Johnson City, Tennessee Shamrock Tour®

Text: Marisa McInturff • Photography: Caleb McInturff, Marisa McInturff

Johnson City lies just on the edge of the Cherokee National Forest in the northeastern corner of Tennessee. The city is claimed to be one of the first settled areas in the state, originating in the late 1700s, but it didn’t get its name until 1856 when Henry Johnson set up a train depot that joined three railway systems. The area quickly became a hub for travel and trade. These days, Johnson City is known for its nightlife, small local businesses, and quick access to lots of outdoor activities. For motorcyclists, this means there’s a lot to see and do in the evenings, and plenty of roads to explore during the day!

Vinegar Pie

We began our ride by heading west out of town, connecting backroads as we went and making our way through Fall Branch, Churchill, and Rogersville, all of which are very small towns near the major highways. We rode through farmlands and the beautiful Tennessee countryside all morning, only stopping a couple of times for photos. We turned onto Hwy 66, which heads north toward Sneedville, TN. The road began to tighten up as we zoomed through Stone Gap, quickly turning back and forth as it flowed over the mountain.

Vinegar pie is a southern dessert dating back as far as the 18th century. The pie comes from a family of recipes known as “desperation pies,” or pies made with more readily found ingredient substitutions, which were often baked by poorer families. Back in the day, finding citrus fruit was not always easy due to either supply or cost. Lemon pies were often made with vinegar as a substitute for lemon juice, which helps the pie keep its acidic taste despite not having access to all the proper ingredients. Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant is one of the very few places that still makes vinegar pie. Of course we had to pull in and check it out. 

The building smelled sweet and sour at the same time, and we knew we were in the right place to try the famous Clinch Mountain Vinegar Pie! We arrived just as the pies were cooling, so we tried them warm rather than the traditional cold version with whipped cream. The smooth yellow filling had a consistency similar to chess pie. It was very sweet yet left a tangy aftertaste, distinctive of its powerful lemon substitute.

As the sun beat down on us, we arrived at Elrod Falls, south of Sneedville. Elrod Falls is a three-stage waterfall with two upper cascades that require a strenuous climb to reach. The lower pool is deep enough to swim in and makes a perfect spot for a mid-ride plunge! After the refreshing dip, we turned south on Hwy 31, carving up the switchback corners through Flat Gap. Having barely missed a rain shower, the road was wet and the heat of the sun caused steam to slowly rise from the pavement. We wound our way back to Johnson City, making quick time to avoid the overwhelming afternoon humidity.

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