Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Mountain City, TN

  • Published 2023/02/08

Are you tired of the usually recommended travel destinations crowded with tourists?

There are dozens of alternative travel destinations worth your time and interest.

Most of these places are well-hidden in various regions in the United States, away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

For a relaxing place to explore, unwind, and have a meaningful time, check out Mountain City.

Mountain City sits atop 2,418-feet in the mountainous region of Tennessee.

This small Tennessee town is the county seat of Johnson County.

It may not be as fancy as other travel destinations, but it is a place worthy of discovery for history buffs, music lovers, and outdoor adventurers.

Despite its unassuming appeal and sleepy vibes, Mountain City is well-known for its love of music.

Historically, Mountain City contributes significantly to country music in Tennessee through its rich musical heritage.

In 1925, this town hosted the Mountain City Fiddlers Convention, an iconic event of the Appalachian traditional music history.

Today, Mountain City’s music lovers continue this tradition by celebrating it every year.

A plethora of exciting things to discover in this Tennessee town, so here are the 20 best things to do in Mountain City, Tennessee:

Enjoy the Outdoors at the Doe Mountain Recreation Area

Thick clouds over Doe Mountain Recreation Area

Richard Hathorn /

The Doe Mountain Recreation Area at Harbin Hill Road is covered more than 8,600 acres of beautifully rugged and mountainous outdoor haven in Mountain City.

This recreation area is situated just outside Mountain City, and it’s been known across Johnson County as a top-notch place for outdoor activities.

The Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower at Doe Mountain Recreation Area

Tate Davis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Its multi-purpose trails are perfect for All-Terrain vehicles, mountain bikes, dirt bikes, hikers, and nature lovers.

The Doe Mountain Recreation Area became the reason why Mountain City was listed as one of North Tennessee’s Top Trail destinations.

You will be rewarded with not just top-notch trails but also picturesque views of its landscape and the 60-foot Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower.

Have a Relaxing Day at Ralph Stout Park

If you want to immerse yourself in the peaceful vibes of Mountain City, head to Ralph Stout Park along S. Church St.

This community park is where most locals hang out to relax and do outdoor activities like hiking, jogging, or simply playing with their loved ones in their preferred sports.

In addition, it’s also where Mountain City’s memorial wall is found, honoring the men and women who served the United States military.

If you have kids with you, it would be perfect for bringing them to Ralph Stout Park since it has various amenities they can enjoy there.

If you’re looking for activities to sweat out, you can do baseball, frisbee, and skateboarding, among other sports available at this park.

Furthermore, this park also hosts various community activities such as concerts and outdoor events.

Appreciate Plant Growing and Landscaping at the Mountain View Nursery

The Mountain View Nursery along South Shady St. is an excellent place to visit in town if you want to learn something new on landscaping and plant growing.

This establishment has provided Mountain City with top-notch plants and landscaping supplies for three decades.

It’s also an incredible place to buy exotic and beautiful plants that can be unique souvenirs from your Mountain City trip.

You can either buy native plants for your garden back at home or perhaps check out some landscaping tools or equipment that you might need to improve your garden.

An hour or two at the Mountain View Nursery will surely add a more memorable experience to your visit to Mountain City.

Celebrate the Long Journey Home Labor Day Weekend

One of the main reasons to visit Main City is its annual musical event, The Long Journey Home.

This event serves as Johnson County’s official heritage music and arts celebration during Labor Day weekend, hosted by Mountain City.

This annual celebration is the commemoration of the 1925 hosting of Mountain City of the Mountain City Fiddlers Convention.

Get to listen to iconic and classic country music, downtown busking, and live musical performances the entire Labor Weekend.

The Long Journey Home Labor Day Weekend is a musical celebration you should experience in Mountain City.

Head to the Johnson County Welcome Center & Museum

Exterior of Johnson County Welcome Center & Museum

ResearcherQ, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Johnson County Welcome Center & Museum should be your first stop upon arriving at Mountain City.

Like a good tourist, you should check out the town’s visitor center nestled along South Shady Street to get everything you need to know about Mountain City.

Here you’ll come across incredible things with historical value that locals donated to the town.

In addition, it has an assortment of maps, brochures, and lists about all the recommended shops, lodgings, and attractions the town offers.

Before you set out on your Mountain City travel adventure, check out the Johnson County Welcome Center & Museum and appreciate the place’s log cabin offering visitors a cozy atmosphere.

This place in Mountain City is an excellent place to ask questions about the town’s shops, restaurants, attractions, and businesses.

