16 Best Things to Do in Johnson City, Tennessee

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Johnson City, Tennessee

Nestled among the Appalachian Foothills in eastern Tennessee sits the quaint town of Johnson City. Located nearly 20 miles south of Tennessee’s Bluff City and 130 miles northeast of the Great Smoky Mountains, Johnson City, Tennessee, is home to several wonderful public parks, stunning scenic views, mountain biking, hiking, and beautiful weather all year round.

If you’re planning a trip to Tennessee or looking into this great state, we recommend adding Johnson City. Kids will love the Hands On! Discovery Center and Carter Railroad Museum, while adults will love the town’s history, restaurants, breweries, and a plethora of parks that provide hiking, biking, and other outdoor opportunities.

Whitewater rafting is another offering for thrill-seekers looking to explore the Nolichucky River. The city offers fun and entertainment for the whole family, and it’ll be a memorable trip for all. Here are the best things to do in Johnson City, Tennessee.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Founders Park
  • Best park – Winged Deer Park
  • Free activity – Boone Lake
  • Activity for kids – Hands On! Discovery Center
  • Activity for adults – Buffalo Mountain Park
  • Place to eat – Label Restaurant
  • Nightlife – Tipton Street Pub
  • Place to stay – Carnegie Hotel & Spa

Things to Do in Johnson City, Tennessee

1. Founders Park

Fonders Park Johnson City
Image by Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com

Address: 225 Commerce St, Johnson City, TN 37604

Located in the heart of historic downtown Johnson City, Founders Park is a must-see attraction when visiting Tennessee, no matter what time of year you’re in town.

Founders Park is home to an amphitheater for live music and other events, walking paths, a creek, public art, and plenty of green space to spread out and enjoy the sunshine. It’s home to the annual Blue Plum Festival, a fun-filled weekend of music, art, and wellness every summer in Johnson City.

Founders Park features an easy walking path with beautiful sculptures, structures, and stone artwork that invites visitors to explore the area and get a feel for local art and culture. You’ll see the Founders Park Arch, a large, colorful mosaic taking the form of a human sundial, a structure in the shape of a human head made from steel nails, and many more unique pieces of art.

On the weekends, you’ll find live music and food trucks serving delicious food in the park. Locals and visitors gather in the open space to socialize, listen to live music, and enjoy time outside with family and friends.

Founders Park is a great place to have a picnic, ride bikes, or stroll around downtown Johnson City and take in all the sights. While you’re in the area, grab a craft beer from Johnson City Brewing Company, explore some of the antique shops nearby, and enjoy everything the downtown area has to offer.

See Related: Things to Do in Memphis, Tennessee

2. Willow Springs Park

Willow Springs Park
Image by DM used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Address: 1201 Huffine Rd, Johnson City, TN 37604

Grab the dogs, your partner, or the whole family, and head to Willow Springs Park for a day in the sunshine. Willow Springs Park is one of Johnson City’s most loved public parks.

Featuring a dog park, walking trails, and a brilliant playground for the little ones, Willow Springs Park has it all — whether you’re looking to take the dog for a walk, get some exercise, or let the kids run around and burn off some energy, this park has everything.

You’ll find basketball and volleyball courts for pick-up games and plenty of trees for shade whenever you need it (the Tennessee summers are no joke!). There is a small pond where visitors can see turtles and other wildlife in the area.

Are you in the mood for a run or ride? Willow Springs Park features plenty of walking and biking paths ideal for all fitness levels; whether you want to walk, jog, run, or bike, there’s a path for you! The park and trails are dog-friendly, so your furry friend can join you for cardio.

Both locals and visitors to Johnson City find enjoyment at Willow Springs Park. This public park is a great choice whether you need to get out for a run or want to explore a local hangout.

See Related: Tips for Traveling with Pets to Make Your Trip Easier

3. Buffalo Mountain Park

buffalo mountain park johnson city

Address: 570 Highridge Rd, Johnson City, TN 37604

For some of the most stunning views in Johnson City, head to Buffalo Mountain Park! This 725-acre park is located on the north slope of Buffalo Mountain and is home to fantastic hiking trails, picnic areas, and local nature programs.

