to the Civil War era.

Continuing our journey, we crisscrossed the path of Tennessees Civil War Heritage Trail, as we visited the headquarters of General Longstreet near Morristown. After the death of Stonewall Jackson, General Robert E. Lee regarded Longstreet as his right hand man. We were immersed in history as we toured this authentic Civil War museum. One of our many interesting stops was the Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens in Unicoi. Here is a 75 acre farm, which offers a setting for any occasion. Housed in one of the farm buildings is the wildlife art of Johnny Lynch, which is outstanding. And the smell and taste of fresh-baked artisan bread was pretty amazing, too.

The fresh baked, homemade artisan bread was a real treat at the Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens in Unicoi.

Nearing the end of our tour, we arrived at Morristown where the Mountain Makins Festival was in full swing at the historic Rose Center. The Rose Centers interesting past makes way for the beautiful, functional structure we see today. Classes in arts, crafts and fitness are offered throughout the year here. We shopped at more than 70 crafters and artisans booths that day, and we tapped our feet to live bluegrass music, before strolling into downtown Morristown for lunch. It was a fantastic day to remember.

Dining out

One of our favorite places to eat was the Riverfront Seafood Company, located on the edge of the Holston River in Kingsport, with the option of dining inside or out. This setting by the river was peaceful and rela. The authentic 1950s Burger Bar in Bristol was a real treat. It is said to have been a favorite hangout of Hank Williams, and it is rumored to be the last place he was seen in Tennessee, just before he died at the age of 29. Several more favorites included The 620 State Restaurant in Bristol, the Bagel Exchange in Kingsport, The Dining Room in Jonesborough and Gourmet & Company in Johnson City. We cant forget the highly rated Farmers Daughter in Chuckey. In Morristown, we found good service and food at Java Garden Cafe, Jersey Girl Diner, Timeless Elegance Tea Room and Little Dutch. I found it interesting that Little Dutch was featured on the PBS show Tennessee Crossroads.

Accommodations

A view of the Bristol Motor Speedway from the VIP lounge.

We flew into TriCities Regional airport and found comfortable lodging at Carnegie Hotel and the MeadowView Marriott in the Johnson City/Kingsport area. Various B&Bs in Jonesborough offer gracious accommodations: Franklin House, Hawley House, Blair-Moore House, as well as General Morgan Inn and AmericInn Lodge & Suites. The Hampton Inn in Morristown was my lifesaver, as they found my camera and held on to it until I could get back to retrieve it. Now, that is how they take care of their customers! Ive touched on just a few of the amazing, historic and fun things to see and do in Northeast Tennessee. Hope you will venture there to find your favorites, where youll always keep on the sunny side of life! When planning a visit to Northeast Tennessee, get more information at tnvacation.com and tntrailsandbyways.com.