Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Johnson City, TN, offers an unparalleled blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and budget-friendly activities that keep the spirit of exploration alive, even in the chill of winter.

For travelers eager to breathe in the crisp mountain air and experience the diverse landscapes this hidden gem has to offer, Johnson City reveals its charm through an abundance of activities.

From scenic hikes that offer breathtaking views of mountainous landscapes to cozy, cultural events that bring the community’s warm heart to the forefront, there’s no shortage of reasons to step out into this vibrant city – even when bundled up.

Read on to see how you can Go. All. Out. in Johnson City. Leave no sight unseen, no path untravelled, and discover why this enchanting corner of Tennessee is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts and budget travelers alike.

Disclaimer: I was hosted by Visit Johnson City for this trip. All opinions are my own honest thoughts about the town. This post may contain affiliate links, which help keep the blog running at no cost to you. Thank you for helping support Adventures Abound so I can keep creating free content for your adventure planning!

🔎 See the highlights of Johnson City on this Scavenger Hunt! 🔍

Get Outside in Johnson City

Michele wearing a bright red jacket walks along a wooden walkway on a steel bridge inside a Appalachian Caverns near Johnson City. Stalactites hanging from the ceiling and rock formations surrounding her.
A stunning view of a cave interior with a wooden walkway bridge over a greenish pool of water, surrounded by rocky formations and stalactites on the ceiling. The cave is lit with artificial lights highlighting its textured surfaces.

Appalachian Caverns

This privately owned cave system, located half an hour away in historic Blountville, was formed over millions of years, and the known history of the caves dates back to at least 1300 years ago. From Native Americans to Revolutionary War soldiers, these walls and pathways deep below Tennessee’s mountains have stories to tell.

The caverns are currently open for tours and offer a unique experience for visitors. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and cover about half a mile of walking, with some stairs along the way.

Not only do these caverns provide an educational experience, but they also offer a cool respite from the hot Tennessee sun during the summer months, as much as a relatively warm and dry spot in the rain and cold. The temperature inside the caverns stays at a similar level year-round, making it a great escape.

In addition to traditional tours, Appalachian Caverns also offers Wild Tours, which involve climbing, squeezing through tighter spaces, and even spelunking through the river that runs through the cave.

A scenic view from viewpoint at Buffalo Mountain Park overlooking a vast landscape with rolling hills, patches of forest, and scattered houses in Johnson City. In the foreground, a hand holds a sticker that reads "GO ALL OUT" in bold white letters on a blue background.

Hike at Buffalo Mountain Park

This nature reserve is a quick 10-minute drive from downtown Johnson City and boasts 725 acres with 19+ miles of trails. I enjoyed a quick hike up to Huckleberry Knob and Sunset overlooks to see Johnson City laid out below.

There are also plenty of trails to get your steps in, and picnic shelters for a meal.

If you drive to Buffalo Mountain Park, just be aware the road has a steep incline toward the entrance of the park, and parking is limited at the trailheads.

A panoramic view of Johnson City from Tannery Knobs nestled in a valley, with rows of houses, buildings, and streets stretching towards distant, forested hills and layers of blue mountains

Take Your Bike for a Spin

Closer to downtown Johnson City is Tannery Knobs Overlook. This city park is known for its pump track with incredible views of the city and mountains in the distance. It also has over 40 acres and a little hiking trail for those without mountain bikes to also enjoy the park.

Didn’t bring a bike? No Problem!

Rent a bike from Local Motion Cyclery and head out on the trail. The Tweetsie Trail is part of the Rails to Trails program and runs 9.6 miles from Johnson City to Elizabethtown in Northeastern Tennessee. This paved trail used to be the well-known Tweetsie Railroad but is now perfect for walkers, runners, and bikers.

Along the way, you can see historic sites from the railroad era and enjoy views of farmland and forests. I even parked my bike for a moment to sit on a bench and take in the peaceful quiet laced with birdsong.

