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Perched high on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau is the tiny, artistic town of Monteagle, Tennessee. Local folk call the area “Monteagle Mountain” for the way the land sits on the narrowest part of the plateau at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Thanks to its peaceful setting, Monteagle has hosted retreat centers and folk schools for over 100 years. Its central location to some of Tennessee’s best hiking and waterfalls means it’s a mecca for outdoor lovers. If you’re ready to discover a place under the headlines in beautiful Tennessee, head to Monteagle for your next vacation escape.
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The Town of Monteagle
Driving into the city center of Monteagle, you’ll notice a distinct feel to the town. The main road is dotted with fascinating shops, small businesses, and gorgeous old churches, but you’ll also see the fields and farms common to rural Tennessee. Founded by John Moffat in the late 1800s, the town coalesced around the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly and its focus on spiritual and intellectual growth. Monteagle is proud of its artistic roots, but they’re just as proud of the small-town feel of their local diners and friendly neighbors.
Just a few miles down the road from Monteagle is Sewanee, the University of the South. I highly recommend taking a stroll through the university’s beautiful campus, which is filled with Hogwarts-like buildings made of stone. If you have time, take a quiet peek into the beautiful All Saints Chapel. The chapel has a touching tribute to the armed forces with lists of those from the college community who have served in U.S. wars. Stroll around the walls inside the building to see fascinating bits of history, like a stone from an abbey in Canterbury, England, and historical moments memorialized in stained glass windows. Free parking is available in university lots; just stick to the spaces designated for visitor parking.
Things to Do In Monteagle
The Monteagle area is the perfect place for quiet exploration and outdoor adventure. Here are some of the top activities to plan during your visit.
Sewanee Natural Bridge
This amazing natural feature is tucked off of a tiny residential road. When you visit, DON’T go through the large gate that is tantalizingly labeled “Castle Cliff Road” — it’s private real estate. Instead, turn left into the wooded parking lot and walk down a short trail to see the fascinating bridge that formed naturally from the area’s rocky geography. You can even walk across the bridge and down into the grotto underneath. However, there are no hand railings, so save this activity for older kids and adults. One of my favorite parts of this stop is the graffiti left by visitors for over 100 years. We even saw names that were chiseled into the rock in 1901! (Note: Don’t do this now. It is a state park, after all.)
South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland State Park is made up of nine separate sections of land in the Monteagle area. Each section has something delightful to offer outdoor enthusiasts. We hiked a short day loop at the north end of the Fiery Gizzard Trail (the entire trail is almost 12 miles long). As history buffs, we were delighted to find the remains of an old moonshine still and a Civilian Conservation Corps camp on the route. We visited on a hot day, and we saw several families enjoying the swimming holes along the trail.
Further up the road, you’ll find the Savage Gulf area of the park with Great Stone Door – something you have to see to believe. Drive to the Stone Door Trailhead and take the quick Laurel Falls Trail loop for a lovely view of the waterfall. Next, head down the Stone Door Trail. The first part of the path, which is paved and flat enough to be stroller-friendly, leads to an overlook with beautiful sightseeing (plus a colorblind-friendly viewfinder). If you are up for an adventure, continue on the trail as it gets more rugged and leads out onto stone outcroppings that offer sweeping vistas of the surrounding forests (once again, no hand railings, so best for older kids and adults). Finally, at the end of the path, you’ll arrive the Great Stone Door, a crack in the cliff that leads down to the gorge. Walk down the stone staircase to feel like you’re on a journey in The Lord of the Rings, but remember – you’ll have to hike back up!
The Monteagle and Sewanee areas both offer a variety of quirky shops with great finds. Head to Mountian Outfitters on Monteagle’s West Main Street for outdoor needs. They have any supplies you’ll need for hiking, camping, or kayaking in the area. Full Circle Candles features handmade, non-toxic soy wax candles that are infused with essential oils. Moonies Market is a great place to stop for organic dry goods, like cereals and snacks. They also have an eclectic selection of plants and yarn, and somehow it all feels just right. The town center of Sewanee Village, just down the road from the university, has a variety of gift stores and artisan shops. Head to Woody’s Bicycles to rent bikes for exploring, or visit The Lemon Fair for a curated selection of gifts (I had the best time browsing and wanted to buy All. The. Things.).
