Explore the Tennessee River Valley Area Around Norris Lake

The Tennessee River Valley is a large area mostly in Tennessee that stretches from southwest Kentucky to north Georgia, and from northeast Mississippi to the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. And while the vast area has many unique towns, parks, lakes and historical locations, one of the most popular areas within the valley is the area surrounding Norris Lake. Vacationers from across the country visit and explore the local flavor of the Tennessee River Valley from the comfort of their Norris Lake vacation rental. Come to Norris Lake and explore the scenic byways, historical communities, festivals and parks in the TN River Valley. And if you have questions or need accommodations, call the friendly ladies at Norris Lake Cabin Rentals located in Tazewell, TN. (800) 883-7406

East Tennessee Crossing Byway

When you come to visit the TN River Valley you'll definitely want to spend some time on the East Tennessee Crossing Byway. MAP This scenic road follows the original path of the Cherokee Warriors and then the Civil War soldiers as a strategic route from the southeast up through the Cumberland Gap. This route also includes the legendary bootlegging corridor known as Thunder Road.

Enjoy the panoramic views, majestic mountains, white-water rivers, hills and beautiful farms along the way. There are plenty of sites to see including railroad towns, historical locations and artisan communities known for their crafts, quilting, and bluegrass music.

Highway 25E comes out of the Cherokee National Forest southeast of Norris Lake and winds its way northwest through Morristown and Tazewell, TN. Many of our cabin rentals along Norris Lake are within 13 to 16 miles from Tazewell, with easy access to the East Tennessee Crossing Byway.

White Lightning Trail

The White Lightning Trail is 200 miles of great American stories about the Tennessee River Valley moonshine era. This trail and its stories are indeed about running white lightening, but also about Appalachian arts, crafts, historical buildings, historic sites, towns and the tales of legendary characters. The trail got its name as a prohibition-era, moonshine-running corridor, where moonshiners traveled the roads and curves of "Thunder Road," with their illegal homemade corn whiskey, usually under the cover of darkness.

Many pioneers in the TN River Valley made their livelihood along this route. You will cruise through rolling hills and valleys, and you'll travel along the path first cut by Daniel Boone. You'll walk in the previous steps of Civil War soldiers, and coal miners, while visiting forts that protected the territory's first settlers. Take some time to visit the school where the Clinton 12 stood their ground in the name of civil rights. And speaking of legends, no Tennessee trip would be complete without some musical heritage. Visit the hometowns of country music legends Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Kenny Chesney and Carl Smith.

White Lightening Trail Festival

Have fun in Cumberland Gap at the White Lightning Trail Festival and celebrate the heritage of East Tennessee. This festival is all about the story of those rugged, self-reliant people who made this area popular in the movies, and people who originated one of the fastest growing sports in America, stock car racing. The White Lightning Trail begins in Knoxville and travels through eight other counties, and these communities share a rich heritage on display at the festival. Enjoy the demonstrations, food, antique cars, craft vendors, games, bike run and a variety of fantastic music. This festival will take you on a journey of living lore, bootleggers, moonshiners, fast cars and the breathtaking scenery that is East Tennessee.

Union County Farmer's Market

The Union County Farmers Market is a seasonal marketplace featuring local vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, nursery plants, hand-made crafts and much more. Local produce means fresher produce, and it's fun to visit with local farmers who care about delivering the best quality produce. Meeting the locals also is a great way to discuss gardening and share suggestions on how to achieve the best quality. Plus, the local market is just plain fun, making new friends. Meet every second Saturday, 8:30 am to 11:30 am, May through October at the Union County High School.

Sharps Chapel Community

While enjoying your stay at Norris Lake, take time to visit and explore nearby Sharps Chapel, to get a real feel for how the original settlers lived their lives. As you drive through the Sharps Chapel area of the TN River Valley, you'll pass tiny agrarian communities, each with a school, store, church and cemetery. Other points of interest include an old coal mine and Helm's Ferry / Union County Ferry, which is the only connector between the community of Braden and the rest of Union County.

Around 1780, Henry Sharp, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, settled into the Sharps Chapel area on about 700-acres. Also established in 1780's was Sharp Station, a fort overlooking the Clinch River, now located along the shores of Big Ridge State Park. A post office was established in the area in 1866 and has operated continuously since that time. Initially the post office was called "Clinch River," but in 1869, the name was changed to Sharps Chapel.

