Any avid lover of the outdoors will feel right at home in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Though it’s has city in the name, it’s a lot more suburban than you may initially assume. This breathtaking city located almost on the border of North Carolina is filled with amazing parks, hikes, campgrounds, lakes, and more.
Below, find some of the best things to do in Johnson City, whether you’re visiting for just a day or a weekend.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Johnson (TN)
1. Boone Lake
This tranquil lake is the perfect escape to the outdoors in Johnson City. It’s most well-known for its great water sports and recreational activities which will be enjoyed by travelers of all ages. This is the most popular fishing spot in the area, because there’s a variety of fish including crappie, bluegill, and multiple types of bass.
Boone Lake is massive in size, having a surface area of 4400 acres and 130 miles of shoreline. This man-made river was built in 1952 right behind the Boone Dam on the Holston River.
The lake is rarely busy, so you will be able to find a serene spot just for yourself.
2. Gray Fossil Site
Gray Fossil Site is a natural history museum featuring fossils from thousands and even millions of years ago. This museum is the perfect place to come if you are interested in learning more about the history of the area.
The site itself was discovered in 2000 and historians believe that it was created due to a collapsed cave which later caused a sinkhole. Archaeologists scoured the site and discovered fossils of as alligators, mastodons, and even a saber-tooth cat.
The true highlight of the Gray Fossil Site is the area where visitors can see staff searching through recently-found fossils. During the warmer months, visitors can also see the dig site firsthand.
3. Warriors’ Path State Park
If you’re interested in going on a serene hike, then you will want to be sure to plan a trip to Warriors’ Path State Park during your stay in Johnson City. The park covers 950 acres and was named after the area’s history with the Great Indian Warpath hundreds of years ago.
The park also boasts one a world-famous mountain biking trail and a golf course that is recognized nationwide.
Not interested in hiking? This park is also a great place to go kayaking, golfing, and more. Sometimes there are fun community events held here that visitors are welcome to attend!
4. Yee-Haw Brewing Company
Yee-Haw Brewing Company was founded in Johnson City and serves local craft beers. The inside of their main location has exposed brick, trendy lightning, and a large seating area.
Since opening in 2015, Yee-Haw Brewing Company has rapidly joined the ranks of the best breweries in America’s Southeast. They’ve expanded to Nashville, Pigeon Forge, and Greeneville.
The brewery has nine of its own beers, a few of which are seasonal. Be sure to book a behind-the-scenes tour to learn about how Yee-Haw brews their drinks. This location is directly connected to White Duck Taco Shop so you can satisfy your hunger too.
5. Axe Throwing
Channel your inner lumberjack and go through some axes at targets at Badl Axe Throwing! Anyone over the age of 13 is welcome to come and learn how to throw axes or practice the skills they already have.
Children under 13 are allowed to go and jump in the largest trampoline park in Tennessee inside the building while parents throw axes. Once you’re done throwing axes, play a quick round of laser tag with your friends and family or go play some games at the arcade.
6. Just Jump Trampoline Park
This 22,000 square foot trampoline park is fun for all ages. Inside, there are spots to jump around, play basketball, and more. The park hosts special discount nights throughout the year, so pay attention to their website to snag a deal for your visit.
One adult is allowed in per child for free, any extra adults must pay an extra fee, but Just Jump Trampoline Park is so fun that it is worth it! Don’t forget to bring trampoline grip socks if you have a pair, as they are required in order to jump around. They are available for purchase at the front desk in case you forget.
7. River raft on Watauga River
Watauga River is a 78.5-mile stream that goes through both Tennessee and North Carolina. It passes by huge cliffs, waterfalls, and mountains in the area. What better way to explore the river than by white water rafting?
Anyone over the age of 3 can join in on a rafting adventure (depending on the adventure company). The trip normally lasts around 3 to 5 hours and covers approximately 5 miles. The trip lasts so long because there are normally multiple stops along the route for sightseeing and snacks!
8. Tweetsie Trail
This one-way 9.5-mile trail covers both Carter and Washington counties in Tennessee and passes by some epic scenery. Officially completed in 2015, Tweetsie Trail got its name for following the same exact path as the Tweetsie Railroad which is no longer in serve.
