15 Free Things to Do in Johnson City, TN

Did you know Johnson City extends from Washington County to Carter and Sullivan Counties in Tennessee?

Located on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the city is the eighth-largest city in the state.

Its first known white settler was William Bean, a pioneer and a Longhunter, who built a cabin at the junction of Boone’s Creek in 1769.

In 1856, Henry Johnson established a railroad station called Johnson Depot in what would become Johnson City, which eventually became a central rail hub.

It was incorporated in 1869 with Henry Johnson as the first mayor.

Today, the city is known for its incredible outdoor attractions, including parks, historical sites, nature trails, and museums.

It’s also known for its vibrant and welcoming downtown area, where people connect through shopping, music, dining, and many more.

It is more exciting because one can enjoy the city’s best attractions for free!

Here’s a round-up of the free things to do in Johnson City, Tennessee:

Read a Book at Johnson City Public Library

Exterior of Johnson City Public Library
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An hour or two of reading is enough for a bookworm.

If traveling to the city, check out the Johnson City Public Library.

The library houses a vast selection of books for kids, teens, and adults in different genres and great resources for e-books, audiobooks, DVDs, and more.

The reading nooks have natural light from the windows, where you can see the views of the mountains.

Front view of Johnson City Public Library's exterior
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There’s also an outdoor reading area, a spot for teens, and a kids’ area.

You can have your reading session here with comfort through the help of the librarians.

Established in 1895, Johnson City Public Library is on West Millard Street.

Looking in Johnson City Public Library's window
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Drop by the Johnson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Drop by the Johnson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to finalize your itinerary.

Here, you can plan your activities and get help from the travel staff for itineraries, especially in checking out the city’s best-kept secrets.

You can get a visitors guide whether you’re a traveling family, solo, or a couple.

The visitor center has travel guides and maps to help you get around the city.

Visit Johnson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at Buffalo Street, right in the city’s heart.

Explore Buffalo Mountain Park

The outdoor attractions at Johnson City are among the best in the world, including Buffalo Mountain Park, which offers impressive hikes.

The 725-acre park is a natural area surrounded by forested land and steep topography but leads to panoramic views of the Tennessee Valley and Unicoi Valley.

It could be a little tough for the kids or inexperienced hikers, but the hilly terrain makes a great exercise and adventure.

The trails are well-marked, and there’s also a picnic area at the top with a few benches to sit on.

It offers incredible green foliage throughout the hike, but the fall colors here are great and are a sight to behold!

Buffalo Mountain Park was established in 1994.

You can find its trailhead on High Ridge Road.

Ride a Boat on Boone Lake

The waters of Boone Lake
Dee Browning / Shutterstock.com

For paddlers, Johnson City also has something fun and exciting!

There’s a public boat ramp at Blevins Boat Ramp, where you can launch your canoe, kayak, or boat to paddle on Boone Lake.

Enjoy paddling in the lake while taking advantage of the fresh air away from the big city.

Prepare your equipment and head to Blevins to launch your boat!

Boone Lake is a public reservoir maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Browse the Johnson City Public Art

Thanks to the city’s massive support for local artists, the Johnson City Public Art program was born and championed by the Public Art Committee.

See the permanent artworks scattered throughout downtown Johnson City such as sculptures, murals, and quote stones, traffic wrap artworks, among others.

You don’t need to spend much effort to see these public artworks, as you can do this while exploring downtown.

Explore the area, see these beautiful masterpieces made by local artists, and enjoy an ice cream or drink while checking out these artworks.

Johnson City Public Art also celebrates the Art Struck Festival in April with many art-related activities for all ages.

Spend the Day at Willow Springs Park

If you’re traveling with family, enjoy a picnic at Willow Springs Park, which offers picnic tables.

If you prefer sitting on the grass, you only have to lay down your blanket and enjoy the scenery and relaxing atmosphere.

There’s also a little pond filled with turtles and ducks that kids will love.

The 36-acre park also has a train and village theme playground so the kids can play and interact with others.

You can also enjoy the walking trails with gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains.

Willow Springs Park was established in 1998 on Huffine Road.

Join the Blue Plum Festival

Balloon mascot at the Blue Plum Festival
Donald R Slaughter / Shutterstock.com

Every June, thousands of visitors gather in downtown Johnson City to celebrate the Blue Plum Festival, one of the biggest outdoor festivals in the South.

The festival features live performances by musicians of different genres, art exhibitions, craft beer samples, a bike race, a 5k Blue Plum fast walk and run, and many more.

The kids can also enjoy playing Water Wars with other children attending with their families.

Bike race at the Blue Plum Festival
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There will be food vendors showcasing their specialties.

The Blue Plum Festival commemorates the early history of Johnson City since its humble beginnings in the 1800s.

Inflatable tent at the Blue Plum Festival
Donald R Slaughter / Shutterstock.com

Join the Fridays After 5 Concert Series

In the summer, the Fridays After 5 Concert Series occurs at King Commons in downtown Johnson City, which is open to the public.

Every Friday in May until the first week in August, musicians of different genres grace the park’s bandshell to entertain anyone visiting the place.

Bring your lawn chair or blanket to sit on and enjoy the show!

This would be a great spot to spend time with your family and friends, have a picnic, and listen to good live music.