The Sharp Ousley house located in Sharps Chapel has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1978 and is being restored. Other historic buildings include the Dr. Davis store and office, Rush Strong School, Irwin Chapel, and Irwin School.

Union County Ferry

1150 Straight Branch Rd, Speedwell, TN 37870

The ferry provides access to Union County and also the Campbell County portion of the Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area, host of Squirrel Fest in August on opening day of Squirrel season. 

Directions to the ferry: Hwy 116, right on 25W 22 miles into Claiborne County, turn right at Speedwell Post office, onto Back Valley Rd for 2 miles, to Straight Branch Rd, veer right and go 6 miles into Union County and proceed to the Union County boat dock. Pull to end of road and wave across lake at the Ferry operator. Do not remain on ramp unless you intend to ferry. The ferry operator will see you wave, and come across the water to pick you up. Have fun!


Spectacular Fall Colors and Boat Tour

The area of the valley around Norris Lake and East Tennessee has many species of deciduous trees that will display their spectacular colors beginning later in September and into early November. A very popular way to see the trees is to casually drive the country roads, or even better, take in a tour of Norris Lake by pontoon boat.

A common way to identify trees is by the nature of their leaves. Trees with simple leaves include Beech, Black Gum, Oak, Catalpa, Chestnut and, Maple. Trees with compound leaves include Hickory and Walnut. If you want to learn more about identifying trees, here's a handy tree identification publication published by the Tennessee Division of Forestry

Norris Lake Pontoon Boat Ride

Enjoy the beautiful display of nature’s fall colors by taking a boat ride with a Park Ranger who will narrate your trip with tree identification and park history. You can call the park office by phoning (865) 426-7461 or visiting www.norrisdamstatepark.org. You can phone the marina at 865-494-8138. Fall season boat tours run from October 14-27 with daily trips at 11am, 12:30pm, 2pm and 3:30pm. The cost is very affordable at only $7.00 for adults and $5.00 for children under six. The departure point is Norris Dam Marina, 1604 Norris Freeway, Norris, TN 37828. The marina is conveniently located off Interstate I-75 at the Lake City exit 128, just south on 441 about 4 miles.

Chuck Swan Wildlife Area

One of the most under-used forests in East Tennessee is found on 25,000 acres that comprise the Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area. This scenic peninsula is bounded on three sides by Norris Lake, and when you're staying in one of our Sharps Chapel area vacation cabins, we recommend you get there on Sharps Chapel Road leading to this tranquil and secluded forest. Camping areas around the eastern portion of this wildlife area offer opportunities for bird and butterfly watching, and the fall colors are incredible. The area is also home to several cemeteries, a firing range and miles of trails.

Pickin in the Park - Norris Dam State Park

Old time bluegrass might not be this much fun anywhere else than at Norris Dam State Park. Enjoy this bluegrass festival in a small outdoor amphitheater. This festival is one of the the best ways to enjoy the local culture of East Tennessee. When you are exploring the TN River Valley, make time for a fantastic time with family and friends at Norris Dam State Park for the Pickin in the Park. If you like bluegrass, you’ll love this event. The music is real good. You’ll also get a healthy dose of country and gospel music. For more information call (865) 426-7461 or visit www.norrisdamstatepark.org. The admission is very affordable (free!) and this event is appropriate for all ages. The Norris Dam State Park is located 125 Village Green Circle, Lake City, TN 37769. The Park can be found off Interstate 75 on Freeway 441. You can access the Park from Lake City, TN (Exit 128) and Norris, TN (Exit 122).

Big Ridge State Park

1015 Big Ridge Park Rd, Maynardville, TN 37807

Along the Appalachian Ridge and Valley range, just west of the Hickory Star Marina is the Big Ridge State Park, near Maynardville. With over 3,600 acres of thick wooded forest and fertile stream valleys, this park is surrounded by Norris Lake. Along the trails inside Big Ridge, you can see remnants of the homes and farms that existed prior to development of the Norris Dam.

Big Ridge has a variety of activities for the whole family, beginning with 15 miles of hiking trails, from easy to rugged, along hilly ridges, lush hollows and old roads. Enjoy the shoreline and sandy beach on Norris Lake, and explore old cemeteries. Stay overnight in one of the 50 campsites, or rent a vacation cabin from Norris Lake Cabin Rentals. Enjoy swimming, volleyball, tennis, horseshoe and softball. This park is wheelchair accessible. And please remember, the Annual Bluegrass Festival is held the third Friday of August. Music tends to start at 7 p.m. on Friday. For more information, please contact Big Ridge State Park directly at 800-471-5305. You can access the park from Lake City, TN (Exit 128) and Norris, TN (Exit 122).

