The 11 Best Road Trips From Memphis

Published On 06/01/2015 Published On 06/01/2015

No matter how amazing a town is (and Memphis is inarguably one of the best), there are times when you get that itch that can only be scratched by filling the car up with gas, loading a three-hour-long playlist, and getting the hell out of Dodge. And whether it’s exploring the more eastern bits of Tennessee, crossing the state line into Mississippi, or driving over the bridge to Arkansas, adventure ain’t far away. Here are the 11 great regional destinations to hit.

Holly Whitfield 

Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

Distance from Memphis: 17 miles, 25-minute drive
Meeman-Shelby Forest is the closest and cheapest place to escape city life completely. The hilly Woodland Trail, near the visitors center, has three interlocking loops so you can run, walk, or hike 1, 3, or 4 miles (or any multiple thereof if you’re feeling extra CrossFit). Seasonal summer rangers lead nature hikes, pontoon boat rides on Poplar Tree Lake, and occasional canoe trips in the cypress swamps. The Shelby Forest General Store is a great place to load up on snacks or get a juicy burger. Stop by on Friday nights for steak and live bluegrass. There’s also an olympic-sized pool that almost no one knows about. Do with that information what you will.

Water Valley, MS

Distance from Memphis: 85 miles, 90-minute drive
There’s a lot going on in water Valley, especially arts-wise as many have escaped the high real-estate prices in Oxford. But it’s still a small town -- population 3,700. Start your day with some grub at B.T.C. -- it’s an old-fashioned grocery with big city food (check out the vintage flea market inside too). Then go next door to Yalo Studio -- a working artist's studio and gallery that’s about the size of a boxcar, but brings in work from around the world. North Mississippi’s only brewery, Yalobusha, brews five year-round regulars and several seasonals. The taproom is only open on Friday and Saturday with tasting tours available. There’s also live music every Friday and game days every Saturday. Finally, check out the Casey Jones Railroad Museum. It’s totally free. Finally, hit The Crawdad Hole for boiled shrimp and crawfish.

Flickr/Sheila Brennan

Village Creek State Park

Distance from Memphis: 50 miles, one-hour drive
Arkansas' second-largest state park is right over the Mississippi Bridge on Crowley’s Ridge. The rolling hills and hardwood forest are great for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There are lakes for fishing and boating. There’s even a hardcore 27-hole, Andy Dye signature golf course. There are beautiful views, a swinging bridge, and the longest preserved section of the Trail of Tears. Three-bedroom cabins are available for $95-$140 per night.

Flickr/JR P

Holly Springs, MS

Distance from Memphis: 50 miles, one-hour drive
You can get a taste of history, home cooking, and hill country music all in one short drive. Park your car and take a walking tour of Holly Springs’ antebellum homes, then grab a steaming-hot burger over at Phillips Grocery. There are several museums to choose from too -- The Kate Freeman Clark Museum, Marshall County Historical Museum, and the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum. Don’t forget the Hillcrest Cemetery and save room for a meat & three at Annie's Restaurant.

Flickr/Paul Barrows

Little Rock, AR

Distance from Memphis: 136 miles, two-hour drive
“Locally Labeled in Greater Little Rock” is a self-guided tour of 10 local breweries and distilleries (Rock Town Distillery, BoBrook Farms, An Enchanting Evening Winery, Stone’s Throw, Lost Forty Brewing, Blue Canoe, Damgoode Pies, Diamond Bear, and Vino's). Though, obviously if you visit them all, it might cease to be a day trip. Little Rock is also a great place to have lunch/dinner/any meal of the day and get some shopping done. And let’s not forget the great hiking on Pinnacle Mountain or a cone of Loblolly ice cream at the Green Corner Store, where you can walk down the block and eat it at the Bernice Garden (sculpture garden).

