Planning a road trip in Tennessee (or a road trip to Tennessee as part of a longer road trip in the Southern USA)? Tennessee road trips will take you from one iconic American location to another whether it’s the Great Smoky Mountains, country music hub Nashville or Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Together with several travel experts, we have put together places to road trip Tennessee whether you do it in one big trip or several smaller trips using these locations as hubs for seeing the attractions nearby. There are plenty of places to visit in Tennessee so happy planning!
Why Road Trip Tennessee?
Tennessee is long and narrowish with 8 other states on its boundary! Although Tennessee is only 112 miles wide, it stretches 432 miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.
With a border touching on the state of Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri, a road trip to Tennessee is easy to organise. There are so many opportunities for a weekend getaway to Tennessee from these neighbouring states. Moreover there are plenty of attractions packed into these borders for all types of travellers such as history enthusiasts, foodies, whiskey drinkers and music lovers.
There are so many things to do in Tennessee road trips and so many places to visit in Tennessee, you will be spoiled for choice whatever your travel style. For example, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most visited national parks in the USA, is heaven for outdoor lovers and Nashville is the center of the country music universe.
For a small state, Tennessee has had an outsize influence on the exporting of American culture worldwide. Tennessee is the home of national treasure, Dolly Parton, and her theme park, Dollywood. And, that other national treasure who changed American music forever, Elvis and his theme park, Graceland. And, its Tennessee innovation that created Tennessee Whiskey!
And, there’s lots of quirky cool stuff too! Just in case you though replicas of Old World structures in Tennessee was limited to the steel Memphis Pyramid, there’s also a concrete Parthenon in Nashville. Did I mention the recreation of the Titanic in Pigeon Forge?
The Best Stops on A Road Trip in Tennessee
We have done several Tennessee road trips, such as the visit from nearby Alabama to check out the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
So we called in some travel experts to tell us what stops we should be making on our Tennessee road trip!
Visiting Chattanooga Tennessee
Located in southeastern Tennessee in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is a true hidden gem and an outdoor-lovers paradise. Oftentimes overshadowed by Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Nashville, Chattanooga is a must-stop on your next Southern United States Road trip itinerary.
Start off your visit by touring the Jack Daniels Distillery (1.5 hours away) and tasting some true Tennessee Whiskey. After your tour, head to downtown Chattanooga to walk over one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges, Walnut Street Bridge, and grab a bite to eat at one of the many festive outdoor patios within walking distance.
If feeling adventurous, be sure to explore the nearby state parks (Fall Creek Falls and South Cumberland State Park) to marvel at the amazing waterfalls and hike the well-maintained trails. On your way back to town, be sure to stop at Lookout Winery for wine tasting with a view!
Finally, end your Chattanooga visit with a trip to Rock City Gardens. Rock City is a magical walking path built upon (and through) rocks. With many photo ops, a swinging bridge, great views, and a restaurant on top, you could spend all day exploring.
Although you will have many options as to where to stay, I recommend staying at Treetops Hideaway. A unique accommodation in the trees, but still close to all the action.
As you can see, the beauty and adventures of Chattanooga will leave you feeling refreshed, connected, and wanting to extend your Southern road trip!
– by Jordan Wohlwend
Trips to Gatlinburg Tennessee
Gatlinburg is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations among tourists in Tennessee. Known at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is home to a host of exciting attractions and is a perfect stop on a southern road trip.
Gatlinburg is a destination with something for everyone.
There are plenty of family-friendly attractions, from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to the Gatlinburg Sky Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in North America.
Those traveling without kids will enjoy tastings at the famous moonshine distilleries – Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands are two of the best. You can also spend a day outlet shopping or visiting the fun museums and dinner shows in neighboring Pigeon Forge or get in touch with nature while hiking in the national park. For those seeking a bit of adventure, Anakeesta is an outdoor adventure park with zip lining, a treetop skywalk, a mountain coaster, and more.
You can’t visit Gatlinburg without taste testing the delicious southern cuisine. Getting breakfast at one of the town’s pancake houses is a Gatlinburg tradition. For delicious southern staples like fried chicken and country ham, there’s no better place than The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge.
There are many great places to stay in and around Gatlinburg, but the best way to experience the town is by staying in one of the cabins in the surrounding mountains. There are tons of different options – you can find and book a cabin on sites like Airbnb or VRBO. If you’d prefer something that’s within walking distance of Gatlinburg’s downtown attractions, Baskins Creek Condominiums has spacious condos as well as free parking.
