Cocke County’s natural beauty draws visitors from around the world. In fact, we are an international vacation destination. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the major draws. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the scenic beauty of its ancient mountains and the clear flowing streams and waterfalls make this America’s most visited National Park. Visitors enjoy wildflower pilgrimages, bird-watching, hiking, photography, fishing, camping, horseback riding and other activities in the national park.
The Cherokee National Forest is also located partially in Cocke County along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and is home to abundant wildlife such as black bears, raccoons, coyotes and fox among others. Recreation opportunities are abundant in this forest as well. The 650,000-acre forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee. It lies in the heart of the Southern Appalachian mountain range, one of the world’s most diverse areas. These mountains are home to more than 20,000 species of plants and animals. Each year millions of people visit Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. It is a place of scenic beauty that provides opportunities for anyone interested in nature and history.
Cocke County is home to the Martha Sundquist State Forest also known as the “Gulf”. This 2001 acre tract is a wildlife management area primarily used for recreation, hunting and fishing. This tract of land is located in Hartford and surrounded on three sides by the Cherokee National Forest. The Forest is composed of mature mountain and cove hardwoods. A harvest rotation schedule was developed and followed closely by the previous owners and large streamside management zones, some as large as 80 acres, have been established. This tract is considered a wildlife management area and has special provisions for bear hunting. It will be used primarily for recreation, hunting, fishing, timber production, and demonstration.
Cocke County has become extremely well known for whitewater rafting, the rapids of the Big Pigeon River range from the gentle to the extreme, with over 14 rafting companies in Hartford offering guided tours and excursions. The Pigeon River was ranked the 3rd most visited river by the American Outdoor Association. Zip-lining and other recreational activities are also available in downtown Hartford along with a moonshine distillery and a winery.
Rankin Bottoms in Cocke County is a large floodplain area at the junction of the French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers. It is best known for outstanding numbers of migratory shorebirds and long-legged waders during the late summer and early fall. Most of the area is within the pool of Douglas Reservoir, and habitat conditions, the numbers and variety of birds present, and the area’s accessibility by birders are greatly dependent on the reservoir’s water level. Birding at Rankin Bottoms is very good at other times of the year. Much of the area is part of 1,255-acre Rankin Wildlife Management Area, which is managed by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for waterfowl. The majority of Tennessee’s ducks and geese have been found here in winter, along with Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swan, and a variety of sparrows. Gulls and terns can be also numerous on upper Douglas Lake. Nesting species include Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Red-headed Woodpecker, and abundant Wood Ducks, Green Herons, and Prothonotary Warblers. An immense nesting colony of cliff swallows can be seen under Rankin Bridge. This is the premier site in East Tennessee for warm season waterbirds including Wood Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Osprey, shorebirds, Cliff Swallow, and Prothonotary Warbler. In winter, permanent water features provide waterfowl habitat. In all, there have been a total of 89 waterbird species documented. Osprey nests are located on bridges, silos, towers and dead cottonwoods in the area. Large numbers of migrant songbirds are also present in spring and fall.
While in Cocke County you may want to take a ride over to the Houston Valley Recreation area for a short hike up to the Meadow Creek Fire Tower. Once there, climb the stairs up to the viewing platform for one of the most scenic views in the country.
Cocke County is also home to the world famous Ramp Festival, the oldest running festival in Tennessee. A spring event oriented to draw families with food prepared with ramps, music, arts & crafts and the Maid of Ramps contest. Several days before the festival, a group of ramp pluckers go out into the mountains to pick and clean the ramps in preparation for the event. The ramp is a scallion like perennial from the mountains and was first introduced to the European settlers by the Indians who taught the settlers how to cook the pungent ramps. It has long been said that ramps are a spring tonic that cleanses the system but beware of the strong pungent odor that is similar to that of garlic multiplied 100 times. This is just one of many festivals and arts and crafts fairs that are held each year in Cocke County, Tennessee.
The Appalachian Trail, completed in 1937:
- Is a privately managed unit of the national park system.
- Is the nation’s longest marked footpath, at approximately 2,181 miles.
- Is the first completed national scenic trail, designated in 1968.
- Crosses six other units of the national park system.
- Traverses eight national forests.
- Touches 14 states. Houses more than 2,000 occurrences of rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species at about 535 sites.
- Crosses numerous state and local forests and parks.
- Is maintained by 31 trail clubs and multiple partnerships.
Cocke County offers lodging ranging from a 4 diamond bed & breakfast, one of only 13 in the entire State of Tennessee, to primitive camping. There are a variety of things to see and do in this corner of East Tennessee so come visit us soon; stay for a day, a week or even a lifetime! We are conveniently located near Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee, with easy access to Interstate 40 and Interstate 81.
Cocke County is a very convenient place to visit coming from nearly any direction. I-40 and I-81 run through Cocke County making travel quick and easy.
We are minutes from attractions and shopping in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Knoxville, and also Ashville, Cherokee, and Hot Springs, N.C.
Anytime you decide to stay with us in Cocke County you will have plenty of things to occupy your time in county such as White Water Rafting, Hiking the Applachian Trail, Driving through the Parkway, going camping in Cosby Campground or one of our many campgrounds. Also we are surrounded by attractions like Nascar Speed Park, Ober Gatlinburg, Tanger Outlets, DollyWood Theme Park, Tyson-McGhee Airport, The Natural Hot Springs at Hot Springs, NC, Harrah’s Cherokee, and countless other places.