If you are in the mood for a hike, the 13-mile loop at Buffalo Mountain Park is relatively intense, but two miles into the hike is one of the city’s best views. The vistas show incredible views of the Tennessee Valley and Unicoi Valley.

Suppose you love the great outdoors and want to hike while on vacation in Johnson City, the rugged mountain terrain at Buffalo Mountain Park will check every box. White Rock Loop is a popular hike within the park, a 5-mile journey with amazing sights and sounds.

You’ll walk on a tiny bridge over a babbling stream and enjoy a beautiful overlook at Huckleberry Knob about 3/4 of a mile into the hike. The hiking trails are ideal for adults and older kids, as the trails are steep and can be challenging for younger children.

You’ll encounter various birds, wildlife, and insects in the park. It’s a great spot to exercise for a few hours and see some of Johnson City’s beautiful scenery.

See Related: Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

4. Johnson City Public Library

Johnson City Public Library

Address: 100 W Millard St, Johnson City, TN 37604

Since its inception in 1895, the Johnson City Public Library has welcomed people from all walks of life seeking knowledge, information, or a good book. The library opened in 1999 and is a two-story, 42,000-square-foot building in downtown Johnson City.

With humble beginnings, the Johnson City Public Library now serves nearly every age group, from preschoolers at story time to high school students and adults who come to the library searching for a quiet place to study, read a good book, or use one of the many public computers.

If you happen to be in Johnson City and need a library, you’re in luck! The front desk staff is accommodating and will be happy to help in any way they can.

If you’re in Tennessee with kids, the library offers story time nearly every weekday morning, music time for families on the weekends, and many other events geared toward families. Multiple community events throughout the week include front porch music concerts, artist exhibits, and workshops.

The Johnson City Public Library is open Monday through Sunday, with weekly hours depending on the events and activities. Be sure to check their website before visiting. 

See Related: Where to Stay in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: 3 Best Areas

5. Hands On! Discovery Center at Gray Fossil Site

Hands On! Discovery Center at Gray Fossil Site
Image from TripAdvisor

Address: 1212 Suncrest Drive, Gray, TN 37615

The Hands On! Discovery Center at Gray Fossil Site is an all-ages science center with fun, interactive exhibits for kids and adults alike. It’s one of the coolest places to visit in Johnson City for its education and excitement.

With exhibits like building your car, creating colorful shadows, or suspending balls in mid-air at the Bernoulli Table, the Main Exhibit Hall at the Discovery Center is full of exciting things to explore.

Create musical tones with the PVC Pipe Organ, immerse yourself in augmented reality in quantum space, change vibrations and frequencies at the Shake Table, and brush and floss a colossal set of teeth.

The Mezzanine section of the science center contains the Archaeology Hall, with a gallery wall of regional artifact excavations, and the Fossil Collections Viewing Windows, where guests can see the recent findings from the Gray Fossil Site.

Head outside for even more adventure; the Discovery Garden features trees, shrubs, grass, and many plants that play a role in the ecosystem. Check out the Dig Site Viewing Deck for a bird’s eye view of the active paleontology dig site.

The Hands On! Discovery Center at Gray Fossil Site is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm. General admission is $11, and children under 3 get in for free.

For an affordable and convenient stay nearby, try the Fairfield Inn & Suites just down the road.

See Related: Things to Do in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

6. Johnson City Brewing Company

Entrance of Johnson city brewing company
Image by Nolichuckyjake Shutterstock.com

Address: 257 E Main St, Johnson City, TN 37601

Since 2014, Johnson City Brewing Company has been serving tasty beers for locals and visitors in Johnson City. Locals stay for its homey atmosphere and family-owned feel, while those visiting Johnson City can’t get enough of its quaint small-town vibe.

Popular brews include the Hopollo 13 IPA, Dill Pickle Blonde, and the Strawberry Smoothie extra pale ale. They have creative seasonal beers, including the Pumpkin Spice Coffee Blonde and the Oktoberfest IPA.