To start, head to Alabama Street. It ends right next to the Betsytowne Shopping Center. Parking is available at multiple locations near the starting point, including Memorial Park Community Center and City Hall.
The trail is easy for all levels of hikers, including beginners. If you don’t want to walk, you can also rent a bike for the trail.
9. Tipton-Haynes Historic Site
The Tipton-Haynes Historic Site is one of Johnson City’s most remarkable historic landmarks. It served as the office and home of an attorney and legislator named Landon Carter Haynes in the 19th century during the American Civil War.
Visitors can now come and explore Hayne’s house, which is now filled with multimedia exhibits covering 19th century history. The exhibit covers 45 acres and eleven different buildings, in addition to a cemetery, nature trail, and a limestone cave. Guided tours and self-guided tours are available.
10. Jacob’s Nature Park
Jacob’s Nature Park covers 28 acres of land. The park is named after an E. coli victim named Jacob Francisco as a memorial.
The park is filled with many fun activities, including wildlife sighting, exploring, and hiking. The hikes inside Jacob’s Nature Park are really quick and easy, with the 0.6 mile Minga Path Loop taking about 16 minutes to hike and the 0.9 mile Turtle Ridge Trail taking no longer than a half hour.
11. George R. Carter Railroad Museum
The George R. Carter Railroad Museum is located on the East Tennessee State University campus. It covers 5,000 square feet and features toys, models, structures, and lots of train memorabilia.
It’s named after George L. Carter, the man who built the 277-mile Clinchfield Railroad. He eventually also helped to purchase the land where East Tennessee State University is today.
Exhibits at the museum include Alsop Gallery, the Marsh-Tweetsie Exhibit, and the Little Engineers Room. All exhibits are fully created by the Mountain Empire Model Railroader Club volunteers.
12. Arch of Friendship and Junaluska Monuments
The Arch of Friendship is a tiny monument in Johnson City that features a globe. It’s located inside Friendship Park, also called Metro-Kiwanis Park, and was built back in 1983 to stand as a tribute to the friendship between Johnson City and Guaranda, Ecuador as sister cities.
Right next to the Arch of Friendship monument in the 3-acre park is a 30-foot carving called “Junaluska” which was built to honor the American Indians by Peter Wolf Toth in 1986.
13. Tannery Knobs Bike Park
Tannery Knobs is the bike park in Johnson City, covering more than 40 acres of land. There are multiple biking trails here that all offer amazing views of the area from above.
This class is world-renowned for its biking trails. If you aren’t a biker, it’s okay; there are also hiking and walking trails.
The trails here are meant for bikers of all ages and skillsets, so new bikers are welcome to come and try their hand at off-road mountain biking. Pay close attention to which trail you choose to bike though, because some are a lot easier than others.
14. Hokie Smokie Brisket
Tennessee is the perfect place to try BBQ, and Hokie Smokie Brisket is home to Johnson City’s best. The inside is a sports pub, but there’s also abundant outdoor seating if you want to enjoy the views of Johnson City.
Some of their bestsellers include their brisket, wings, and smoked chicken. If you can’t get enough of the BBQ, don’t worry; Hokie Smokie Brisket lets you take a jar home for a small price.
15. Perplexodus Escapes
Escape Rooms are all the rage, and Perplexodus Escapes in Johnson City has been consistently ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for being the best place to have fun in the tri-city area.
There are four different escape room options, with over 52 puzzles scattered throughout. What sets Perplexodus Escapes apart is that they have rooms catered towards children, which have a 30-minute time limit instead of the regular 60. They have two adult rooms and two children rooms.
16. Appalachian Ghostwalks
Appalachian Ghostwalks started in 1856 and brings guests on a tour through Eastern Tennessee’s paranormal history. All tours are family friendly and uncover secrets regarding Bigfoot, ghosts, and more popular legends from this area of the U.S.
There are 16 different tour types total, with each one covering a different topic. The Lantern-Led Ghost and History Tours are the most popular one to book, though the Paranormal Expeditions is a fun multi-day tour option worth looking into!
The Johnson City tour in particular uncovers the mystery of the John Sevier Hotel ghosts. It also brings to light why Johnson City is referred to as “Little Chicago”.
17. Down Home
Down Home is a music center that was founded in 1976 that focuses on quality live performances. What sets Down Home apart from other more modern performance venues is that they focus on listening to music and discourage those who talk while someone is playing.