Score Rare Items at Vintage & Rust

If you have a taste for antiques, head to Vintage & Rust, Mountain City’s best place to find rare items.

This shop situated along South Shady Street is known throughout Johnson County for its antique collection, from decorations to repurposed items.

Opened in 2019, this shop gives you the best nostalgic vibes as you browse through its antique collections that you can buy as a souvenir from your trip to Mountain City.

This place is also perfect to look for unique things that you can add to your interior decorations at home.

If you’re a fan of preloved or repurposed items, they got a bunch of them that you can sort through.

Adore Local Arts at the Johnson County Center for the Arts

The Johnson County Center for the Arts along College Street is where Mountain City’s local artisans converge and share their passion for the arts.

More than 30 artisans from various parts of the Appalachian Mountains regularly contribute to this incredible place where local arts, heritage, and history merge.

It is the go-to place you need to check out in Mountain City, especially if you have a special place for art in your heart.

It’s where you’ll find the town’s local arts and crafts that you can buy as unique souvenirs.

Or perhaps, join one of its fun-filled and worthwhile arts workshops along with fellow art lovers.

In addition, the Johnson County Center for the Arts also features the Johnson County’s Heritage Music Trail and the Long Journey Home through their arts.

Moreover, you can catch live musical performances from local musicians on the front porch that holds regular shows.

Step Inside the Heritage Hall

Mountain City’s Heritage Hall is a historic 1923 high school auditorium that underwent massive restoration through the efforts of local volunteers.

The Heritage Hall reopened in 2005 as Mountain City and Johnson County’s premier entertainment venue.

This auditorium also serves as a community-based theatre that regularly hosts live performances and community-related events.

Enjoy various shows regularly entertaining visitors and locals in Mountain City.

Aside from entertainment, you’ll also learn some fascinating history by visiting this place in Mountain City.

Discover the Musical Heritage Mural Mile

In downtown Mountain City, you’ll get the chance to discover its rich musical heritage through the Musical Heritage Mural Mile.

This masterpiece is the product of local artists of the Johnson County’s Center for the Arts to pay tribute to their town’s love for country music.

There are numerous murals along the Musical Mural mile that details and celebrates various themes about iconic country music.

You’ll come across the “It Surely is a Train” along Main Street along the way.

After viewing the first mural, proceed to the First Sunrise mural at Main and Murphey’s corner, while your next stop is the D. Clarence “Tom” Ashley: The Original Mountain Minstrel.

This mural is located at the corner of Church and Donnelly streets.

Check out the rest of the murals; Birth of Ballad: The Capture of Tom Dooley and the F. Legacies: Influential Albums along the Musical Mural Mile.

Spend Your Night at the Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast Inn

The Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast is conveniently located along Mountain City’s downtown area.

This lodging is known for its Victorian-era architecture, making it a charming place to stay in Mountain City.

Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast offers cozy accommodation that will give you the best comfort during your travel.

So, you know where to book the best accommodation in Mountain City.

Set Up Your Tent at the R&D Campground

The R&D Campground along Mining Town Road is the perfect place in Mountain City for those who want to camp out during their stay there.

If you prefer to stay outdoors and enjoy nature, the R&D Campground won’t disappoint you.

It’s where most backpackers and campers set up their campsites to enjoy the fresh air and nature’s beauty.

In addition, this campground is packed with outdoor activities from hiking, picnicking, biking, fishing, stargazing, and nature viewing.

It’s a convenient place, especially if you plan to explore the Doe Mountain Recreation Area near the campgrounds.

The R&D Campground features 30 campsites and essential amenities to make your stay comfortable.

Build a Campfire while Staying at Forge Mountain Campground

Forge Mountain Campground fulfills all your RV camping desires while in Mountain City.

Owned by a Christian family, this campground has at least twelve campsites with full-service hookups.

It also offers refreshing views of the Mountains of Johnson County.

The ground’s amenities include fire pits for your traditional campfire s’more-making and picnic tables for mini gatherings with the whole family.

Sights, smells, and scenery—Forge Mountain Campground has it all.

And what’s more, it allows pets within the property, too!

You can get to Forge Mountain Campground on South Shady Street.

Admire the Sunflower Displays at Mountain City Annual Sunflower Festival

You are not visiting Mountain City the right way without joining the Mountain City Annual Sunflower Festival.

This annual July event is the city’s most famous street festival.