A close-up view of a crossbuck sign reading "TWEETSIE TRAIL XING" at a trail crossing. In the background, a quiet road lined with leafless trees and a few houses is visible, leading into a rural area
A person holds a "GO ALL OUT" sticker with "JOHNSON CITY, TENNESSEE" at the bottom, while standing on the gravel path of the Tweetsie Trail lined with leafless trees. A bicycle is parked on the trail, ready to explore.

After enjoying the Tweetsie Trail, head around the corner from the trailhead to grab a beer at Cranky’s Pump n Pints. Kids will enjoy the pump track, and adults will enjoy the fire pit and friendly atmosphere at the bar. Locals and neighbors are always gathered here, and immediately welcomed me in when I stopped by.

The driveway is steep and there is handicapped parking plus a single free spot available, otherwise park along the street or in the free parking by the trailhead.

A pint glass filled with an amber beer, labeled "CRANKY'S PUMP-N-PINTS," sits on a red bar counter. Beside it is a basket of snack mix in black-and-white checkered paper. The background shows a bartender at a wall of taps.

Celebrate Nature at Meet the Mountains

This festival is a must-visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the outdoors while enjoying a community vibe that’s both welcoming and vibrant.

With activities ranging from ziplining, mountain biking, and water sports, to live music and over 100 local vendors selling food, beer, and more, there’s something for every age and interest. Meet the Mountains not only brings the community together for a weekend of fun, it also highlights the incredible outdoors of Northeast Tennessee and encourages everyone to get out and enjoy them!

Organizers work to make the festival as sustainable as possible. Sustainability stations located throughout the grounds educate guests, such as responsibly throwing away compost, recycling, and trash.

Explore the Mountains Along the Southern Dozen

For road-trip enthusiasts and motorcyclists alike, the Southern Dozen in Johnson City offers a unique experience traversing the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Tennessee.

These motorcycle “trails” are actually scenic routes designed to showcase the breathtaking landscapes, cultural heritage, and warm hospitality unique to this part of the region. Each route is meticulously plotted to offer riders a diverse array of experiences, from winding mountain passes and serene valley rides to historic towns and local culinary delights.

While designed with motorcycle rides in mind, they are also great for road-trippers looking for a scenic ride. There are currently 12 trails, with a founder’s ride and additional trails coming in the future.

A vivid display of a Tesla coil generating electric arcs between two metal rods, illuminated by purple and red lights. The setup is placed in a dark room, emphasizing the bright and colorful electrical discharges.

Hands On! Discovery Center at Gray Fossil Site

The Hands On! Discovery Center, previously a children’s museum, has moved to the Gray Fossil Site and transformed into an all-ages science museum. I was a little nervous when I went to visit, thinking this was a kid’s field trip destination, but it is actually a fun, interactive museum that adults will enjoy just as much as little ones.

The fossil site was found accidentally during road construction – when working they first found fossils and ivory which can be common in Ice Age sites. However upon further investigation, an ancient alligator skeleton was unearthed, placing the fossils at around 5 million years old which halted construction and allowed the fossil site to be preserved as a dig site.

That alligator can still be seen today in the museum at the Discovery Center, along with the fragments of the largest Mastodon found in history, and the largest assemblage of Tapir fossils in the world. Visitors can learn about the ancient history these foothills of Tennessee once experienced along with more than a dozen new species found here, and even see scientists and volunteers working in a fossil lab by the dig site.

A museum exhibit showcasing an ancient alligator fossil found at Grays Fossil Site near Johnson City, TN.

In the warmer months, a pollinator garden outside teaches visitors about the importance of preserving and protecting pollinators. A complimentary outdoor classroom teaches children about the connection we have with our food using a seed table and other activities.

The Hands On! Discovery Center also offers hands-on activities, workshops, and special events throughout the year. It’s a perfect destination for families, school groups, and curious individuals of all ages.

Entrance is $11, and for $2 more visitors can take a tour of the fossil dig site, or experience the World’s Most Powerful Musical Bi-Polar Tesla Coil.

Join a show with the Tesla Coil to see electricity jump 3 feet in the air to the tunes of your favorite songs, from Taylor Swift to AWOLNATION.

Downtown Johnson City

An indoor exhibit featuring a large topographic map on the wall, multiple digital screens displaying images of Johnson City, Tennessee, and a prominent green sign on the ceiling that reads "GO. ALL OUT." The display is accentuated with artificial foliage and various informational panels at the brand new visitor center.

