Nashvillians will tell just about anyone who asks that Music City is a great place to be from. But in moments of honesty (or after a few pints at a Downtown bar filled with the cacophony of multiple bachelorette parties), they may also admit that sometimes it’s also a great place to get away from. Here are some quick escapes from town when the urge to travel strikes.
This Chinese Festival Is Like 'Frozen' Come to Life
Distance from Nashville: 63 mile southeast; 1-hour drive Why it made our list: Don’t let the name fool you -- there’s not actually a fort next to Interstate 24. What is there is a fascinating archaeological site that was constructed almost two millennia ago that was used by Native Americans for five centuries as a ceremonial gathering spot. You can walk trails along the walls of the sacred site.
Pro tip: Closed since 2011, Old Stone Fort Golf Course reopened earlier this year as an inexpensive nine-hole track with plans to expand.
Distance from Nashville: 45 miles north; one-hour drive Why it made our list: Just across the border into Kentucky, the other Franklin is home to Kentucky Downs, a modest track where the only really race the ponies a few weeks out of the year. But they do offer simulcasts and betting from other tracks seven days a week, plus slot machines and live entertainment. Its tagline is “Vegas-style gaming,” but that might be a bit of an overstatement.
Pro tip: Franklin, Kentucky liquor stores are open on Sundays and often stock bourbons you won’t ever find in Nashville at less expensive prices.
Distance from Nashville: 65 miles south; one-hour drive Why it made our list: If you’ve ever visited the huge distillery and Downtown gift shops of Lynchburg, then you do know Jack. Nearby Lynnville is a smaller and quainter version of the town that Jack Daniel built, so visit the Col. Littleton shops for fine leather goods and Tenn South Distillery for some unique spirits.
Distance from Nashville: 66 miles southeast; one-hour, 15-minute drive Why it made our list: Out in the country near Woodbury, Short Mountain is a bit of a blue island in the midst of a red state. A famous (but still semi-secret) “faerie sanctuary” is a sort of commune for LGBQT folks and was written up in an intriguing New York Times profile a few years back. The residents also produce wonderful art and artisanal food products, while nearby Short Mountain Distillery is famous for producing an authentic “sugar shine” made from the recipes of “retired” moonshiners who work a small still on the property.
Pro tip: Hit up Mayday Brewery in Murfreesboro on the way home for one of their wildly entertaining Saturday tours to complete the liquor/beer twofer.
Cave City, Kentucky
Distance from Nashville: 93 miles northeast; one-hour, 30-minute drive Why it made our list: If you’re trying to escape from the hustle and bustle of Nashville, there’s no better place to get away than actually underground. Mammoth Cave is doubtlessly the main attraction and is definitely worth visiting. The world's longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of explored passageways, it really is one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
Pro tip: For a little kitschy fun, stop by Dinosaur World and take a selfie with a life-size Jurassican.
Distance from Nashville: 93 miles southeast; one-hour, 30-minute drive Why it made our list: Home to the Hogwarts-like University of the South, Sewanee offers opportunities to hike on miles of trails around the school on the accurately named Perimeter Trail. Or, visitors can enjoy indoor pursuits in the charming pubs, art galleries, and beautiful All Saints Chapel on campus.
Pro tip: The nine-hole Golf Course at Sewanee features two par 3s with infinity greens overlooking the valleys below and has been recognized as one of the top public courses in the state.
Distance from Nashville: 114 miles east; one-hour, 45-minute drive Why it made our list: Situated on top of the Cumberland Plateau, Crossville has all sort of fun activities for an afternoon or a weekend trip. Wineries with some decent juice, plenty of hiking or golfing opportunities, and the renowned Cumberland County Playhouse are all destinations worth seeking out.
Pro tip: More than one local spirits shop in town claims to be “Your Moonshine Headquarters,” so if you really need one of those, you’ve got choices.
Distance from Nashville: 115 miles south; two-hour drive Why it made our list: If you’re a local, you probably visited the US Space & Rocket Center when you were younger, but now that you’re all grown up, Huntsville is definitely worth a return trip. With almost a dozen craft breweries in the area and an entertainment complex with restaurants and bars built in an old high school, Huntsville is fun for all ages.
Pro tip: Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is America's largest independent center for the arts, with over scores of working artists plus shops, restaurants, and live performance venues.
Pinson Mounds, Tennessee
Distance from Nashville: 135 miles southwest; two-hour drive Why it made our list: Tennessee has lots of Native American archaeological sites, but none are more impressive than this complex of 17 mounds from the Woodland period (circa 1-500 AD.) At 72 feet tall, Sauls' Mound is the second-highest surviving mound in the country. An informative visitor center is built inside a replica of a platform mound.
Pro tip: Pinson is surrounded by some of the state’s best barbecue restaurants, so if you smell smoke and see a rick of wood stacked up outside a smoke shack, pull over!
Distance from Nashville: 140 miles southeast; two-hour drive Why it made our list: It seems like the Today show sends a correspondent to Scottsboro every year to do a story on the famous Unclaimed Baggage Center, but it really is that cool. Lost luggage from airlines across the country end up in this facility where they are sorted, priced at discount levels, and laid out like a regular department store for your shopping pleasure. There are even wedding dresses for sale if you don’t mind getting married in somebody else’s gown. Consider it both “something old” and “something borrowed.”
Pro tip: You remember that iPod you left in the seatback pocket of a Southwest flight home from Vegas in 2011? You can probably buy it back for $20.
Distance from Nashville: 137 miles northwest; two-hour drive Why it made our list: This quaint town at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers is a delightful surprise for folks who haven’t ever stopped halfway on the trip to St. Louis. With a 20-block downtown historic district, a vibrant arts scene, and a tradition as the center of the quilting universe, there are plenty of reasons to make the detour.
Pro tip: The best time to check out the craft beer excellence of the town is at the PaBREWcah festival each summer, but there’s never a bad time to swing by to sample the local spirits and wine.
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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of Nashville who spends so much time on the road that he’s not sure if his car seat is perfectly conformed with his butt or vice versa. Follow his travels on Twitter @CeeElCee.