In addition to amazing craft beer, Johnson City Brewing Company is a kid-friendly place, making it a great spot for family fun. They serve soda and snacks for hungry kiddos. Located in downtown Johnson City, you can easily spend a few hours with friends and family.

7. Carter Railroad Museum

Carter Railroad Museum
Image from TripAdvisor

Address: 113 Campus Center Building, Johnson City, TN 37614

Explore interesting model railroads and historical railroad memorabilia at the Carter Railroad Museum at East Tennessee State University. The Carter Railroad Museum is dedicated to George L. Carter, who designed the Clinchfield Railroad through mountainous terrain to carry coal from Eastern Kentucky to western North Carolina.

Guests will explore the Alsop Gallery, the original display at the museum, with exhibits showcasing various railroads throughout the United States and six display cases that contain railroad artifacts and memorabilia, model railroad displays, and other historical materials.

Take the kids to the Little Engineers Room, where they can enjoy a railroad-themed playroom and interact with train toys, including a Thomas the Tank Engine sectional track and structures, to build their railroad empire. Your kids will enjoy playing with trains and using their imagination as they learn about the history of railroads in the area.

The Railroad Museum is also home to monthly heritage days, where particular railroads throughout the United States are commemorated through museum displays and operating model trains.

Make sure you head to Reece Museum after you visit the railroad museum, as it’s also located at East Tennessee State University. Two birds, one stone!

See Related: Things to Do in Nashville, Tennessee

8. Boone Lake

Location: Johnson City, TN

Are you craving a lake day in Tennessee? Look no further than Boone Lake, Johnson City’s popular water reservoir that attracts locals and visitors for its swimming, fishing, and boating.

If you’re eager to cast a line, Boone Lake is home to a wide variety of sport fishing, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, and catfish. Bring your fishing poles and see if you get lucky!

To spend a day on the water with family and friends, visitors can rent a boat from a nearby dock and cruise the lake all day. Pack a lunch and float the day away in the beautiful Tennessee sunshine. Boone Lake is set up for boaters, with a convenient dock and courtesy pier for safety.

Guests can also swim, kayak, and paddle board at Boone Lake. The popular Johnson City public park, Winged Deer Park, sits right on the shores of Boone Lake and offers fun for the whole family.

There are a few opportunities for hiking along the coastline at the lake, so bring your walking shoes if you’re feeling adventurous. Boone Lake truly offers water sports, fishing, boating, hiking, and plenty of sunshine. What more could you ask for?

9. Tweetsie Trail

entrance to the Tweetsie Trail
Donald R Slaughter / Shutterstock.com

Address: Tweetsie Trail Trailhead, Alabama St., Johnson City, TN 37601

Tweetsie Trail is a 9.6-mile trail with walking, hiking, and biking for locals and travelers of all fitness levels. The Tweetsie Trail extends from downtown Johnson City into downtown Elizabethton, one of Tennessee’s oldest towns.

Tweetsie Trail follows the old railroad line, making the surface flat and easy for people of all ages. The trailhead offers paved parking spots, benches to rest, restrooms, and a bike repair station. Your kids will be happy strolling or walking along, enjoying the great outdoors and getting fresh air.

As you explore the walking path, you’ll see over 20 educational graphics that share the history of the area, the regional railroad, geology, tree biology, and birding. The views on this part of the walk include horse farms, a quarry, cow farms, and scenic hills.

Tweetsie Trail is a great place to spend a few hours outside with the family. Get the kids settled in the stroller, load up on sunscreen, and start exploring the historic Tweetsie Trail. There’s plenty of shade and places to rest as you walk from Johnson City, while the parts of the trail in Elizabethton are much busier, with more traffic and fewer shaded areas.

If you finish your hike and want more activities nearby, check out the TVA Credit Union Ballpark. The Johnson City Doughboys, the local amateur baseball team, play there every summer, and it’s fun for the whole family.

