If you ask a Tennessean where they are from, the answer is never as simple as “Tennessee.” Tennessee is divided by the Tennessee River into three “Grand Divisions”: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. These three regions are set apart by more than geography; they have unique histories, politics, and identities.
East Tennessee is defined by the Appalachian Mountains and their foothills. The culture in this region was historically that of small farms, isolated mountain communities, and Scotch-Irish heritage. East Tennessee is the least racially diverse part of the state. It opposed secession during the Civil War and votes overwhelmingly Republican.
Within East Tennessee are two geographic regions. The Unaka Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, which peak along the state’s border with North Carolina. This zone includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park . It is also where you will find Clingmans Dome , which at 6,643 feet above sea level is the highest point in Tennessee.
West of the Unaka Mountains is the Great Valley of East Tennessee, home to Knoxville  and Chattanooga. This region is characterized by picturesque low ridges and a wide, fertile valley.
Middle Tennessee is home to Tennessee’s capital city, Nashville , and some of its most fertile farmland. Before the Civil War, great plantation mansions dotted the countryside south of Nashville. Today, Tennessee Walking Horse farms, new industries, and the economic success of Nashville continue to make Middle Tennessee prosperous.
Geographically, Middle Tennessee begins with the Cumberland Plateau, which rises to about 2,000 feet above sea level and lies west of East Tennessee’s Great Valley. Despite its name, the plateau is not flat; there are a number of steep valleys in the plateau, the largest being the Sequatchie Valley.
The Highland Rim is a region of hills, valleys, and fertile farmland that lies west of the plateau. The largest physical region of Tennessee, the Highland Rim contains some 10,650 square miles of land, or almost 25 percent of the state. Almost entirely surrounded by the Highland Rim is the Central Basin, a low, flat, and fertile region in north-central Tennessee. Nashville  is located in the Central Basin.
West Tennessee is more like the Deep South than any other part of the state. Mostly flat and rural, this was the epicenter of the state’s cotton industry both before and after the Civil War. The Gulf Coastal Plain, an area of 9,000 square miles, is drained by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Memphis  lies in the southwestern corner of this area.