An unofficially defined region of the United States, the Mid-South comprises portions of Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, and Oklahoma. The region is believed to be anchored by the Memphis-Clarksdale-Forrestcity Combined Statistical Area, considered the Mid-South’s cultural and commercial hub. Being the birthplace of Rock and Roll and Blues, tourism contributes significantly to the Mid-South’s economy, with tourist-related activities alluring millions to the Memphis Metropolitan Area annually. Boasting extraordinary scenic landscapes, historical landmarks, charming downtowns, lush wilderness areas, and unique cultures and festivals, the Mid-South communities beckon thousands of vacationers to experience their distinctive charms and warm hospitality.
Founded in 1779 by European Americans and named after the North Carolina legislator Willie Jones, this scenic town located in the state’s extreme northeastern corner at the meeting point of the Watauga River and Nolichucky River watersheds serves as the Washington County seat. Ringed by extended ridges and low hills, Jonesborough - Tennessee’s oldest town, is best known for its National Register-listed historic district that comprises numerous meticulously preserved 18th to 21st-century structures in different architectural styles. Some of these landmark properties that line the town’s Main Street include the Jonesborough United Methodist Church, Washington County Courthouse, Chester Inn, Brownlow House, Holston Baptist Female Institute, May-Dishner House, Christopher Taylor House, Academy Hill, etc. History buffs can learn about the local history at the Jonesborough-Washington County History Museum housed in the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center. Moreover, the adjacent southern Appalachian Mountains offer ample outdoor recreation like hiking, cycling, fishing, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and zip lining; whereas the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre organizes many educational workshops besides producing community theaters. The town’s National Storytelling Center hosts the National Storytelling Festival every October, drawing more than 10,000 visitors from around the globe.
Adams County’s administrative center, Natchez, one of the Lower Mississippi River Valley’s oldest and most significant European settlements, is located about 85 miles north of Baton Rouge and 90 miles southwest of the state capital, Jackson. Founded in 1716 by French colonists and named after the indigenous Natchez tribe, this waterfront town enchants travelers with its well-preserved antebellum structures and notable museums like the Natchez Museum of African American History & Culture, Longwood, Auburn Museum & Historic Home, Rosalie Mansion, etc., some of which remain open for public viewing year-round or during the yearly fall and spring pilgrimages. In addition, one can also browse Natchez’s countless boutiques, retail stores, microbrews, and diners currently occupying the Natchez Under-the-Hill site or take a bike ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway that commemorates the iconic Natchez Trace Trail. The other yearly events the town hosts include the Mississippi Blues Heritage Festival, the Natchez Balloon Festival, the Natchez Festival of Music, and a pow-wow at the Emerald burial mounds organized by the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
Called “White Oak Flats” before incorporation and renamed in honor of Radford Gatlin in 1860, this mountain resort destination in Tennessee’s Sevier County sits on the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, precisely 39 miles southeast of Knoxville. With tons of hiking trails in the mountains and scores of other attractions, Gatlinburg offers something for all ages. After you are done with the hiking, rafting, horseback riding, skiing, and fishing activities, hop atop the Gatlinburg SkyLift that takes you to the top of Crockett Mountain at 1,800 ft, or ride an elevator to the 407ft tall Gatlinburg Space Needle observation tower offering incredible views of the Great Smoky Mountains and downtown Gatlinburg. Every year, the town hosts various annual events like the Fourth of July Midnight Parade, Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair, Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, Gatlinburg Winter Magic Celebration, Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees, and Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
A charming coastal town functioning as Hancock County’s seat, Bay St. Louis is located on the Bay of St. Louis’s western side, approximately 58 miles northeast of New Orleans, Louisiana. This eclectic Gulf Coast destination captivates tourists with its pristine white sand beaches, impressive waterfront, quirky storefronts, old architecture, and a welcoming atmosphere. Walk through the Old Town area and peruse the vintage shops, art galleries, beach boutiques, and locally-owned restaurants offering delicious fresh seafood. Discover the town’s different interesting attractions like the Alice Moseley Folk Art Museum, Saint Rose de Lima Catholic Church, Bay St. Louis Creative Arts Center, Bay St. Louis Little Theater, etc., or partake in a giant art walk held on the second Saturday of each month.