See Related: Cheap Places to Visit in the US

10. Reece Museum

Entrance of Reece Museum
Image from TripAdvisor

Address: 363 Stout Dr, Johnson City, TN 37614

A stop at Reece Museum is a must for the history buffs in your group! Reece Museum opened in the 1920s and houses over 22,000 artifacts that tell the story of Appalachia. With a focus on the contemporary art and culture of the region, Reece Museum offers a fascinating look into the history of Tennessee and its regions.

Visitors can wander through the museum halls and gain inspiration from the many exhibits. Reece Museum was one of the first in Tennessee to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and remains one of 18 museums in Tennessee to hold this honor.

Past collections at Reece Museum include the Sammie L. Nicely collection, Local Art in the Age of the Global Pandemic, and The Divine Comedy by Salvador Dali. There’s also a 20th-century Appalachian Art exhibit and a step back in time with the Harris Family Collection, consisting of clothing, shoes, and other textiles dating back to the 1880s.

Once you’re done with the museum, wander around East Tennessee State University and experience its beautiful campus. The Reece Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Admission is free. 

If you’re looking for a nice place to stay nearby, the Carnegie Hotel & Spa is luxurious and highly rated, offering comfortable rooms and a relaxing experience at the on-site Austin Springs Spa.

See Related: What to Bring on a Camping Trip with Friends

11. Camp at the Nolichucky River

Camp at the Nolichucky River
Image by Brian StansberryCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 101 Jones Branch Rd, Erwin, TN 37650

The Nolichucky River is located in Erwin, Tennessee, about 15 miles south of Johnson City. The Nolichucky River is a deep, beautiful gorge with enjoyable features for everyone, from swimming holes to rapids and lots of lush flora along the way.

Visitors may also see wildlife such as deer, black bears, and blue kingfishers as they hike around the nearby Appalachian Trail.

If you’d like to extend your stay and see more of the Nolichucky River, there are nearby campgrounds that will certainly make your visit memorable. The best months to visit are June through October when you’ll have warm weather and water, but the camp is open all year round.

Camping at the Nolichucky River campgrounds provides the whole outdoor experience in eastern Tennessee: booking a whitewater rafting experience, tubing down the river, swimming in the river, and camping under the stars. You’ll forget that there’s a city nearby as you stargaze and enjoy your time near the river’s rapids.

Camping at the Nolichucky River is affordable and convenient. Tent camping is first come, first served. Rates are $20 per adult and $5 per night for ages 13 to 18. Kids 12 and under stay for free. 

See Related: Best Whitewater Rafting in the World

12. Explore Downtown Johnson City

Explore Downtown Johnson City
Image by Joseph used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Address: 112 N Commerce St, Johnson City, TN 37604

In downtown Johnson City, you’ll find many shops, restaurants, spas, and other things to see and experience. Explore the sculpture walk in downtown Johnson City, with locations in and around Founders Park, King Commons Park, and other spots in downtown Johnson City.

The sculpture walk is sponsored by the Johnson City Public Art organization, which aims to establish a public art program with high artistic quality and enduring value in Johnson City.

Some sculptures include the Quilted Owl near King Commons and the “We’ll Always Be Together” mural near Fountain Square Plaza. There are many art pieces to see as you explore, so keep your eyes open!

Getting thirsty? Pop into Brewrista and the Bean for a tasty cold brew. If you’re ready for lunch, grab some authentic Italian food at Black Olive. Downtown Johnson City has many gift shops and boutiques to browse for souvenirs.

As you wander around downtown Johnson City, you’ll stumble upon the public library and the Children’s Nature Park. Let the kiddos climb and play while you relax nearby. Downtown Johnson City hosts various events throughout the year, from Restaurant Week to the weekly Farmers Market, the Christmas parade, and live music events in the summertime.  

13. Label Restaurant

label restaurant johnson city
Image from TripAdvisor

Address: 112 Tipton St, Johnson City, TN 37604

For some of the best food in the tri-cities, Label Restaurant packs a punch with delicious eats, Sunday brunch, cocktails, and a welcoming atmosphere for families, couples, and solo travelers.