There are state-of-the-art sound systems around the room and hanging from the ceiling which make the experience even better. Plus, the Down Home was recently featured in the entertainment section of The New York Times.
Tickets tend to sell out quickly, so purchase them online ahead of time.
18. Main Street Pizza Company
Main Street Pizza Company is a top-rated pizza restaurant that’s open for lunch and dinner. Though the restaurant is tiny, the pizza is large and comes in a wide variety of flavors. Some of their menu options include the pizza burger, Philly cheesesteak, and Thai pie, which are all pizza flavors.
All ingredients used in the pizzas are locally-sourced from around 30 different vendors and producers in the surrounding tri-city area, including their own River Creek Farm. Main Street Pizza Company is also one of the few veteran-owned businesses in Johnson City.
19. Hands On! Regional Museum
Hands On! Regional Museum is a fun science museum for kids that features lots of interactive exhibits including art studios and even a Tesla coil.
This museum opened in 1986 and welcomes more than 70,000 visitors every year. Inside, there’s 20 permanent exhibits including the KinderMart, Alive and Well, The Landfill, and the Kids Bank and Credit Union.
Throughout the year, Hands On! Regional Museum also hosts a wide variety of events, so keep an eye on their calendar.
20. Southern Dozen Motorcycle Rides
Any motorcyclist traveler will be happy to find that Johnson City is part of the amazing Southern Dozen Motorcycle Rides. All adventures are round-trip and last up to 157 miles.
There are 13 different rides and more coming soon. Some of them include the Mountain Ribbons, East Tennessee History Tour, Founders Ride, and the 8th Wonder of the World. The official website gives detailed directions on the exact route for each ride.
No ride on the list will take longer than 5 hours, depending on how often you stop to take in the amazing scenery. Each ride option takes you all around Eastern Tennessee.
21. Sycamore Shoals Historic Park
Sycamore Shoals Historic Park is home to some of Tennessee’s most important historical events from the 18th century. This was the initial place that many citizens leaving British colonies settled into, not realizing that it was Cherokee land.
The Carter Mansion is in this area, only a few short miles from the Sycamore Shoals Historic Park, and is the oldest house of its kind in Tennessee.
Today, this area is home to exhibits, performances, presentations, and art classes that give a glimpse into the history that once happened here. Be sure to stop by Fort Watauga located right in the park; it’s one of the highlights.
22. Johnson City Cardinals
The Johnson City Cardinals are the city’s Minor League Baseball Team! They’re officially associated with the St. Louis Cardinals and have won over ten different championships in their league. They won just last year in 2019.
This team is part of the Appalachian League and plays at the TVA Credit Union Stadium, also just referred to as Cardinal Park by locals. Tickets to see a game are rather affordable and can be purchased online. For the most part, games are just in spring and summer months.
23. Cakebuds Bakery
Cakebuds Bakery is a popular minimalist pastry and cake shop that sells everything from cookies to cupcakes. This bakery was featured on the Food Network and is considered to be the best in this part of Tennessee.
In addition to sweets, Cakebuds Bakery also serves up amazing Italian loaves, challah, sourdough, and dinner rolls. For a real treat, purchase a decorating box and make your own beautiful creations on top of the cupcakes.
24. Buffalo Mountain Park
Buffalo Mountain Park is a scenic 725-acre area that offers panoramic views of Johnson City. The park is located right on Buffalo Mountain, which is how it got its name.
The park first opened to the public in 1994 after being obtained by the U.S. Forest Service and now is home to many hiking trails, picnic spots, and more.
To see the beautiful waterfalls inside Buffalo Mountain Park, hike the White Rock Loop, which is relatively easy and gains 1,354 feet in elevation. The loop is only 5 miles long and has tiny waterfalls scattered along the trail.
25. Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop
Anyone who loves pie has to visit the Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop which was opened by a couple named Scott and Meredith. Since opening, this shop has been featured on the Cooking Channel, the Travel Channel, and in Southern Leaving, among other publications.
Their best-selling flavors include peanut butter cream, key lime, granny’s apple, southern custard, and chocolate cream. You truly can’t go wrong with pie! They come in either 2-inch, 4-inch, or 9-inch sizes. Purchase a variety pack for a real treat.