Showcasing the beauty that the then-sunflower fields residing on both sides of Highway 167 possess, this festival officially started in 2004.

It was the summer representative festival, and its counterpart during the fall season was the now-uncelebrated Pumpkin Festival.

Showcasing food trucks, live entertainment, and kids’ zone activities, this festival has evolved into a city tradition that many families and tourists look forward to.

It also hosts the Mr. and Miss Sunflower Pageant, as well as unique bike and truck shows.

Come and see the sunflower trinkets, decorations, and goods!

Celebrate Mountain City Annual Sunflower Festival with the community on Main Street.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Take Photos at the Backbone Rock

Daytime view of the Backbone Rock

photo by pfly, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many people are curious to see the “World’s Shortest Tunnel,” which happens to be near Mountain City.

The Backbone Rock, situated 27-miles north of Mountain City in Shady Valley, is a sight to behold.

The Backbone Rock was constructed back in 1901 to create a thoroughfare that connects the railroad for timber transportation.

Thus, a hole was created through the Backbone Rock that made the “World’s Shortest Tunnel,” measuring 80 feet tall and 20 feet long.

In addition, there are nearby hiking trails and camping grounds in the area that you can visit after taking lovely photos of the Backbone Rock.

Before you head back home, take some time to visit this famous attraction in Tennessee.

Stroll through the Appalachian State University

Front view of Appalachian State University

Bryan Pollard /

The Appalachian State University is a charming educational institution in Boone, North Carolina, 24 miles south of Mountain City.

Avid travelers know that there is something special about visiting universities.

With that in mind, you should grab the chance and cross to Virginia and check out the old buildings, facilities, and student life that Appalachian State University offers.

Front view of Appalachian State University

Bryan Pollard /

Touring through this university offers you a chance to step back in time to reminisce about your college life.

Check out Belk Library and browse through its extensive research and reading materials, or perhaps, check out other facilities in this university that are open to the public.

Front view of Appalachian State University

Nolichuckyjake /

Open a Bottle of Fine Wine at the Watauga Lake Winery

The Watauga Lake Winery in Butler is an excellent place near Mountain City to unwind and enjoy a bottle of fine wine.

It is situated 15 miles or a 22-minute drive southwest of Mountain City.

The Watauga Lake Winery was once known as a “Haunted Attraction” in Butler, but it was eventually converted into a charming winery that aims to promote agrotourism.

This type of tourism promotes agriculture and tourism, which the winery perfectly combines through its products, history, and destination.

The Watauga Lake Winery has an extensive selection of fine wines in its tasting room, while they also serve numerous food items such as cheeses, soups, and wood-fired pizzas.

Go for a Joyride on Snake 421

Calling all motorcycle and joyride lovers; this attraction is for you!

Snake 421, also known as the Best of the Snake, is a 37-mile scenic route that passes through Mountain City and Shade Valley.

It also offers glimpses of Damascus in Virginia and even runs past Backbone Rock, the smallest tunnel in the world.

During the first section of the ride, the route cuts through twisting curves and farmland vistas.

Among its noteworthy sights include lush forest trees, stunning creeksides, and tight, winding curves.

This is why this spot is an ideal adventure ride for bikers, motorcycle riders, and hikers.

Get your gear and vehicles ready for a thrilling ride along Snake 421.

Play a Round of Baseball at Cunningham Park

Mountain City’s Cunningham Park is good for your meditative walk among nature.

Complete with a playground and pickleball courts for the sports enthusiast, this park is a free family-friendly destination.

There’s also a wading pool for the little ones.

Spend your afternoon in solitude at this small ballpark on College Street in downtown Mountain City.

Cunningham Park is right next to the Johnson County Community Center.

Start a Biking Adventure at Goose Creek Trail

Have room in your schedule for a bit of hiking and biking?

Then, make sure Goose Creek Trail in Ralph Stout Park is on your itinerary.

Spanning one mile, this paved trail cuts across the park’s property before ending at the Johnson Community Center.

Along the way, there are several wooden bridges you can come across.

Though it doesn’t run alongside the actual Goose Creek, the biking and hiking pathway is enough for some birdwatching and sightseeing sessions in nature.

Admire the picturesque scenery at Goose Creek Trail along Highway 421.

Final Thoughts

Mountain City is full of surprises.

Nobody would expect to explore many attractions in this sleepy city that travelers often ignore.

After reading through this post, you probably realize that something exciting is waiting for you in Mountain City.

So, before heading there, bookmark this post as your instant itinerary!

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