Briceville Church and Cemetery

When it comes to the history of the Tennessee River Valley, few places have a more dramatic and more memorable past than Briceville with it's coal mines, coal miners, uprisings, churches and memorials. And at the center of Briceville, is the Briceville Church and Cemetery.

Built in 1887, the Briceville church is on the National Register of Historic Places, and served as a center of local unity and community life during the coal mining boom in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. In the period after the Coal Creek War, the church was used as a temporary jail to hold dozens of miners arrested by the Tennessee state militia. The church is still used for community events such as weddings and funerals.

On June 8, 1902, memorial services were held at the Briceville Community Church for victims of the Fraterville Mine disaster, a mine explosion that killed 216 miners just north of Briceville. Another mine disaster took place at the Cross Mountain Mine about a mile west of the church on December 9, 1911, killing 84 miners. Many of the victims of this explosion were buried in a circular formation known as the Cross Mountain Miners' Circle on the slopes of Walden Ridge. Some miners were buried in the Briceville Community Church Cemetery, among them Eugene Ault (1889–1911), whose monument is inscribed with the "farewell message" that he wrote on a wall inside the mine as he lay dying.

Fraterville Miners' Circle at Leach Cemetery

Also on the National Register of Historic Places, the Fraterville Miners' Circle is located in Leach Cemetery in Lake City, TN, formerly the town of Coal Creek. On May 19, 1902, there was an explosion in the Fraterville Mine. All 216 men and boys in the mine on that Monday morning perished. 89 of the miners were buried in concentric circles in the Miners’ Circle at Leach Cemetery in Coal Creek. A monument at the center of the Miners’ Circle bears the names of 184 miners. The youngest miner buried in the circle was 12-year old Henry Whitton and the oldest was 55-year old William H. Slover.

Many of the graves of these men and boys have elaborate tombstones bearing their farewell messages, like those of John Hendren and James Elliott. Others are marked by simple fieldstones, like those of the miners who are buried beside the railroad in Fraterville. Many tombstones contain the the inscription "Gone But Not Forgotten".

Cross Mountain Miners' Circle at Circle Cemetery in Briceville, TN

The Cross Mountain Miners’ Circle is located just south of Briceville, along the western slope of Walden Ridge within the Coal Creek Valley. The Cross Mountain Miners’ Circle is found inside the larger Circle Cemetery, the latter established sometime after the internment of the miners. Miners were transported to this location for burial after the fatal 1911 explosion at the Cross Mountain Mine, located a short distance from the town of Briceville. The Miners’ Circle is a distinctive, self-contained site within the larger cemetery.

The circular burial pattern of the grave markers and the central commemorative obelisk bring visitors throughout the year to remember the fate of these coal miners. All of the monuments are made from local Tennessee marble, likely processed in Knoxville. The large commemorative obelisk was erected by the United Mine Workers of America shortly after the internment of the miners, and manufactured by the Tennessee Marble Works of Knoxville.

Norris Dam State Park

125 Village Green Cir Rocky Top, TN 37769? (865) 426-7461

The 4,000 acre Norris Dam State Park is located on the shores of Norris Lake, and the park offers recreational boating, skiing, and fishing. Visitors also enjoy the museum, incredible gristmill pictured below, and an old threshing barn. The park has a fully equipped marina with boat ramp, and people can rent boats, including house boats or pontoon boats. For boat information contact Norris Dam Marina at 865-494-8138.

Get your exercise on one of the 15 hiking trails inside Norris Dam Park, trails ranging in difficulty, each with spectacular views of Norris Lake, hills and valleys. The Lenoir Museum has a nice collection of artifacts dated 12,000 years ago to present day. The Rice Gristmill pictured above, originally constructed in 1798 in Union County, was dismantled and rebuilt on Clear Creek in 1935. The Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn was originally built on the Holston River in the 1830s and relocated to its present site in 1978. It displays old farm tools, plows and a horse drawn wagon.

City of Norris

It’s surprising that so many people pass by this National Historic City without checking it out, but when it comes to having fun, don’t bypass Norris City. For a conversation about things to do in Norris City, just ask the local Tennessee gals at Norris Lake Cabin Rentals about how to have fun in Norris, Tennessee. Jennifer Collett or Donna Mays have the best ideas and plenty of knowledge about the concerts, restaurants, hiking trails and the list goes on! (800) 883-7406