Besides being a major exporter of cotton and distilled spirits, another thing that Tennessee has plenty of is small-town charm. Tranquil side streets bookended with trees wind through lovely little towns just waiting to be discovered by passersby stopping over between trips to Tennessee's main cities. Each has its own, unique flavor but all have their own strengths and attractions. Take a break from the urban centers and experience the Southern hospitality Tennessee is known for through its townships and villages. There is something for everyone.
Everybody knows about Gatlinburg and for good reason: The town is incredibly popular amongst locals and the not-so-local alike. Called the “gateway to the smokey mountains,” everything from the cuisine to the attractions is top-notch and certainly worth seeing. The town is full of legendary distilleries like Ole Smokey. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ride rollercoasters, and see Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Ride the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram up the mountainside. Take advantage of the whitewater rafting at Pigeon River. There is always something to do in Gatlinburg.
This unincorporated village in Williamson County is remote, charming, and only about a half-hour’s drive north from Columbia. Everything here feels small-batch and handcrafted. Leiper’s Fork is perfect for a weekend trip when you just feel the urge to get away from it all. The town is not much bigger than a city block but the town makes good use of the space it has. As proof, popular singer and actor Justin Timberlake lives here. Visit Foxe and Lock for some authentic Southern cuisine and music. Walk the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Garrison Creek Trailhead for great hiking. Leiper’s fork is an island of serenity waiting to be taken in.
About an hour and a half southwest of Leiper’s Fork, the town of Lynchburg is a thoroughly endearing town that is fully steeped in the Tennessee distilling tradition. Visit the renowned Jack Daniel’s Distillery for a guided tour and, best of all, samples. Or, swing by the Moore County Old Jail Museum. Wiseman Park is perfect for a stroll, a picnic, and overnight camping. Dine at Barrelhouse BBQ or Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House. Mouth-watering Southern barbecue is known far and wide so eat up!
Called the storytelling capital of the world, the town of Jonesborough is found in the state’s northeast corner and is known for its pleasing old-world aesthetic. Founded in 1779, the town is Tennessee’s oldest. Jonesborough’s downtown area is replete with red brickwork and is a joy to explore. Visit the International Storytelling Center and try to visit in the fall when the National Storytelling Festival is held. There are plenty of events throughout the year like Music on the Square and the Jonesborough Days Festival. Stop by Boone Street Market and Crystal Raven for all of your locally sourced produce and crystal jewelry needs.
Brimming with natural Appalachian beauty and bursting with the state’s rich history, Greenville is a wonderful town located in Northeast Tennessee. Less than a half-hour’s drive from Jonesboro, Greenville has wonderful eateries like Aunt Bea’s Restaurant. Or, visit the President Andrew Johnson National Historic Site which is full of exhibits and historical sites. Cherokee National Forest offers wonderful camping and fishing, while Greenville’s downtown area is also delightful. Catch a show at the 1934 Capitol Theatre!
The small towns of Tennessee have plenty of excitement if that is what you are looking for. Natural beauty, vivacious festivals, and even amusement parks can be found in the municipalities of the Volunteer State. For those looking to find a slice of the quiet life, Granville is the town for you. The town is chock-full of gorgeous, storybook buildings like the T.B. Sutton General Store built in 1865. Listen to live Bluegrass on the steps of the Sutton General Store on warm Saturday nights. Sit a spell on one of Granville’s many porches. You are welcome to stay as long as you like.
Hikers, bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts will love Erwin. This Appalachian Trail town is found in the Appalachian Highlands and is incredibly popular due to its natural beauty. Go mountain biking through the Cherokee National Forest which has some of the best trails in the state. Trek through the Appalachian Trail and spy the many birds that call it home. The highways around Erwin are some of the most scenic in the country, while there is plenty to do in town as well.
The town of Dayton was the shooting location of the famed 1960 film Inherit the Wind, a film set in the 1920s about the Scopes Monkey Trial starring Gene Kelly and Spencer Tracy. The Rhea County Courthouse, which was the sight of the actual Scopes trial, is now a museum dedicated to the event. Outdoors, the Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness has hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic vistas. Nearby, Point Park sits on the edge of Chickamauga Lake and is great for fishing. Lastly, the Tennessee Strawberry Festival is held each year in May.
An hour southwest of Nashville, Hohenwald is home to an unbelievable blend of attractions that must be seen to be believed. Visit The Elephant Sanctuary, one of the largest sanctuaries of Asian and African elephants in the nation. Sip and stumble your way through the Natchez Trace Wine Trail, or trek through the Natchez Trace Wilderness Preserve. Lastly, the Meriwether Lewis Site seven miles east of Hohenwald pays tribute to the life of Lewis of the famed explorer duo, Lewis and Clark.
Country music aficionados will want to make sure their visit to the Volunteer State includes at least a day trip to Pigeon Forge. Fans of Dolly Parton have been making pilgrimages to her hometown for years. Dollywood is a theme park dedicated to the country music icon’s life, featuring thrill rides and live shows. The town can get crowded at times, so be sure to book a trip during the off-season. Besides Pigeon Forge’s Dolly Parton-related parts, there is an aquarium, waterparks, the Pigeon Forge zip lines, and rafting.
Less than half an hour’s drive from Pigeon Forge, Townsend is called the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” and makes for a wonderful retreat thanks to the bevy of natural beauty within arms reach. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 800 miles of hiking paths, gorgeous waterfalls, and mountain wildlife to see. Stop by the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum to learn about Townsend’s logging history. Rest and refuel at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro, an award-winning culinary tour-de-force.
Known as the “Mule Capital of the World,” Columbia was once a Mecca for mule breeders. Columbia pays tribute to its mule history by hosting Mule Day, an annual festival that attracts 200,000 people each year. History buffs will want to visit the President James K. Polk Home & Museum, while the Columbia Arts District is an awesome neighborhood to explore due to the galleries and murals. Lastly, Chickasaw Trace Park is perfect for bird-watching, biking, and fishing.
The town of Rogersville is known for its marvelously preserved architecture, with some of the buildings there having stood since the 18th century. Visit Rogersville’s main street and the Federal-style buildings that ring the main square, and stop by Hale Springs Inn, an accommodation that has hosted such world-historical figures as Andrew Jackson. Grab a plate of soul food at The Red Dog on Main or at Oh Henry’s before stopping by the Swift Park Riverwalk. There are plenty of places for a relaxing stroll in Rogersville.
Found in Monroe County, Tellico Plains is near to the prized Bald River Falls which are a must-see for explorers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Visitors can either drive past Bald River Falls or climb to the top themselves! In town, the Charles Hall Museum has over 6,000 pieces of regional and Appalachian history to its credit. Swing by the Lost Sea Adventure to visit the underground lake and caverns nearby.
Visitors to the Volunteer State are not likely to be disappointed. The rugged, mountainous beauty combined with the small-batch charm of Tennessee’s towns make for an unbeatable combination. Sample the legendary bourbon which helped build Tennessee’s legendary distilling tradition into what it is today. One thing is for certain, Tennessee has Southern barbecue, bluegrass, and warm hospitality in spades.