Also referred to as “Quilt City,” this small Western Kentucky town in McCracken County is located midway between St. Louis, Missouri, and Nashville, Tennessee, at the meeting point of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. A part of the “UNESCO Creative Cities Network,” this main town of the Paducah, KY-IL Micropolitan Statistical Area is best known for the National Quilt Museum, which displays an extensive collection of contemporary quilts by world-class quilters in its 30,000 sq. ft gallery space. Stroll through Paducah’s historic downtown and have a look at the scores of locally-owned stores, art galleries, tasty eateries like the Freight House restaurant, breweries, artisans’ studios, entertainment venues like the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center for the Performing Arts, the Paducah School of Art & Design campus, and well-maintained 19th-century architecture. Witness the colorful floodwall murals by the renowned muralist Robert Dafford and his team that tell stories about the region’s rich heritage.
This vibrant North Mississippi college town named after the city of Oxford in England is located about 75 miles southeast of Memphis in Lafayette County. Partially home to the principal campus of “Ole Miss,” aka the University of Mississippi, Oxford is famed for the stately old homes and the historic Lafayette County Courthouse, as well as its buzzing Downtown Square packed with independent bookstores like Square Books, old departmental stores like the J.E. Neilson Co., specialty boutiques like Cicada, art galleries like the Southside Gallery, and scores of lip-smacking restaurants. Check out Oxford’s noteworthy points of interest, such as Rowan Oak Mansion, Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Ammadelle House, Barnard Observatory, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lyric Theater, and Burns-Belfry Museum. Outdoor lovers can head to the nearby Holly Springs National Forest for a beautiful hiking experience and a day out amidst the greens.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Initially referred to as the “Little Switzerland of the Ozarks,” Eureka Springs is a quaint town in Northwest Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains close to the state boundary with Missouri in western Carroll County. Eureka Springs’ commercial downtown is well-known for its painstakingly preserved Victorian buildings lining the cobblestone streets. The downtown's narrow, circuitous lanes lead to a wide variety of stylish boutiques, one-of-a-kind shops, fine art galleries, and award-winning restaurants housed in these Victorian-era buildings. Some of Eureka Springs’s outstanding attractions include the Blue Spring Heritage Center, Crescent Hotel & Spa, Lake Leatherwood Park, Christ of the Ozarks statue, Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Eureka Springs Historical Museum, and the Thorncrown Chapel. Merrymakers visiting the town can participate in a number of annual celebrations like Eureka Gras Mardi Gras Extravaganza, May Festival of the Arts, and the Eureka Springs Food & Wine Festival.
Occupying the outer bluegrass region of Central Kentucky, this Nelson County seat named after the pioneer Bard brothers, David and William Bard, is sometimes affectionately called the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” One of the Bluegrass State’s oldest cities, originally settled in 1780 by European Americans, Bardstown is home to three working distilleries, including the Heaven Hill Distillery, Barton 1792, and Lux Row Distilleries. The Old Talbott Tavern, Wickland Mansion, Bardstown Historical Museum, Bardstown Historic District, Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest, Basilica of St. Joseph’s Proto-Cathedral, Civil War Museum, Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey, and My Old Kentucky Home State Park, are some of the town’s interesting attractions. Bardstown hosts the annual weeklong Kentucky Bourbon Festival that celebrates the history and art of refining bourbon whiskey, with concerts, food & craft vendors, bourbon barrel relay, tasting events, historical tours, and cooking demonstrations.