While you’re in the Monteagle area, don’t miss The Caverns, an underground concert venue that hosts dozens of local and national artists each year. While The Caverns does have an outdoor amphitheater, its notable feature is the large, subterranean concert hall that can host an audience of over 1,000 people. During the day, tours of the cave run every hour. Want a challenge? Try the Adventure Cave Tour, where guests will strap on helmets, headlamps, and knee pads for a deeper investigation of the cave.
Where to Eat In Monteagle
For fine dining, head to High Point Restaurant in Monteagle, a gourmet restaurant in an old stone mansion. The sprawling house was built in 1930 and allegedly played host to gangster Al Capone a number of times. The restaurant is an odd mix of fancy and casual, with an upscale menu paired with the kind of no-nonsense servers I would expect at a meat-and-three. When you sit down to dinner, be prepared to be blown away by the intense flavors. The menu is locally sourced and offers vegan entrees in addition to steak and chicken; my husband ordered a lion’s mane mushroom that had been picked locally, and he still raves about the dish. (Meanwhile, I’m still thinking about the cheese grits and the chocolate cake).
Mountain Goat Market is beloved by locals and tourists alike for its whimsical vibe, tasty food, and robust coffee menu. This is a great spot for family dining thanks to a wide variety of sandwiches, from the Ragin Cajun with chipotle Gouda and Cajun turkey to kid-friendly peanut butter and jelly. Go prepared to try something from their vast selection of baked goods (one of my favorite parts!). Due to the market’s popularity, the lines get long at lunchtime. I recommend arriving right when Mountain Goat Market opens at 11am.
Down in Sewanee Village, The Blue Chair is a charming place to enjoy a cafe breakfast and lunch during the early part of the day or a quick drink when the restaurant converts to a tavern in the evenings. The patio and community atmosphere are the best parts of this tiny restaurant; during our visit we overheard two academics from the university discussing medieval literature and upcoming research conferences. (And then one of the professors let us meet his dog!) Want someplace livelier to eat? Try Shenanigans, a favorite college hangout that is just around the corner.
Where to Stay
We enjoyed a peaceful stay at Terralodge, a community of small treehouses in an intimate setting a couple of miles away from Monteagle’s Main Street.
The Sewanee Inn is one of the best hotels for easy access to the university, and it offers an onsite restaurant, a 9-hole golf course, and complimentary bicycles. Rates vary widely depending on the university’s event schedule.
For a budget option, check out The Smokehouse Lodge, which has standard motel rooms in its lodge as well as private cabin rentals. The Smokehouse offers several family-friendly activities on site, including swimming, basketball, yard games, and a playground, plus live music.
Perched high on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, Monteagle is home to some of Tennessee’s best hiking and waterfalls. Go off the beaten path and see one of the most fascinating areas of Tennessee for your next vacation escape.
If you prefer a luxury escape, try the Monteagle Inn, a lovely bed and breakfast with beautiful grounds. The Retreat at Deer Lick Falls is a local tiny home community with a sister location in nearby Tracy City. The Edgeworth Inn is a cozy lodging option on the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly grounds.
Monteagle is about 45 minutes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and an hour and a half from Nashville. The Nashville International Airport is the closest major airport, with direct flights from Los Angeles on American, Alaska, Delta, Spirit, and Southwest Airlines. You’ll definitely want to rent a car to explore the area and experience everything Monteagle has to offer.
Start your research for flights through Expedia’s easy-to-navigate website.
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The mountaintop town of Monteagle may look like a small dot on the Tennessee map, but this beautiful stretch of land is an exquisite getaway destination for travelers looking for a peaceful escape. Whether you want a romantic weekend, a spiritual retreat, or an outdoor adventure for the whole family, you’ll find just the right fit in Monteagle.
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