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  • Writer's pictureBrian Childress

Sycamore Shoals State Historical Park - Tennessee

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area is a state park located in Elizabethton, in Tennessee. The park consists of 70 acres situated along the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River, a National Historic Landmark where a series of events critical to the establishment of the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, and the settlement of the Trans-Appalachian frontier in general, took place. Along with the historic shoals, the park includes a visitor center and museum, the reconstructed Fort Watauga, the Carter Mansion (at a satellite location in Elizabethton) and Sabine Hill (also at a satellite location in Elizabethton). For over a thousand years before the arrival of European explorers, Sycamore Shoals and adjacent lands had been inhabited by Native Americans. The first permanent European settlers arrived in 1770, and established the Watauga Association—one of the first written constitutional governments west of the Appalachian Mountains—in 1772. Richard Henderson and Daniel Boone negotiated the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals in 1775, which saw the sale of millions of acres of Cherokee lands in Kentucky and Tennessee and led to the building of the Wilderness Road. During the American Revolution, Sycamore Shoals was both the site of Fort Watauga, where part of a Cherokee invasion was thwarted in 1776, and the mustering ground for the Overmountain Men in 1780.

Fort Watauga)

(Watauga River)


Visitors Center

The visitors' center at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area houses:

  • Interpretive displays about the area's history during the American Revolution

  • A theater offering free screenings of a short documentary film of the American Revolutionary War history pertaining to Sycamore Shoals and the Overmountain Men, as narrated by John Cullum

  • Park offices

  • Bookstore and gift shop.


Fort Watauga

A reconstruction of the 18th-century Fort Watauga is located behind the visitors center. The fort, originally called Fort Caswell, was originally built in the mid-1770s. The reconstructed fort's design is based on archaeological finds, scant historic descriptions of the fort, and the typical design of forts on the Appalachian frontier.

Gallery of photos


Watauga River

Gallery of photos



A 450-seat amphitheater at Sycamore Shoals is located immediately adjacent to the reconstructed fort. The amphitheater is the site of the Official Outdoor Drama of the State of Tennessee, Liberty: The Saga of Sycamore Shoals (formerly billed as The Wataugans).


Mountain River Trail

Gallery of photos

The 2-mile-loop, graveled Mountain River Trail follows the partially wooded south bank of the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River. Interpretive signs along the trail explain the various historical events that occurred at Sycamore Shoals.

Picnic pavilions

There are three handicapped accessible picnic shelters that can be reserved at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area. A picnic area with grills is also located beside the Visitor's Center.

Apollo 14 "Moon Tree”

The Sycamore Shoals State Historical Area is a recipient of a NASA sycamore "moon tree" that was grown from one of hundreds of tree seeds that were launched into space on board the Apollo 14 mission (Commander Alan Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell on January 31, 1971, as part of a joint project between NASA and the U.S. Forest Service. These moon tree seeds were packed in small containers and carried within astronaut Stuart Roosa's personal kit that orbited above the moon with Roosa in the Apollo 14

After returning to Earth, the hundreds of Apollo 14 moon tree seeds were germinated by the Forest Service, and later during April 1976, a single young sycamore tree was delivered to and planted at the Sycamore Shoals State Historical Area was part of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolutionary War.


The Carter Mansion

Gallery of photos

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and built between 1775 and 1780, the Carter Mansion may be the only surviving material link to the Watauga Association and is the oldest frame house standing in Tennessee. John Carter and his son, Landon, built the frontier mansion, and the finely detailed interior and over-mantle paintings place the mansion among the most significant historic houses in Tennessee.

John and Landon Carter were both prominent in political and military affairs, serving during the American Revolution and several conflicts with Native Americans. When Tennessee was admitted into the United States in 1796, Carter County was named for Landon Carter, and the county seat of Elizabethton was named for his wife, Elizabeth Maclin Carter.


Elizabethton Tenn. Covered Bridge

Gallery of photos

The Elizabethton Covered Bridge is a 134-foot covered bridge over the Doe River in Elizabethton, the county seat of Carter County, Tennessee. The Elizabethton Covered Bridge was constructed in 1882 and connects 3rd Street and Hattie Avenue.

Conversations/Things we learned:

This is a real gem for those who like history, like to hike, and/or simply enjoying a nice picnic with family and friends. The park was incredibly clean and manicured and the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable. Walking through Fort Watauga takes you back to the revolutionary time of the United States. The town of Elizabethton was also a very friendly and clean town and their covered bridge should also be a stopping point. You should go out of your way to visit this park.

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