The Fridays After 5 Concert Series is organized by Connect Downtown Johnson City.

Join the Wildabout Walkabout Scavenger Hunt

Everyone is invited to join the adventure at the Wildabout Walkabout Scavenger Hunt, which features 15 bronze animal sculptures.

These sculptures are scattered throughout downtown, in the historic district, King Commons, the library, and many other locations.

The animal sculptures were made by the art students of East Tennessee State University, which were all inspired by the Wildabout mural at King Commons.

Animals include a cicada, a red fox, an osprey, a beaver, a rock bass, a ladybug, and a turtle, among others.

The Wildabout Walkabout Scavenger Hunt clues are downloadable on your mobile, or you can get hard copies at any of the four locations downtown.

Grab your copies at the Johnson City Public Library, Little Animals Brewing, Olsen’s Martial Arts Academy, CakeBuds, and The King Centre.

This would be a perfect activity for the whole family while exploring downtown Johnson City!

Explore Winged Deer Park

The waters of Winged Deer Park
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Spanning 200 acres of natural areas, landscape, and unique green spaces, the Winged Deer Park is a haven for anyone who wants the outdoor vibe.

The district park offers excellent outdoor activities for families and solo travelers, such as picnics, scenic strolls, Frisbee, boating, and more.

You can explore the well-maintained trails to discover the wonders of Johnson City with sweeping views of the lake.

If you’re into Frisbee, the park features an 18-hole disc golf course where you can play with your family or friends.

A sculpture at Winged Deer Park
LEVATEC / Shutterstock.com

In addition, there are lighted sports fields that many local athletes use for practice and tournaments, including sand volleyball courts and soccer fields, among others.

The park also has a public boat ramp for kayaking, canoeing, and boating on Boone Lake.

Winged Deer Park was established in 1991 and is located on Bristol Highway.

Boardwalk trail at Winged Deer Park
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Catch the Johnson City Sunset at Sunset Point

Located in the scenic Buffalo Mountain Park, Sunset Point is the best spot to see the golden hour in Johnson City.

Hike up the White Rock loop trail, then a short walk to the overlook, where you can wait for sundown and witness the sun sink over the pretty skyline.

While waiting for the golden hour, a few benches are in the area, offering open views to the west.

The short hike to Sunset Point doesn’t take more than 15 minutes.

The path is dark and steep, so you may need to bring a flashlight, torch, or any portable light to guide your way down.

Get Closer to Nature at Jacob’s Nature Park

A beautiful wetland area, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife make up the 28-acre Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek.

If you’re a nature lover, the park is your ultimate place to visit when in town.

It’s a certified wildlife habitat with many species of birds, frogs, fish, salamanders, and butterflies, as well as native plants and wildflowers.

There’s also an arboretum at the park’s boundary, adding to its natural vibes.

The park was named for Jacob Francisco in 2016, a six-year-old boy who died in 2004 from an E. Coli infection contracted from an unknown source.

The Sinking Creek, where the park is located, underwent restoration in 2008 to eliminate the E. Coli bacteria in the ten-mile stream.

Ride a Bike at Tweetsie Trail

Entrance arch of Tweetsie Trail
Donald R Slaughter / Shutterstock.com

Tweetsie Trail offers easy and flat trails for traveling cyclists that are great for bikers of any skill level.

The ten-mile trail follows an old railroad and consists of beautiful woodlands, pastures, green foliage, overlooks, forest-like hills, and meandering paths.

You will pass seven bridges along the way, a large pond, and an excellent overlook of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains.

Wooden railings along Tweetsie Trail
Donald R Slaughter / Shutterstock.com

The trail connects Johnson City to Elizabethton; both are homes to iconic and historical sites such as the Sycamore Shoals State Historical Park, located just off the path.

Tweetsie Trail is a refuge for cyclists who want to take a break from the city’s noise.

Its trailhead is located at the corner of Alabama and Legion Streets.

Bridge along Tweetsie Trail
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Take the Kids to the Splash Pad at Rotary Park

Another jewel in Johnson City is Rotary Park, famous for kids with its seasonal splash pad and a nice playground area.

The park’s dedicated splash pad is open for the kids to cool off when you’re in town on Memorial Day through Labor Day.

There are also picnic tables for the entire family while the kids enjoy the water.

The vast green space at the park is also used for organized games.

The 10.4-acre property was donated to the city by the Carnegie Realty Company in 1908, and in 1956, the park was dedicated as Rotary Park.

The park is located between North Broadway and Oakland Avenue.

Step Back in Time at Reece Museum

Located in East Tennessee State University, the Reece Museum tells the story of the Appalachian Region, which includes more than 22,000 local artifacts and archives.

The museum also showcases rotating cultural and art exhibits, honoring the region’s early history.

If you want a slice of history, get it at the museum.

Reece Museum was donated by the Reece family in 1961 and was named after the late Congressman Brazilla Carroll Reece.

You can find it on the university campus on Stout Drive.

Final Thoughts

Johnson City is one of the state’s crowning jewels regarding history, culture, and the arts.

The city is more attractive to tourists because of its unique location, sitting on the foothills of the mountains with gorgeous attractions.

Experience the free things to do in Johnson City, Tennessee!


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