Sitting at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest is Newport, Tennessee — the largest city in Cocke County. Even with this designation, it’s a small city compared to the large cities it lies between on Interstate-40: Knoxville, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina.
While Newport (found just off I-40 exit 435) itself may be small, the surrounding area’s views, scenic vistas, and outdoor activities are far from it! Don’t believe us? Take a look at our top four things to do near Newport, TN. We promise that they’ll make your day-trip or vacation to East Tennessee, Gatlinburg, and the Smokies so much more than a simple drive through the hills.
#1: Foothills Parkway Scenic Drive
This 6-mile scenic drive travels over Cocke County’s Green Mountain and connects I-40 in the Pigeon River Valley to U.S. 321 in Cosby, Tennessee. Along this drive, visitors are rewarded with multiple pull-offs to relax and take in the breathtaking vistas. If you’re looking for a scenic drive to or from Gatlinburg, Tennessee or the Great Smoky Mountains — be sure to put this on your route!
Completed in the late 1960s, this section, also known as “8A,” is actually part of a larger and unfinished portion of the Foothills Parkway. Today, only one-third of the project has been completed. Other drivable sections — and parkway updates — can be found here.
How to Get There: From I-40, take exit 443. Or, if you’re traveling from Gatlinburg, Cosby, or the Smokies, enter from U.S. 321 in Cosby, TN.
Best Time to Visit: Any time of the year is a great time to drive the Foothills Parkway, but fall is most beautiful!
#2: White Water Rafting and Kayaking with River Rat
At the heart of this mountainous region lies the Pigeon River and its swift rapids — aided by scheduled currents supplied by Walter’s Hydroelectric Dam. In the summer, these predictably scheduled currents can help create up to Class IV rapids — perfect for those looking for a memorable adventure on the river and in the Smokies.
River Rat is perfectly situated between Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina in the city of Hartford, Tennessee. Whether you’re traveling between the aforementioned states, reside nearby, or are looking for a great activity while on vacation in the Smokies — this is the whitewater rafting/kayaking company to visit. River Rat offers both Upper Pigeon River and Lower Pigeon River rafting adventures — a distinction that’s important for thrill-seeking adventurers or young and inexperienced rafters, respectively. Among the Upper Pigeon River adventures, experienced rafters may want to look into the Daycation Rafting Adventure (combines an upper rafting trip with a lower river thrillcat kayak — with lunch in-between) and the Extreme Upper Pigeon River Adventure (race the rapids in our smaller boats!). Freedom-seeking, independent riders may also want to check out the guided Thrillcat Kayak Adventure down the Lower Pigeon River.
How to Get There: Located at 3630 Hartford Road in Hartford, Tennessee. From I-40, take exit 447 towards Hartford Rd. and Martha Sundquist State Forest. If you’re coming from the West: Take exit 447, turn left onto Hartford Rd., then go straight through the four-way stop. If you’re coming from the East: Take exit 447, turn left onto Big Creek Rd., then turn left onto Hartford Rd. at the four-way. After the four-way stop, look for the brick building on the left!
Best Time to Visit: The best time for white water rafting and kayaking in the Smokies — and on the Pigeon River — are the summer months between Memorial Day (end of May) and Labor Day (beginning of September) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. These dates, days, and times follow historically scheduled releases from the dam (they are always subject to change). Keep in mind that other days of the week have “projected” releases, which means there may still be plenty of water on the river for rafting, but their release times are never certain. For greater accuracy, call Smoky Mountain River Rat at 423-487-4303 to schedule your white water rafting adventure in the Smokies!
Looking for something fun, exciting, or family-friendly in the spring, fall, or winter? Check out River Rat’s other adventures and activities, including fishing, zip lining, and raft and tube adventures!
#3: Wine Tasting
The South isn’t just known for its moonshine! In fact, if wine tasting is more your style, we’ve got some opportunities nearby! Stop by Goodwater Vineyard’s tasting room in Hartford, Tennessee offI-40’s exit 447. Finish your rafting or kayaking adventure, grab some food at The Bean Tree or Pigeon River Smokehouse, then complete your evening with a stop at the tasting room. Want the full winery experience? Stop by Goodwater Vineyard’s full tasting room and vineyard in nearby Mosheim, Tennessee (about 35 minutes from the Hartford tasting room, and about 20 minutes from Newport).
How to Get There:
- Hartford Tasting Room: Take exit 447 off I-40. Follow the “winery” signs. The little building is just off the exit.
- Goodwater Vineyards: Travel to 1865 Goodwater Rd. Mosheim, TN using Google Maps. The vineyard can be accessed from a variety of directions, including those on I-81. Cell phone service can be spotty, so it may be best to print or write down directions ahead of time.
Best Time to Visit: Any time of the year during their business hours.
- Hartford Tasting Room Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 12-7 p.m.
- Goodwater Vineyards Hours: Wednesday to Saturday 12-6 p.m. and Sunday 1-6 p.m.
Being so close to the Smokies has its rewards! It also means that Newport, Tennessee and its surrounding towns contain a variety of beautiful hikes — some of which are within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Appalachian Trail. Here are two great destinations to find many family-friendly and Appalachian Trail-worthy hikes:
- Cosby Campground
While part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this quaint campground contains 100+ campsites, ample picnic areas, and a variety of hiking trails that are never over-crowded. Based on your activity level, we recommend looking into the following Cosby Campground hikes: Hen Wallow Falls, Sutton Ridge Overlook, the 1-mile Nature Trail, Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower, or the Low Gap-Appalachian Trail- Snake Den Trail Loop.
How to Get There: From I-40, take exit 435 to Newport, Tennessee. Follow signs to Cosby, Tennessee. Cosby Campground is located approximately five miles south of Cosby on TN-32, at 127 Cosby Entrance Road, Cosby, TN. The campground is about 2 miles after the entrance into the park.
- Big Creek Area
This beautiful stretch of hiking, horse trails (Big Creek Horse Camp), picnic areas, and campgrounds are also a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — just in North Carolina this time. Hikes range in ruggedness, so be sure to research your hike ahead of time. Favorite hikes include: sections of the Appalachian Trail, Chestnut Branch Trail, Big Creek Trail, Mouse Creek Falls, Low Gap Trail, Camel Gap Trail, Gunter Fork Trail, Balsam Mountain Trail, Swallow Fork Trail, Benton MacKaye-Baxter Creek Trail, or summiting Mt. Sterling via Baxter Creek (often considered the toughest hike in the Smokies).
How to Get There: Take exit 451 off I-40 to Waterville Rd. Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and follow the road beyond the Walters Power Generating Station to a 4-way intersection. Go straight to enter the park and follow the narrow, gravel road to a large parking area.
Best Times to Hike: Year-round! Just be prepared with enough water, food, clothing, trail knowledge, and expected weather conditions before you go. Try not to hike alone, and always tell a friend where you and your group are hiking and when you expect to return. Also, because these are national parks, dogs are not permitted on the trails. Additionally, cell-phone service is spotty to non-existent, especially at Big Creek.
Get Out and Play!
There are an abundance (and definitely more than four!) of outdoor activities near Newport, TN, off I-40, and between Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC — you just have to know where to look! So whether you’re new to the area or simply passing through, make your next trip to East Tennessee and the areas surrounding the Smoky Mountains are a planned outdoor destination!