TVA has partnered with National Geographic and other sponsors for the past several years to publish an in-depth, online travel guide called the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide. It’s a website full of photos and information aimed at helping Valley residents and visitors enjoy the beauty and recreation of the Valley.
“Using the MapGuide is as easy as logging onto the site via computer or smartphone,” says Julie Graham, map guide director.
Travelers can look up options in the search bar, or use the “Places to Go, Things to Do and Places to Stay” section to peruse all that the Valley offers, including nearby attractions that pop up when viewing a specific place or event.
“This time of year, much of the focus is on the region’s vibrant, colorful woodlands,” says Graham. “A touch of a button takes viewers from Southwest Virginia across Tennessee to Northeast Mississippi in a snap.”
“Because the Valley area is so big, the trees begin turning colors in the mountainous northeastern region before colors begin to show in Mississippi,” explains Tiffany Foster, TVA senior project manager. “You can spend weeks crossing the region and enjoying the sights. We’re excited to see travelers from all over our region adding information to the guide and making it more extensive every day.”
The MapGuide is brimming with wooded drives, one of which straddles picturesque Southeast Tennessee and Southwest North Carolina. The Cherohala Skyway is a National Scenic Byway that passes through Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina.
The 45-mile trip soars from 900 feet to more than 5,400 feet above sea level, ensuring spectacular vistas. The Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center is the perfect place to stretch your legs and learn more about the area. Time your visit right and attend the Cherohala Skyway Festival in late October.
One of the most popular drives in the country is the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile National Parkway that connects two acclaimed national parks, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah. Come for fall’s yellow hickory trees and vibrant red dogwoods, but don’t miss the fascinating stops that include interpretive overlooks, mountain music, photo opportunities, ranger-led hikes, visitor centers, camping and more.
Don’t have time for the entire route? Just do a loop or a section. And remember, speed limits are reduced on parkways and byways.
Almost all of the Valley’s roadways are as historic as they are scenic, including the Natchez Trace Parkway, a National Scenic Byway. Roadside stops include a short hike to Jackson Falls. Other notable features are the Meriwether Lewis Monument with a cabin featuring interpretive displays about the life of this explorer.
Kentucky and Tennessee are home to the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway, a 43-mile drive with nature viewing, conservation/edutainment stops, an Elk and Bison Prairie and other attractions in Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area. Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake parallel this byway, as does a 58-mile North-South Trail designed for hikers and mountain bikers.
The Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway takes travelers on a 54-mile route scenic tour of Northwest Georgia. Visit the last capital of the Cherokee at Red Clay State Park, an avian learning center or make time for the Prater’s Mill County Fair in mid-October.
If you’re tired of driving, many options exist for letting someone else take the wheel.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad (TVR) in Etowah, TN offers special Dinner on the Diner trains on select Saturdays, March through September. Passengers enjoy a scenic, train ride and a delicious, three-course meal.
Other TVR trips run during daylight hours further into autumn. The Hiwassee River Rail Adventure – Scenic Train Ride is a four-hour trip through the Scenic Hiwassee River Gorge. The Copperhill Train is a 94-mile round trip through the historic, copper mining town of Copperhill, TN and McCaysville, GA.
Back in Etowah, the stately L& N Depot and Museum is filled with local train lore, including “Growing Up with the L&N: Life and Times in a Railroad Town.” The building houses the chamber of commerce and serves as the boarding and ticket facility for the Hiwassee River Rail Adventure passenger excursions.
Further north, the Three Rivers Rambler Scenic Train departs the depot in Downtown Knoxville and chugs past Knoxville’s first settlement area en route to the “Three Rivers Trestle” where the French Broad and Holston Rivers converge to form the Tennessee River. Catch the “All Hallow’s Eve Special” in October and be wowed by the vibrant autumn-clad hills, hollers and history.
“Residents and visitors love autumn in the Valley, but fall colors rarely linger,” says Graham. “I encourage travelers to use the MapGuide as a resource to quickly and confidently plan their autumn trips.”