Make sure to bring your appetite — Label Restaurant serves up hearty portions and entrees, including surf and turf, ribeye, buttermilk chicken, and the Chef’s Pasta. For salads, try the Boomtown Salad or the tasty strawberry spinach salad.

Label Restaurant has a full sushi menu, with popular items including California and Philadelphia rolls. They’ve got a full Chef’s Creation sushi menu, with unique offerings like the Volcano roll, Dynamite roll, and Junkyard roll. You’ve got to taste them for yourself!

They offer daily drinks, Happy Hour specials, and $3 mimosas at Sunday brunch. Kids are welcome anytime, and the Kid’s Menu will satisfy any picky eater.

Label Restaurant is located in downtown Johnson City, within walking distance of many of the city’s oldest dwellings, quaint shops, and historical buildings. Once you’ve finished your meal, walk around downtown and take in the sights. Your full tummy will appreciate the movement! 

See Related: Islands to Visit Around the World

14. Winged Deer Park

Different views of the Winged Deer Park in Johnson City, TN
Image by LEVATEC / Shutterstock.com

Address: 4137 Bristol Hwy, Johnson City, TN 37601

Regarding public parks in Johnson City, they don’t get much better than Winged Deer Park. This sprawling park features softball and soccer fields, batting cages, an 18-hole disc golf course, paved hiking trails, swimming, boating, and more. Winged Deer Park sits on the shores of Boone Lake, making it a great place to spend the day on the water or dry land.

The lakefront area has sand volleyball courts, picnic areas, restrooms, and open space to enjoy the sunshine, play with friends, and enjoy time together. There’s also a playground for the kids and plenty of open space to run around and burn off energy.

Winged Deer Park boasts some of the best mountain biking trails in the area, with various trails offering activities for every skill level at Mountain Bike Park. If you’re looking for variety and nothing too difficult, Mountain Bike Park provides scenic and challenging trails and lots of fun along the way.

There are three historical areas in Winged Deer Park — one is the Robert Young Cabin, one of Johnson City’s oldest dwellings, the Massengill Monument, and the James H. Quillen Historical Tree Arboretum.

See Related: National Parks in The USA to Visit

15. Tipton Street Pub

Tipton Street Pub
Image from TripAdvisor

Address: 110 Tipton St, Johnson City, TN 37604

Johnson City may not have the most bustling nightlife, but the bar scene is something to experience! Tuck the kids into bed and head out for a fun night in Johnson City as the locals do.

Located in downtown Johnson City, Tipton Street Pub draws in locals and tourists for its craft beer, wings, Happy Hour specials, and small-town vibe.

The beer list at Tipton Street Pub offers craft beer, including Duck Rabbit Milk Stout and Tommy Knocker Maple Nut Brown, domestic bottles like PBR and Shiner Bock, and local favorites like Sweet Water IPA and Red Hook Long Hammer IPA.

If you need a late-night snack, this pub will satisfy your craving. From cheese curds to mini corn dogs, wings, and burgers, every taste bud is satisfied at Tipton Street Pub.

The pub offers awesome specials, including Happy Hour deals from 3 to 9 pm Monday through Friday. Weekly Trivia Night is Tuesday, and Wednesday is Ladies’ Night with half-off wine bottles.

16. Tipton-Haynes Historic Site

Tipton-Haynes Historic Site

Address: 2620 South Roan St., Johnson City, TN 37601

If you’re hunting for historical attractions, a stop at the Tipton-Haynes Historic Site is an absolute must. The property was purchased by Colonel John Tipton in 1784 and included 45 acres, 11 historic buildings, the Tipton/Gifford/Simerly cemetery, a limestone cave, and a nature trail.

The historical buildings date back to the 1700s, with several families living there for years. You’ll gain insight into the heritage of Northeast Tennessee and its humble beginnings as you explore this historic gem in Johnson City.

While on your history tour, try to visit Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough, for a fascinating look back in time. Jonesborough, the storytelling capital of the world, is about 15 minutes from Johnson City, making it an easy drive. Explore the well-preserved Main Street and learn about the diverse history and heritage of the oldest town in Tennessee.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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