– by Sydney Richardson in A World in Reach
Things To Do Knoxville, Tennessee
Located near the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville, is one of the cool places to visit in Tennessee, thanks to the young college crowd from the University of Tennessee craft beer and coffee.
How can you not love a city that hosts an annual dog parade called Mardi Growl? Maybe lacking the history and tradition of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but totally on point for cuteness.
Things to do in Knoxville include checking out its great food scene especially for all sorts of southern dishes like barbecue at Sweet P’s BBQ in downtown Knoxville. The variety is huge from fine dining to cheap cafes. Make sure to check out Stock & Barrel for delicious farm-to-table fare and Wild Love Bakehouse, deemed one of the best bakeries in the USA!
Knoxville is also home to a whole lot of craft breweries making for a lively bar scene. Knoxville is sport crazy so that also drives a lot of entertainment!
Other great things to do in Knoxville include walking in the charming downtown area such as Market Square or walking in World’s Fair Park. Head to the top of The Sunsphere to get a bird’s eye view of Knoxville. Market Square Farmer’s Market is one of the many farmers markets in Knoxville.
Near Knoxville Tennessee you have other road trip Tennessee stops like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Take your road trip in Tennessee out of state to North Carolina. Knoxville is a mere two hour drive from Asheville with its many attractions including The Biltmore Estate, built by a Vanderbilt who skipped the family memo to build a mansion in Newport Rhode Island.
Sightseeing Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee is one of the jewels of the American South. Located along the Mississippi River, it has a long history as an important river port. Today, many of the riverfront warehouses are empty, but the city retains much of its charm.
Memphis is best known for two things: music and food. This combination has attracted tourists to the city in flocks, and led to redevelopment of the downtown area with the influx of tourism dollars.
You will want to stay downtown, as most of what you’ll want to see will then be within a fairly easy walk of your hotel. If able, stay at the historic Peabody Hotel and watch the morning march of the ducks into its lobby fountain. Just arrive early as seating is hard to come by.
Most tourists will visit Beale Street and its countless clubs with live music. Beale Street is crowded and loud, and most of the clubs have cover charges, but just walking along the street at night will expose you to the Memphis Blues!
For the best in the Memphis music scene, visit Sun Studio, the famous recording studio that launched countless careers including the city’s most famous former resident: Elvis Presley. The tour of the studio lasts about an hour, and will be one of your Memphis highlights! There is even a free shuttle for tour-takers from Sun Studio to Elvis’ Graceland mansion, a wonderful (but very expensive) look into the life of The King.
If all of this music makes you hungry, stop by Rendezvous for the original Memphis BBQ. The restaurant is largely unchanged over the past several decades, and that’s a good thing. Your waiter will know more about the city than the average person in the tourism office. For more, check out my interview with John Vergos, the owner of Rendezvous.
Finally, one can’t leave Memphis without spending a few hours at the National Civil Rights Museum. Built into the facade of the Lorraine Motel – where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – the museum is a living tribute to the American civil rights struggle, a struggle that continues today. By midday the line for the museum can be long, so plan accordingly.
No matter what you choose to do, Memphis is an incredible city, definitely worth a visit.
– by Jonathan at The Royal Tour Blog
Things To Do in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is one of THE places to visit in Tennessee for any music lover, after all its nickname is Music City. Some of the music things to do in Nashville Tennessee include the Country Music Hall of Fame and the world-famous Music Row district, with its stores and music. On the Honky Tonk Highway, lots of venues provide live music all day. You can even bring kids during the day until the evening when the over 21 years of age rule kicks in.
There are so many things to do in Nashville Tennessee even if you are not a country music lover. Nashville has beautiful botanical gardens at the Cheekwood Estate. Visit trendy 12 South District, a small area packed with shopping and dining, including the Draper James store owned by actress Reese Witherspoon.
Just like Huntsville in Alabama, there’s lots of murals to fulfil any Instagram feed needs. And, really you can’t miss The Parthenon, a full-scale replica from 1897 of the original Parthenon in Greece – well at least, the bits of the Parthenon not currently hosted in the British Museum in London.
