Chilly weather is a good time to snuggle under a blanket, but it’s an even better time to explore the wonders of the Tennessee River Valley. Cooler temperatures may bring fewer visitors, but nature continues to put on a show, history continues to be told, regional delights are still served hot off the griddle and local shop owners are ready to welcome you to their colorful, river communities.
One of the easiest ways to craft a winter getaway is to peruse the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide. TennesseeRiverValleyGeotourism.org offers in-depth introductions and remarkable photos to highlight places to go, things to do and places to stay in the seven-state region. Supported by National Geographic, TVA and others, this picture-packed guide is vetted by knowledgeable locals.
Hiking trails become a different world in winter. As leaves drop, the views of woods, water and sky become expansive. Everything seems more defined, and wildlife is certainly easier to spot. A quick search on the MapGuide under “Things to Do – Outdoor Adventures” reveals trails galore throughout the Valley. All of TVA’s Small Wild Area Trails such as Short Springs near Tullahoma, Tennessee are included, as well as those on dam reservations and trails on other public lands.
“To discover how cold weather can change a vista, include ‘waterfalls’ in your search,” suggests MapGuide director Julie Graham. Dozens of trails offer stunning falls that are magnets for shutterbugs. When temps begin to drop well below freezing, the rushing water succumbs to nature and is transformed into glistening pieces of art.
“Views of the winter night sky are equally stunning,” says Graham. Thanks to cooler temperatures, there is less humidity and therefore less distortion in the evening sky. While hundreds of thousands of acres of public land in the Valley offer outstanding night viewing, several state parks have been designated as “dark sky” parks where visitors can reconnect with the heavens in velvety blackness. (Helpful hint: Consider downloading a stargazing app.)
Once daylight comes, there are other reasons to look toward the sky, thanks to the Mississippi Flyway. This bird migration route along the Mississippi River covers much of the Valley and is responsible for exceptional bird-watching opportunities. Eagle Awareness in Guntersville State Park and Land Between the Lakes Eagle Viewing Tours offer chances to see this national symbol that soared back from the brink of extinction. Numerous other shore birds and waterfowl drop in to visit during this period providing outstanding prospects for new birders and experts alike to add to their life lists.
“When it’s time to come in from the cold, enjoy learning about something new,” suggests TVA senior project manager Tiffany Foster. Click on “Things to Do” and go to “Museum, Theater, Interpretive Center” to discover stories of Valley. From Bristol, Virginia’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum downriver to the Apron Museum in Iuka, MS all the way to Paducah, Kentucky’s River Discovery Center, there is history and heritage around every bend. And that’s just a start.
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, TN, the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton, TN and the Helen Keller Birthplace in Tuscumbia, AL chronicle the lives of inspirational individuals who called the Valley, “home.” Other museums highlight nature, art, energy, war, trains and more.
Winter is also the perfect opportunity to see what Tennessee River communities have to offer. The slower pace of the off-season affords quality time to visit with locals in their distinctive shops and eateries. It allows you to savor an afternoon at a winery or brewery, or enjoy a warm treat in a downtown coffee shop.
Round out your trip by using the MapGuide’s “Nearby” section with links to other interesting stops. For example, click on Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and you’ll find a down-home eatery, marina/resort, state park, youth event and bed and breakfast all located within a few miles.
Speaking of B and Bs, many lodging facilities, including state parks, offer winter discounts - just one more reason to get out and enjoy the Tennessee River Valley.