Head Out of Nashville For These Scenic Road Trips
You could use a break.
Have you reached the point where you just click on destinations on Google Maps to see how far away they are and how long it would take you to drive, well, anywhere? That’s actually a healthy exercise to keep your mind focused on the world outside your personal pod. If you’re feeling stress from certain events in the news, there’s really no safer place to be than in your own car, driving to a fun destination to experience something new. Once you get there, practice good judgment, and enjoy these road trips and weekend getaways a short drive from Nashville.
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 at The Mint Gaming Hall. The newly opened Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel is about an hour from Franklin and also promises “Vegas Vibes,” but that might be a bit of an overstatement. Those greedy Kentucky bourbon distilleries often save their finest hooch and best deals just for residents of the Bluegrass State, so check out the liquor store at the interstate exit just across the border for the chance at some rare finds.
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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 also walk trails along the walls of the sacred site. Closed since 2011, Old Stone Fort Golf Course has reopened as an inexpensive nine-hole track where you can actually see an Indian mound between holes #1 and #9.
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Of course, the number one reason that most people travel to Lynchburg is to tour the world-famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Still the most popular Tennessee whiskey in the world ever since Frank Sinatra first told his fans that it was his favorite drink, Jack Daniels welcomes more than 300,000 visitors a year to tour the facility and taste their “brown water.” (You may have heard that Jack Daniel’s is actually made in a dry county that doesn’t have any liquor stores, and that’s true. However, you can taste the whiskey at the distillery and buy commemorative bottles from the gift shop.) Don’t miss out on the quaint town square of Lynchburg with its gift shops and down home restaurants, or go all out for a full family-style meal at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant in the former boarding house where young Jack Daniels lived and which is still operated by the distillery.
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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 undoubtedly the main attraction and is definitely worth visiting. The world's longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of explored passageways, really is one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. For a little kitschy fun, stop by Dinosaur World and take a selfie with a life-size Jurassican.
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Situated on top of the Cumberland Plateau, Crossville has all sorts of fun activities for an afternoon or a weekend trip. Wineries with some decent juice, plenty of hiking or golfing opportunities, and the renowned and recently reopened Cumberland County Playhouse are all destinations worth seeking out. 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.
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If you’re a local, you probably visited the U.S. Space and 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. 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.
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Pinson Mounds, TennesseeDistance from Nashville: Two hours
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. 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! Siler’s Old Time BBQ is a great first stop to experience old school pit barbecue.
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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, like 2019’s Top Chef runner-up Sara Bradley who cooks her brand of elevated Kentucky cuisine at The Freight House. 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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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.” When you’re not looking for that iPod you left in the seatback pocket of a Southwest flight home from Vegas in 2011, get lunch of loaded fries and pulled pork at KC’s BBQ or a seafood dinner on the water at The Docks.
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Nashville urban planners could learn a lot from how our neighbors in Chattanooga developed their own riverfront. A 16-mile Riverwalk offers walking and biking access, and the easily walkable downtown district features gorgeous landscaping, all sorts of public art, the Tennessee Aquarium, Creative Discovery Museum and the Bluff View Art District. There’s also a minor league baseball park looming on the bluff above downtown and plenty of fun drinking and dining options nearby—including Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria for a hearty Italian meal. The famous Chattanooga Choo Choo is actually a fairly luxurious hotel now, and you can book a night in one of their vintage sleeping cars.
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Take a trip back in time at this Victorian village, founded in 1880 by British author Thomas Hughes as a model utopian community. Planned as a spot for the “second sons” of England who were passed over for peerage, Rugby still maintains many beautiful structures from the late 19th century in this quaint little hamlet on the edge of the Appalachians. The Rugby Visitor Centre & Theatre is your starting point for historical information, a documentary film and guided walking tours of the town. You’ll also find charming shops and galleries plus the Harrow Road Cafe that still serves classic English and American fare. Rugby is just across the dividing line for the Eastern Time Zone, so don’t forget to add that hour to your anticipated arrival time. Don’t worry—you’ll get it back on the return trip.
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Best known as the home to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is still worth a visit even when the Vols aren’t playing. A vibrant culinary scene showcases the Appalachian cuisine of the region made using seasonal locally-sourced ingredients, and Market Square has been a popular gathering spot for shopping, dining, and drinking for more than 150 years. Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair in 1982, and the downtown park that hosted the event is still a fun place to stroll around and visit the fourth-floor observation deck of the centerpiece of the fairgrounds, The Sunsphere. A new Graduate Hotel has opened recently near campus, reveling in its connection to UT with Volunteer Orange decor and a watering hole named Saloon 16, a partnership with former NFL quarterback and Tennessee football legend Peyton Manning.
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While Memphis and Nashville may share a playful rivalry as the state’s two largest cities, there’s no doubt that the Bluff City represents the soul of Tennessee. We certainly have some great barbecue in Music City, but not nearly as many iconic joints as Memphis which boasts The Rendezvous, Cozy Corner, The Bar-B-Que Shop, Germantown Commissary, Interstate Bar-B-Que, and many others. You can even stay in a cavernous modern pyramid at Big Cypress Lodge built above a giant Bass Pro Shop. The hotel features a replica of a cypress swamp on the ground floor and an observation deck 300 feet above offering sweeping views of the Mississippi River. Music fans should carve out time to visit Graceland, of course, but don’t miss out on Sun Studio, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the Memphis Rock & Soul Museum.
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