Johnson City Visitor Center

The brand-new visitor center in downtown Johnson City is a must during your trip. While the space is small, it has been designed with clever innovation and is one of the coolest visitor centers I have ever been to (and as a travel blogger I have seen my fair share of them).

There are interactive elements including an immersive nature experience with all 4 seasons in the Northeast Tennessee mountains, a selfie wall, a tactile topographic map, and an interactive info board. Visitors can control the interactive exhibits through their movements which are tracked by a camera – some of the most advanced tech I have seen!

At The Generalist, a display shelf featuring a "Build Your Own Bouquet" section with individual felt flowers in frosted glass vases, each labeled with prices. The flowers include eucalyptus, sunflowers, poppies, and daisies, among others. Small signs encourage creativity and offer bundle deals.
A wooden display wall lined with nooks displaying art from various local artists. The nook most in view is labled "KOLINGER ART" with shelves holding various handmade items such as paintings, jewelry, and crafts. The store's interior is well-lit, with additional racks of clothing and accessories along the right side.

Shopping in Downtown Johnson City

Just across the street from the visitor center is a bustling downtown district. One of my favorite things to do in Johnson City is to browse the incredible small businesses which have a ton of variety for such a small area!

I was pleasantly surprised by The Generalist. They boast a collection of artisan products and local art ranging from home decor to bespoke stationery, making it the perfect spot to find a thoughtful gift or a special treat for yourself. 

Some items that caught my eye were bedazzled cherry earrings, custom maps of Johnson City and Northeastern Tennessee, and vivid paintings. I came home with a print of a vibrant goat painting – my favorite animal.

A vibrant indoor plant store filled with a variety of potted plants and hanging greenery. The store is illuminated by both natural and purple grow lights, with a misting system adding humidity to the environment.

Terrarium Plant Store is perfect for grabbing a living little souvenir for your home. The Coal Miner’s Daughter, named with a nod to the region’s heritage, specializes in locally sourced products and handcrafted goods. This boutique shop celebrates the rich cultural history of Johnson City and the surrounding areas, offering shoppers a slice of Appalachian charm.

Reclaimed Inspired Goods specializes in reclaimed and repurposed furniture and decor, with unique pieces that tell a story. This shop also carries several renowned sustainable brands, such as Libeco Linen for luxury bedding, Milkbarn for organic children’s clothing, and ABLE for the perfect leather goods and demi-fine jewelry gifts.

A person holds a card with the quote, "Kiss your life. Accept it, just as it is. Today. Now. So that those moments of happiness you're waiting for don't pass you by." The background shows a cozy, well-lit store with rustic decor and various home goods on display at Reclaimed Inspired Goods in downtown Johnson City.
A brick wall adorned with a decorative sign for the checkout area at Pierre's Marketplace"established in 2023", featuring a chalk art style with produce, bakery items, and foliage. The sign also references "PSALM 9:1-2." Below the sign are two checkout stations, and on either side of the wall, merchandise such as bags and hoodies are displayed

Lastly, Piere’s Marketplace is a locally owned and operated grocer carrying produce, meat, and goods from close by. They even have sustainable products that are biodegradable and made by local small businesses.

These are just a few of the incredible small businesses you can shop downtown, so take some time to discover more yourself!

A vibrant mural painted on the side of a building, featuring a large, colorful depiction of a person playing an acoustic guitar surrounded by oversized flowers and geometric patterns. The mural displays aspects of Appalachian culture.
A detailed mural on a building wall depicting a steam locomotive with historic buildings in the background, including an opera house and other vintage architecture. The mural captures a sense of nostalgia and community heritage. The artist's signature, "Bledsoe," is visible on the lower right.
A vibrant mural on a building wall depicting a black bear, various birds, and pink coneflowers against a lush green backdrop. The scene captures the beauty of wildlife and nature in a colorful, artistic style. The artist's signature, "ERNESTO MARANJE," is visible on the lower left.