While you are in Nashville Tennessee make sure you have some famous Nashville Hot Chicken – spice fried chicken served with bread and pickles. First made famous by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in North Nashville, hot chicken is now ubiquitous in the city.
Disha Smith from Disha Discovers writes:
One of the most iconic stops on any Southern road trip in the United States is Nashville, Tennessee. Known as “Music City,” Nashville is brimming with fun things to do for every traveler. Even if you’re not a fan of country music, there are still plenty of adventures to be had in this lively city.
There are several reasons to add Nashville to your Southern road trip itinerary.First of all, Nashville is home to an incredible culinary scene. From local dishes to cuisine from around the world, you won’t be disappointed.Second, the city has a laid-back and inviting vibe to it. The locals are friendly and they love giving recommendations to tourists.Moreover, there is an endless number of things to do in Nashville. You can spend the day at museums or you can enjoy your afternoon dancing to country music.
Last but not least, the scenery around Nashville is beautiful. You’ll be surrounded by rolling hills and a stunning downtown skyline.
If you’re interested in the country music scene, be sure to check out Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Johnny Cash Museum, and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Spend the evening dancing away at one of the many honky-tonks that line the infamous street of Broadway.Should you be interested in learning about the state of Tennessee and its history, spend an hour or two at the Tennessee State Museum.An absolute must in Nashville is to see the Parthenon. This is a full-size replica of the Parthenon in Greece and you can take a tour inside.
Also, spend the day doing a self-guided mural tour. There are several colorful murals scattered around the city that are Instagram-worthy. After that, do a little brewery hopping. The craft beer scene in Nashville is amazing.
Lastly, Nashville is home to several great hotels in equally great locations. One of the best places to stay is SpringHill Suites by Marriott in the Downtown area. It’s within walking distance to tons of restaurants and bars.
Discover Rocky Fork State Park Tennessee
Rocky Fork State Park is a hidden gem of a state park in eastern Tennessee not too far from the North Carolina border.
It’s the perfect day trip from Asheville any time of year. If you want to swim though, summer is best. It’s an amazing park to enjoy fall colors and do some hiking. And even though it may be cold in winter, it’s not very busy so you’ll likely have some trails to yourself (even in fall, believe it or not!)
It’s a popular park for fishing, but there are about 20 miles of hiking trails in the park, too. The further in you go, the fewer people you’ll see. The Flint Creek Trail is about two miles and takes you to a site marking the battle between the Cherokee and John Sevier. This is my favorite trail in the park. You could easily spend all day here but if you’re limited on time, half a day should be plenty.
There is no entrance fee for the park. If you want to go and like biking, there are biking trails here, too. AND if you like Geocaching you’ll be able to find some of them in and around the park as well. It’s a great little state park tucked away in the Tennessee mountains.
– by Megan Johnson at Red Around The World
Explore The Great Smoky Mountains
The legendary Smoky Mountains, on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, are a must-see on any southern road trip. The rolling hills, and blue hues that give them their nickname, provide unparalleled beauty to enjoy.
If you base yourself in Gatlinburg, this offers you great proximity to the best scenic drives in the Smokies. There are a good range of hotels in Gatlinburg center, such as the Bearskin Lodge on the River; or you could choose a cabin in the hills for a true Smoky Mountain experience.
While in the Smokies, make sure you visit Clingmans Dome, the observation tower offers amazing views out over Newfound Gap – get there early to avoid the crowds.
Don’t miss a picnic at Cades Cove, where you can see historic mountain cabins and see how the pioneers of the area lived.
If there is one route you shouldn’t miss, the 33-mile-long Foothills Parkway from Wear Valley to Lake Chilhowee provides superb vistas to enjoy from the overlooks.
There are plenty of hikes for all fitness levels.
- The short and easy Laurel Falls Trail is only 3.9kms and perfect for beginners and families.
- If you enjoy chasing waterfalls, there are some moderate hikes to Grotto and Abrams Falls that will occupy you for 2-3 hours.
- Or visit The Sinks along the Little River Road for a no-hike falls view.
If nature isn’t your thing, why not visit the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg or the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge.
– by Hannah Henderson of Hannah Henderson Travel
Tennessee Road Trip Stops Mapped
Here’s our suggestion of Tennessee road trip stops mapped out. Our Tennessee road map with cities and attractions shows you have close (or far) things are to each other so that you can better plan your road trip in Tennessee.
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