Quietly tucked away between Johnson City and Elizabethton, Tennessee, lies Milligan University. If you ask me, it’s a perfect location that puts you equally 10 minutes from town and 10 minutes from some of the best outdoor opportunities in the area—let alone the Southeastern United States. Milligan is in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, and exploring them can make you feel as though you are in your own sort of dreamscape. The mountains and twisting rivers of East Tennessee lay the foundations for plenty of extracurricular activities to choose from here at Milligan.

Mountains: Our Natural Playground

The mountains of East Tennessee present numerous opportunities for fun activities. Roughly 15 minutes from campus is Buffalo Mountain. Buffalo Mountain is very visible from Milligan, and I would even call it a trademark view of the campus and the source of our mascot. The park offers about seven different hiking routes ranging from 1.1 mile to 5.1 mile loops. There is something for everyone, whether it involves a quick hike to catch a sunset or a dedicated five-mile workout. Buffalo is also home to miles of ATV and mountain bike trails that the school’s cycling team uses for training and mock races. One of the best features of the trail system is the view that overlooks downtown Johnson City.

Looking to get off the grid for a few days? Backpacking is another great activity in East Tennessee, and we have the perfect environment for it. The Appalachian Trail twists through the whole area and provides stretches easily long enough for multi-day trips. One of my favorite routes is from Carvers Gap to 19E (about 16 miles). This route takes you over beautiful Roan Mountain and multiple balds; my favorite being Hump Mountain Bald—the scale of it is truly amazing. I highly recommend at least one trip when you are in an area as beautiful as East Tennessee. If you don’t have any equipment, the school does keep some gear on hand for students to use on trips. This is a great convenience!

Thankfully, if you are more interested in group events at these beautiful locations, there are plenty of ways to get involved at Milligan. Events such as mountain-top worship, organized hikes, and club retreats all take place on the beautiful mountains in the area. There is simply no better feeling than being on top of the world with a great group of friends.

Rivers & Lakes: Whitewater, Fishing, or a Casual Swim

Milligan is home to both a fly-fishing team and club—for good reason. Northeast Tennessee is home to numerous mountain streams, tailwaters, and lakes. The best part is the opportunities they bring for students.

The large river of our area is the Nolichucky. At 115 miles in length, it is one of the last free-flowing rivers of TN. The river offers whitewater rafting/kayaking, fishing, or just casual recreational opportunities. The level of the water changes depending on our weather, so certain times of year of are more ideal than others.

Two medium-size rivers that flow through our area are the South Holston and Watauga tailwaters—meaning they flow from a dam. The Watauga is also great for whitewater, where the South Holston is ideal for fishing. The temperature of each tailwater stays fairly consistent year-round, making each tailwater a great trout fishery. This area has been referred to as the “Montana of the East” in an article by T. Nickens, published in the well-known “Garden & Gun Magazine.” The tailwaters are filled with rainbow trout, brown trout, and striped bass at certain times of year. A fly rod or a conventional rod will get the job done! There are plenty of small streams all throughout the area, as well, that hold fish. Native brook trout are found in the highest of small mountain streams and hiking up to them is half of the adventure.

Wrap Up

At Milligan there is a perfect balance between quiet location and convenience to town. There really is an activity for everyone who attends the school. The outdoor opportunities are endless, whether you enjoy hiking, fishing, kayaking, photography, skiing, and the list goes on… Here at Milligan, the stunning region is your own personal playground, and the opportunities are simply endless. I encourage you to get outside and explore!

-Written by Robert Comfort (’21)

Northeast Tennessee Tourism. (2019, April 19). An Ode to the Beautiful Nolichucky River. In Northeast Tennessee. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from https://northeasttennessee.org/an-ode-to-the-beautiful-nolichucky-river/
Nickens, T. E. (2019, May). The Other Montana. Garden & Gun. Retrieved from https://gardenandgun.com/feature/the-other-montana/