Take in free public art

As you stroll downtown take in the many works of art carefully installed around Johnson City.  You’ll see colorful murals on buildings as well as thoughtful installations thanks to the Johnson City Public Art Committee.

Be sure to visit Founders Park where you can take in the beautiful scenery while also viewing the Phil Pindzola Biennial Sculpture Exhibition featuring works from artists across the country.

A lively brewery scene featuring a large mural on a brick wall that reads "Drink YEE HAW BEER Fine Southern Beer" and "Order It Loudly!" Inside, a group of musicians plays live music near large windows showcasing the brewing equipment. The cozy, rustic atmosphere is complemented by various decorations, including historic photos and merchandise.
An outdoor evening scene at a brewery with a large white silo labeled "Drink YEE HAW BEER." The patio area is adorned with string lights and features a cozy fire pit, with patrons visible inside through large windows. The brick building and warm lighting create an inviting atmosphere.

YeeHaw Brewing + Old Time Jam Bluegrass Tuesdays

Yee-Haw Brewing Company in Johnson City is a must for visitors looking to relax and soak up the local vibe. This renowned brewery not only serves up a wide selection of craft beers but is also uniquely adjoined to the White Duck Taco Shop, offering an exceptional combination of flavors for both beer and food lovers.

The brewery features relaxed indoor and outdoor seating areas, providing a comfortable atmosphere for groups of all sizes and preferences. I even saw a lady laying upside down on a couch, holding a book in the air, and silently cheered her on.

Visitors on Tuesdays are awarded with soothing sounds of live bluegrass music during the weekly Old Time Jam, performed by talented local musicians. I could have stayed there all night soaking in the beautiful music of these Appalachian Mountains.

Where to eat in Johnson City

A fresh, colorful salad featuring grilled salmon, spinach, strawberries, goat cheese, and cashews is served on a rustic plate. The background shows another salad and a drink, indicating a casual dining setting at Label Restaurant.

Start your day with fresh breakfast

Open Doors Coffeehouse is a cozy spot ideal for anyone seeking a quiet corner to enjoy a rich cup of coffee alongside freshly baked goods. It’s a local favorite for its warm, welcoming atmosphere and commitment to serving high-quality, ethically sourced coffee.

Wheeler’s Bagels offers a taste of New York with their authentic, freshly baked bagels and a variety of cream cheeses, making it the perfect stop for breakfast or a mid-day snack.

Enjoy Unique Offerings at Johnson City Restaurants

The BURG’r & BARREL, next door to the visitor center, is a haven for both burger and beer enthusiasts. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing local and regional ingredients, supporting the area’s agricultural community. Housed in a historic train depot built in 1908, the building itself is a testament to the heritage of Johnson City.

Label Restaurant is popular for lunch and dinner or brunch, so don’t be surprised if you need reservations to grab a table. They offer both sushi and burgers as well as freshly grilled steak, though the bronze salmon salad was equally as good as the cuts of meat in my opinion. Label specializes in spirits, and with over 300 options for bourbon and scotch, you won’t have trouble finding the one for your taste.


A trio of appetizing tacos served in green plastic baskets lined with paper, featuring a variety of flavors from White Duck Taco Shop. In the background, a pint glass labeled "YEE HAW BEER" is visible.
Phils Dream Pit BBQ

For a more casual meal, White Duck Taco Shop, connected to Yee-Haw Brewing Company, provides an inventive twist on traditional tacos, promising a flavor-packed experience that perfectly complements a cold craft beer.

Though a little ways out of town in nearby Kingsport, Phil’s Dream Pit serves up mouthwatering BBQ that rivals any in the region, making it worth the drive (and a perfect *pit* stop on your way to Gray Fossil Site… get it?). Known for its tender, slow-cooked meats and home-style sides, it’s a must-visit for barbecue enthusiasts.

Cakebuds Johnson City Shoe Cake
A hyper-realistic shoe cake at cakebuds
A quirky drive-thru restaurant featuring oversized sculptures of a hot dog, a burger, a cup of fries, and a drink on its light blue exterior. The building is branded with "Pal's" in bold red letters.
A gourmet meal featuring a succulent steak, creamy mashed potatoes, and roasted Brussels sprouts, elegantly plated and served on a white dish. The table is set with a glass of red wine and a lit candle, creating a cozy dining ambiance at Lolas Bistro.