Siloam Springs, Arkansas
This picturesque small town in Arkansas’s Benton County sits on the top of a plateau in the Ozark Mountains at the Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Area’s western extremity. Initially established as a health resort in 1882 that once upon a time attracted visitors from all over the country, Siloam Springs is still a favored tourist destination admired for its matchless scenic beauty. Perfectly amalgamating historic architecture and modern-day amenities, the downtown also features the perennial Sager Creek that flows through the area via an artificial channel. Besides housing the John Brown University campus, the other noteworthy attractions in Siloam Springs are the Siloam Springs Kayak Park, Siloam Springs Museum, and Siloam Springs Farmer’s Market. The town also hosts various cultural events like the Dogwood Festival, Siloam Springs Rodeo, City Fireworks Presentation, Siloam Springs Music Games, Homegrown Festival, and Light Up Siloam Christmas Parade.
Home to only 550 residents as per the latest US Census, this tiny mountain community is situated at the northern foothills of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains. Aptly upholding its motto: “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” Townsend is where vacationers head to escape the hustle and bustle of the nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Acclaimed for being one of the three gateways to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Townsend offers a range of delightful outdoor activities. During summer, the Smoky Mountain River Rat offers tubing and whitewater rafting activities along the Little River that flows through the heart of the town. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center to learn about the heritage and culture of the region’s inhabitants and the Little River Railroad & Lumber Co. Museum - which gives an account of the area’s logging history; gaze in awe at the spectacular scenery of Cades Cove and explore the adjacent Tuckaleechee Caverns. Adventure lovers can enjoy a 33-mile drive along the Foothills Parkway between Wears Valley and U.S. Highway 129, where multiple overlooks offer stunning views of the Smokies, the Tennessee Valley, and the Cumberland Plateau. Throughout the year, this close-knit community celebrates a variety of festivals like the Townsend Grains & Grits Festival, Tuckaleechee Pottery Festival, Great Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival, Cades Cove Loop Lope, Townsend Christmas Parade, and many more.
Mountain View, Arkansas
Often called the “Folk Music Capital of the World,” Mountain View is placed in a valley fringed by the Blue Mountain Range of the Ozarks in Arkansas’s Stone County. The town’s distinctiveness, laid-back ambiance, hospitality, tourism, local festivals, and outdoor recreation are the mainstays of its economy. Every year, thousands of revelers travel to Mountain View to celebrate the rich Ozark Mountain culture and attend numerous cultural events like the Arkansas Folk Festival, Arkansas Bean Fest, Great Championship Outhouse Races, Mountain View Bluegrass Festival, Fourth of July Celebration, Mountains Music & Motorcycles, and the annual Christmas tree lighting. The town’s many local hotels and diners cater to vacationers who want to visit the adjoining Blanchard Springs Caverns, Stone County Museum, the Loco Ropes Treetop Adventure Park, and Ozark Folk Center State Park or partake in recreational activities at Ozark National Forest and excellent trout fishing activity at the White River.
Established as “Cross City” in 1853, Corinth, the seat of the government of Alcorn County is located at the junction of the U.S. Route 72 and the U.S. Route 45 highways about 85 miles east of Memphis in the state’s northeastern portion. Tourists come from far and wide to witness the town’s mesmerizing attractions, such as the Corinth National Cemetery, Battery Williams/Fort Williams, Siege and Battle of Corinth Sites, Veranda House, and the Downtown Corinth, Midtown Corinth, and the Rienzi Commercial historic districts. For an insight into the town’s glorious past, visit the Northeast Mississippi Museum, Artist Guild Museum & Shop, Black History Museum, Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, and Museum of Southern Culture. Outdoorsy types can head to the Pickwick Landing State Park, about 20 miles northeast of Corinth, to enjoy a variety of recreational opportunities in and around the Pickwick Lake reservoir.
From the cultural hub of Paducah, Kentucky, to the rich heritage of Natchez, Mississippi, the Mid-South region of the United States is full of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. All these pretty towns offer sightseers opportunities to soak in the region’s fascinating attractions, unparalleled culture, delectable cuisines, and an array of outdoor activities. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to the most scenic towns in America’s Mid-South region.