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Like many of the state’s major bodies of water, Douglas Lake is a man-made reservoir that was the result of the Tennessee Valley Authority creating the Douglas Dam from the French Broad River in the 1940s to provide hydroelectric power and help with flood control in the Tennessee River Valley. Renowned for its fishing — it’s one of the top spots in the nation for largemouth bass and crappie, thus drawing major fishing competitions to the area — Douglas Lake is 45 minutes’ drive due east of Knoxville, a magnet to its sparkling waters in warmer months for weekend warriors from the city as well as out-of-state vacationers.
Covering more than 28,400 square acres of surface area, the lake straddles Hamblen, Cocke, Jefferson, and Sevier counties, and is also conveniently positioned for Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — an easy day trip if you’re looking to get away and out of the water. Dandridge is the largest town along the lake, while Baneberry is one of Douglas Lake’s big vacation rental hubs. Newport, just south of the lake, also has numerous cabins and rental options.
The closest airport to Douglas Lake is McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Alcoa, 44 miles west of Dandridge, which has daily nonstop service to cities across the United States. Just over the border in North Carolina, 88 miles southeast of Dandridge, is Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), another small airport with daily service to many U.S. cities. You’ll need to rent a car to get to and around Douglas Lake as there’s no public transportation, though there are limited rideshare services available around the lake area.
With Tennessee’s relatively mild climate, May through October are prime months for enjoying Douglas Lake. While summers bring in throngs of people, the lake is large enough to accommodate crowds without feeling like you’re vacationing with strangers. Fall is gorgeous and, due to the elevation in East Tennessee, tends to arrive earlier in this part of the state than the rest, with the leaves hitting peak color in early-to-mid-October.
Some attractions are only open seasonally in the summer months, while others, such as the Forbidden Caves, have a slightly longer season from April through November. Winter can be cold and gray, but on the plus side, the annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest Celebration illuminates Sevier County’s Parkway with more than five million lights from mid-November through mid-February.
One of Tennessee’s defining features is its cavernous topography, which can be explored subterraneously via any of the state’s many caves that are open to the public. Centuries ago, the Eastern Woodland Indians used the Forbidden Caverns as a water source and for shelter in the winter; later, moonshiners concealed the fruits of their labors here. Today, you can take a guided tour to see the grottos, stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave features for yourself.
A project in the works for the better part of a century, the Foothills Parkway will eventually serve as a 72-mile-long scenic road on the perimeters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Currently, you can pick it up in nearby Wears Valley and drive the completed section to Walland for picture-perfect glimpses of the Smokies in all their glory.
This 50,000-square-foot museum specializes in World War II warbirds with a healthy collection of military vehicles, trainers, fighter jets, helicopters, and amphibious aircraft. Take a self-guided tour through aviation history via the facility’s educational exhibits and knowledgeable docents.