If you’re in a hurry, Pal’s Sudden Service is a fast-food experience unlike any other, with a cult following for its burgers, hot dogs, and thick shakes. This drive-thru is known for its lightning-fast service and iconic, retro design. You will surely know it when you see it.

Cafe Lola Bistro is a charming bistro that offers a sophisticated menu of French-inspired dishes, underscored by local flavors. It’s an intimate spot perfect for special occasions or a romantic night out, and perfect to celebrate your last night in town.

Finally, satiate your sweet tooth with Cakebuds Bakery, an award-winning bakery featured on the Food Network more than a few times. While Cakebuds offers cupcakes and cake pops to-go, they specialize in hyper-realistic cakes, showing me a designer boot and rattlesnake made completely of cake during my visit.

Where to Stay in Johnson City, TN

A cozy and elegant hotel room at Carnegie Hotel is reflected in an oval mirror, showcasing a large wooden sleigh bed with crisp white linens, flanked by two nightstands with lamps. Above the bed hangs a framed landscape painting, adding a touch of classic decor.

Carnegie Hotel

We enjoyed our stay at the replica Carnegie Hotel during our trip to Johnson City. Inspired by the grandeur of the early 1890s, but fully equipped for the 21st-century traveler, Carnegie Hotel provides a luxurious escape with a nod to the past.

One of its standout features is the Austin Springs Spa, located within the hotel, offering a serene retreat for those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.

Its prime location makes the Carnegie Hotel an ideal base for exploring Johnson City, East State Tennessee University, and the surrounding regions.

🧖🏾‍♀️ Check rates at Carnegie Hotel & Spa 🧖🏼‍♀️

Map of things to do in Johnson City

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1XV5Qaqct-dctfk4C_QhtbOO8uGpYs_Y&usp=sharing

FAQ

Where is Johnson City?

Johnson City is located in the northeastern part of Tennessee, an hour’s drive from Asheville, NC, and two hours from Gatlinburg, TN. It sits within the Tri-Cities region, which includes Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City itself. This area is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, providing a picturesque mountain backdrop for the city. 

How far is Johnson City from the mountains?

Johnson City is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, with access to the mountains as quickly as 10 minutes away in Buffalo Mountain Park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is around two hours, or just over 100 miles driving distance away.

What time zone is Johnson City in?

Johnson City is located on the Eastern Time Zone side of Tennessee, while Central and West Tennessee are on the Central Time Zone.

What is Johnson City, TN known for?

Johnson City is known for being the local hub in a rural region of Eastern Tennessee. With incredible access to nature including the Appalachian Mountains, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, caverns, and more Johnson City is an affordable alternative to more popular outdoor destinations nearby.

Meet the Mountains is an annual festival that showcases the pristine nature of the area.

Is Johnson City worth visiting?

Yes, Johnson City is a quiet, beautiful destination that is worth visiting for its outdoor splendor, affordable activities, long-standing Appalachian culture, and nurtured art scene.

Does Johnson City have a downtown?

Yes, Johnson City has a vibrant downtown that is walkable and full of cute small businesses and public art for visitors to enjoy.

A large black and white sign reading "JOHNSON CITY, TENNESSEE" stands prominently against a clear blue sky.

Final thoughts on visiting Johnson City TN

Johnson City, Tennessee, emerges as a hidden gem for travelers who want to explore the great outdoors without breaking the bank. The city not only offers easy access to nature but also a rich cultural and historical significance that can be appreciated all year round.

While I would love to return during the warmer, green months to fully immerse myself in the outdoor activities, Johnson City has so many things to do even in the winter. A few things on my list for next time are hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail nearby, and seeing the views from Unaka Mountain Beauty Spot.

From exploring its vibrant downtown filled with unique small businesses and public art to venturing into the serene beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, there’s something for every budget-conscious traveler to enjoy. 

Johnson City, with its affordable charm and range of activities, stands out as a must-visit destination for anyone who revels in nature, culture, and adventure across all seasons.

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