3 naturally wonderful places to visit
Roan Mountain Rhododendrons
An explosion of color awaits visitors to the high country of Upper East Tennessee. Each year some 200,000 people flock to Roan Mountain just southeast of Johnson City, to see one of the world's largest collections of Catawba Rhododendrons in bloom. These pink flowering plants cover 600 acres of the mountain. They begin blooming in mid to late June and are only around for a few weeks. However, the Rhododendrons aren't the only reason to make the trek to this majestic mountain.
Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina state line, Roan Mountain (elev. 6286) is one of the highest in the Appalachian chain. Start your adventure at Carver's Gap, an area known as a "grassy bald.” These open fields give you unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Of course, there are plenty of rhododendrons and other wildflowers filling the space, too.
Just above Carver's Gap, is the site of the old Cloudland Hotel. Built in the late 1800's, nothing is left of this hotel today except the view that gave it the name. Ads used to describe the hotel invited guests to "the land of the sky", where you get views of "more than 100 mountaintops over 4,000 feet high."
Roan Mountain State Park is located near the base of the mountain on the Tennessee side. It’s worth checking out when you’re in the area.
The Sequatchie Valley
The Cumberland Plateau stretches from North Alabama all the way up to Pennsylvania. For early American settlers, the seemingly endless high ridges were a formidable barrier for settlement the west. Between Crossville and Chattanooga, TN, mother nature has carved out a large chunk of the plateau creating a valley filled with amazing beauty.
Coming in from the towns of Spencer or Crossville, the descent into the valley is steep and quick with the highways curving down the slope of the mountain like a snake. What lies at the bottom is an amazing landscape dotted with farms and small towns, all boxed in by the forested ridges of the plateau.
In the middle of the Sequatchie Valley you’ll find the town of Dunlap which boasts being the hang gliding capital of Tennessee. From the overlook on Highway 111 you can usually get a glimpse of why as the takeoff point for hangliders is just above that vantage point. Dunlap is also home to a manmade wonder, the historic Coke ovens, relics left over from the area’s coal mining past.
Driving through the Sequatchie Valley is the perfect scenic detour if you’re heading to Chattanooga or Northern Alabama.
Whitetop Mountain – Virginia
If you like mountain top views, you often think about heading to the highest point in an area. Most of the time that requires a bit of a hike that may or may not pay off with a great view. What if you knew about a place where you could drive all the way top, step out of your car and be amazed at what’s in front of you.
Whitetop Mountain inside the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia is the second highest peak in the state. (The highest is Mt. Rogers, which requires a long hike to reach ). A forest service road takes you all the way to the top, making it the highest point anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia where you can drive.
The views remind me of what you see at the beginning of the Sound of Music, minus the snow-covered rocks and Julie Andrews swinging her arms while she sings. The view from Whitetop is simply breathtaking and definitely worth the drive. Nearby Grayson Highlands State Park is where you get access to Mount Rogers along with a number of other great hikes. It's also home to a herd of wild ponies.