Thick, eastern Tennessee hardwoods hug The Iron Mountain Inn, standing in glossy magnificence against a backdrop of green mountains and crystal clear brooks.

We pull into the circular drive of the Iron Mountain Inn after a two hour trip; the last 15 miles are up a beautifully winding highway that forms an arbor umbrella in the heart of the Cherokee National Forest, a spur of the Appalachians.

Converse on the
wraparound  deck.

Inn owner, Vicki, greets us on the porch of her gorgeous log cabin lodge.

The inn is a pillar of stability, exuding gentleness and comfort along with reliability. The large porch wraps around the entire structure, with tables, chaises, and a hammock on each side. Equipped with the occasional cat to greet guests, the inn welcomes us, luggage and all.

Vikki shows us through the air tight door where scents of fresh cut burning wood wafts through the inn, happily spitting out its fragrance. The reading and breakfast room is to the right, the kitchen to the left, with an all purpose room adjacent, making a full circle around the stairs.

Upstairs houses three bedrooms, two on the left, each room representing a time period of Vikki’s life and telling the story of what brought her to the sleepy town of Butler. All rooms have whirlpool tubs; the two outer rooms have balconies overlooking a small rock garden with a trickling stream through the middle.

Bedtime Repasts

We place our bags in our room and I proceed to the porch and the hammock for some relaxation before dinner. But first I pick a book off the shelf where travelers trade in their tomes for others, continuing on their journey with fresh reading material.

We talk for some time, Vikki and I, about why she lives in eastern Tennessee and what the deciding factors were in her building a bed and breakfast.

She loved horses for as long as she could remember. She used to ride in an annual celebration through the national forest. She is from the North but she loves the pristine stillness of the South and the area she was riding through. He husband passed away and she thought there was no better time to make the move.

Vikki lived in a small trailer on the property she had searched for endlessly; when the inn was completed she opened the doors to the public and she has loved it ever since.

While dining at the Cherry Hill restaurant in Butler that night we hear about great things. The owner ran a grocery several years earlier and decided to move to New Orleans and pick up the art of Cajun cooking. The Louisiana weather was unbearable and he moved back to the area, bought an early 1900s home in town and turned it into a gourmet treat for anyone walking through the door.

im lighting proves a perfect romantic treat for my fiancée and myself. There are only a few tables to each room and the quiet melodies of blues chirp from speakers in the corners as we taste blackened chicken, Cajun shrimp, bean soup, warm bread, and a banana dessert that is presented in front of us by the chef.  He shuts off the lights to exaggerate the lit brandy; he spouts entertaining ghost stories about the old house.

The Inn sits at 3000 feet above sea level and that night an amazing thunderstorm strikes, and at that elevation each roll of thunder shakes the very screws and nails that hold the building together. What an electrifying experience.

We rise to the smell of an all out buffet style breakfast and watch the sun fight the fog back into the mountains and cast shadows on the still wet porch.

Tennessee State Atlas & Gazetteer
Since arriving, Watauga Lake has me curious, and I hear rumors about its transparent waters and terrific scenery. We schedule an appointment with the owner of Fish Springs Marina and we are riding in a pontoon boat a few hours later. The water spins in a seltzer-like whirlpool underneath the boat as we speed off in a hunt for the old town of Butler, Tennessee.

The jailhouse is nearly visible at over one hundred feet below the surface of the crystalline water, and it is a churning, bubbly remnant of a city long since moved up mountain. A few other buildings that the government decided not to tear down swim under the third cleanest (manmade) lake held back by one of the world’s largest earthen dams.

“I’m not sure where we heard that from,” the owner of Fish Springs Marina tells us, after he decides to take the afternoon off and join us on a tour of the majestic body of water. It is as if we are peering into a million gallon fish tank.

The library is enlightening.

There are three marinas on the lake, closely watched by the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) to ensure perfect environmental conditions, but Fish Springs is the oldest. All the pontoon rentals are checked out for the day, but a tour guide that works out of the marina lets us borrow his beautiful boat and we ride for over three hours, watching wildlife scrounge for food on the banks.

The town of Butler was projected as a larger town than Knoxville at one time. However, constant flooding, courtesy of the river, stifled growth. The TVA pushed for cheaper, more efficient energy with hydroelectric plants and damming up waters along the Tennessee river in the early 60’s. Butler and their river were the first project. And so became Watauga Lake .

Tennessee River Country: A Glovebox Guide to TVA Places for Family Fun
The intriguing story and the spectacle of the lake tells the true tale. We pull into a shallow 40 foot cove to see a trickling waterfall; I see freshwater fish frolicking on the bottom of the lake. It is breathtaking. Many more hours are spent with our kind and friendly guide before packing it in for the day.

The Cherokee National Forest has a rich history that now includes The Iron Mountain Inn, which is building a reception cabin along the lake shore that will accommodate parties of various sizes, including wedding services. Visit Vikki at

— By John Ross. Tennessee Correspondent.

Adventure Guide to Tennessee

Adventure Guide to Tennessee

Adventure involves not only rugged outdoor activity but also sightseeing. Tennessee is an area rich in history and culture. There are hundreds of interesting places to see and historic sites to visit. You can drive the backcountry roads in search of a new experience or shop at antique stores and gift shops. Tennessee also offers new experiences in fine dining and opulent hotels.

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Fodor's USA Road Guide: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee

A Cruising Guide to the Tennessee River, Tenn-Tom Waterway, and Lower Tombigbee River

Tennessee's Historic Landscapes: A Traveler's Guide

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee: A Month by Month Guide to Natural Events

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The Land of Saddle-Bags : A Study of the Mountain People of Appalachia (Reprint)

The Spirit of Appalachia : Over the Misty Mountains, Beyond the Quiet Hills, Among the King's Soldiers

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Fly Fishing Guide To The Great Smoky Mountains (Book) by Don Kirk

Adventure Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains

Mountain Bike! South Appalachian & Smoky Mountains (Book) by Steve Jones

100 Secrets of the Smokies: A Guide to the Best Undiscovered Places in the Great Smoky Mountains Area

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