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Paddle the Ghost River

Distance from Memphis: 55 miles, one-hour drive
Floating through a cypress forest should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Ghost River section of the Wolf is breathtaking. LaGrange, Tennessee is the put-in, and the takeout is just east of Moscow, at Bateman Bridge. It's about 14 miles on the river and can take anywhere from three to five hours to paddle, depending on the water level. There are two canoe and kayak outfitters, Wolf River Canoe and Ghost River Rentals, which can help with gear and the particulars. Above Moscow, the river is super-clean, spring-fed water, so you can and should take swim breaks. Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat. 

Flickr/JR P

Oxford, MS

Distance from Memphis: 75 miles, 90-minute drive
This college town has a lot more to offer than just football games. There are several top-notch restaurants to try, most of which are owned by John Currence -- City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast, BourĂ©, Snackbar, and the Lamar Lounge. And it would be silly to leave without having a meal at the Ajax Diner. The End of All Music is a great record store on North Lamar and Square Books is a book lover’s paradise. Once you get your literary juices flowing, pop over to Rowan Oak, home to William Faulkner and his family for more than 40 years. There’s no fee to visit the grounds, but there is a $5 cost for house admission. Pro tip: Thacker Mountain Radio is Oxford’s version of A Prairie Home Companion. They have a fantastic house band that plays with visiting musicians, and there are always authors hanging around as well. It’s recorded live every Thursday night at Off Square Books.

Flickr/Roger Hsu

Clarksdale, MS

Distance from Memphis: 75 miles, 90-minute drive
Steeped in Delta flavor, this North Mississippi town is home of the mythical Blues Crossroads -- as in where one might sell their soul to the Devil. You may meet more international music fans on the pilgrimage from Chicago to New Orleans, than American tourists. The Shack Up Inn, built on the former Hopson Plantation, is a great place to spend the night should you decide to stay up late at Red's Lounge (one of the last legit juke joints in the world), Morgan Freeman’s touristy-but-friendly Ground Zero, or the Shack’s own Juke Joint Chapel. The Shack Up’s restaurant, RUST, is a great place to eat, and/or grab some hot tamales at Larry’s. 

Tennessee Safari Park

Distance from Memphis: 80 miles, 90-minute drive
Get up close and personal with a variety of animals, some of which you may not have known existed. The park is open year-round, seven days a week. You purchase buckets of food at the gate, receive minimal instruction on protecting your thumbs, and then you are free to drive through and feed the animals. Hungry ostriches wait for you at the gate so they can follow you through the entire park, stick their heads in your car, and do everything in their power to eat all of your food. It’s both hilarious and a little scary. It takes about an hour to go through the park, and there is also a petting zoo, snack bar, picnic area, and restrooms.

Jamie Harmon

Heber Springs, AR

Distance from Memphis: 150 miles, just under a three-hour drive
Everyone needs to cliff jump at the Dam Site Recreation Area. There is a swimming area and a sandy beach for babies, young kids, and anyone not into cliff jumping. The cliffs vary in height from 3 to 30ft. There are some that are perfect for young kids and really high ones for daredevils. There are picnic tables in some areas that have trees for shade. Bring a pop-up tent, sunscreen, towels, water shoes/sandals, a hat, and a rolling cooler with lots of hydrating liquids and food. 

Hardy, AR

Distance from Memphis: 130 miles, two-hour drive
Hardy is the perfect place to enjoy the Ozark Mountains, the Spring River, and small-town charm. The Shops of Old Town Hardy are all housed in buildings built in the 1890s, including a goth shop for your inner angsty teenager. Cruiser's serves Southern comfort food and healthy fare and features live music Thursday-Saturday, some Sundays (folk, country, and blues musicians from around the country, as well as local talent). Summer Music on the Street, a free event, is held every Saturday in Dr. Thompson Park on Main St from noon-2pm, sometimes longer. Buford Beach has a boat launch, playground, picnic tables, a ball field, a swim area, floating, tubing, and fishing off-bank, all free. 3 Rivers Outfitters offers float trips from two to eight hours and kayak & canoe rentals. Griffin Park has six different ziplines, horseback riding, fishing & swimming.

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Stacey Greenberg is willing to drive to any of these places with very little notice. She's the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys.



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