True confession: I never imagined I’d make my home in the mountains of East Tennessee.
I was a Midwesterner, and a city girl at that — a flatlander who watched the sun rise and set over endless rooftops and considered the jagged lines of Chicago skyscrapers as elevation in terrain. Those steel spires had their own, distinct beauty; but it wasn’t as though quiet green spaces were lost to me in some stark urban landscape. I could take advantage of expertly manicured parks peppered throughout my community. My own backyard boasted a fertile garden, where I could surround myself in leafy greenness at least three seasons of the year.
Winter, of course, was a spoiler. I was as convicted as any hearty Northerner that snow, even lots and lots of it, is no reason to disrupt one’s schedule or languish indoors. But I began to dread subzero temperatures. When our children had grown and as my husband prepared to retire, we looked south for our escape from the November-through-April icebox.
Florida was out of the question (too muggy, too buggy). We considered the West (too far) and the Carolinas (too expensive). At a perfect North-South halfway point, we found charming, scenic East Tennessee.
Two years after our move to the community surrounding Woodlake Lodge, Golf & Country Club, I can hardly believe my good fortune. As I gaze at boundless blue skies and lush mountain views from the comfort of my home, I still catch myself wondering when my “vacation” will end.
Happily, the only trips I’ll be taking north will be to visit family and friends. I’ve found so much to enjoy about East Tennessee that I’ll ever so gladly make it my home for years to come.
What’s to love about East Tennessee? Let’s start with these five things:
1. The natural beauty
Do mountain views and vistas soothe your soul? Here, the mountains surround you like a comforting blanket. Part of the Appalachian range, they tumble south from the northern-most points of East Tennessee along the Kentucky and Virginia borders and the Blue Ridge Mountains along North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond. As America’s most visited park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is world-renowned for its biodiversity and offers some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. To the west, the Cumberland Plateau rises from the Tennessee Valley, where broad rivers and deep gorges swirl through the heavily forested mountains and rolling farmland. From misty peaks to cascading streams and wide blue horizons, you’ll find plenty of photo-ops — and the calmness you crave — among the mountains of East Tennessee.
2. The weather
If you want year-round hot (and hurricanes don’t trouble you), head further south. For those of us who like variety in our lives, East Tennessee offers a mild, four-season climate. Spring, summer, and autumn are luxuriously long here; and the winters are mercifully short and temperate. Sure, snow happens every so often; but it’s measured in inches not feet, passes quickly, and affords welcome opportunities to snuggle in for a day or so (even for a Northerner, driving on snow-covered mountain roads is not recommended!). Don a jacket and you can play a round of golf or enjoy a mountain hike, even in January!
3. The activities
East Tennessee is an outdoor playground. The mountains are friendly and accessible; they beckon you to come outside and play. You’ll find a variety of hiking and biking trails for all skill levels, including a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail. Water is your thing? Deep lakes and rushing rivers offer endless opportunities for boating, kayaking, canoeing, and whitewater rafting. Angle for big fish on Norris and Cherokee Lakes, or stalk elusive trout with your fly rod along hidden, bolder-strewn mountain streams.
Hungry for a taste of city life? Knoxville will pleasantly surprise you. This thriving city at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains is home to the University of Tennessee and a hip cultural scene. With its pedestrian-friendly downtown, theaters, restaurants, and all-round happy vibe, there’s a reason folks in Denver have dubbed Knoxville “the Boulder of the East.” Top travel destination Chattanooga, the “Scenic City,” makes its home in East Tennessee, too; and comfortable drives will take you to other must-visit cities. Cut through the mountains to artistic Asheville, North Carolina, or wind your way through verdant grasslands and horse farms on your way to Lexington, Kentucky.
4. The affordability
What’s not to love about no state income taxes? Tennessee lets you keep more of your paycheck in your wallet on April 15, although it does impose taxes on capital gains, interest, and dividend income. The good news here: The so-called “Hall Tax” has been repealed as of Jan. 1, 2022. The move to exempt investment income from taxes will make Tennessee one of only eight income-tax-free states in the country.
USA Today and Wall St. Cheat Street ranked Tennessee second in its top 10 list of least expensive states in which to live in the U.S. in 2014. Property taxes are low in East Tennessee, and the cost of living throughout the state has ranked nearly 10% beneath the national average.
5. The people
You’ll find Southern hospitality in full swing in East Tennessee but with a dose of humility and easygoing charm. East Tennesseans are mountain people. They’re independent and resilient, but they’re also welcoming, helpful, and supportive neighbors. They keep a sunny outlook on life and make gratitude a habit. You’ll be greeted with genuine warmth and, especially in northern counties, you’ll hear the expression “thank you” routinely followed or replaced by the simple but profound statement, “I appreciate you.” Manners matter here, and respect for others is a closely held virtue.
Like me, you may not have considered East Tennessee a place to call home; but like me, perhaps you should. Make a plan to visit the area, and discover your own set of things to love. We’ll be happy to have you!
Start with a Discovery Package in the community of Woodlake Lodge, Golf & Country Club.