A thin, blonde woman with her back to the camera takes a picture of two friends seated at a sidewalk table in front of the 'Downtown Sweet' coffee shop, Jonesborough, Tennessee, USA. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com

6 Serene Towns in the Mid-South for a Weekend Retreat

Defined by Nashville, the Mid-South is an exciting combination of vibrant and serene, particularly in nature, ranging from the Appalachian Mountains to rivers and the US inland waterway. Paducah, the Quilt City on the Ohio River, is the hub of creativity and architecture that awaits adventurers and artists at the heart of the nation's inland waterways. Townsend, "The Peaceful Side of the Smokies," is a jet set for camping, biking and hiking trails, and water pursuits for all tastes.

Uncover the most serene towns in the region for a weekend retreat to remember.

Carthage, Missouri

The Carthage Courthouse with fall foliage downtown in Carthage, Missouri, USA.
The Carthage Courthouse with fall foliage downtown in Carthage, Missouri, USA. Editorial credit: Rachael Martin / Shutterstock.com

Established in 1842, Carthage is a unique crossroads of architecture, history, and quirk along the unmissable Route 66 in Missouri. Burned down and reconstructed during the Victorian era, the tri-state mining boom town of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gave way to an artsy enclave, all about serenity around its focal point of inspiration and legacy, the architecture, through four historic districts of over 600 buildings. Home to one of the state's largest residential districts, impressive tales, including Civil War guerrillas, Wild West outlaws, and powerful capitalists, mix with ragtime music makers and women's rights pioneers, lending a sense of immortal intrigue. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, visitors can wander endlessly through Visitors can take the Civil War tour from the visitor center and enjoy the 66 Drive-In Theatre in the evening.

In 1920, the first of Missouri's highway systems, just west of Carthage to Joplin, became part of the "Mother Road," with landmarks minutes from downtown Carthage. From Kellogg Lake to Red Oak II, White Rose Winery, and antique shopping, Historic Carthage Square is the second most photographed building in Missouri. Don't miss the Carthage Civil War Museum, Jasper County Courthouse, crowning the hometown square since 1895 in a Romanesque Revival style, as well as Carthage Municipal Park, Kiddieland, and the Powers Museum for families with children. One of Missouri’s most inspiring attractions, Precious Moments Chapel and Gardens, offers tours of ornamented gardens with bronze statues and fountains and the Royal Delights Café on site. On the square, Lucky J Steakhouse and Arena features an authentic rodeo show, while the historic building of Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre offers fine dining or classic home cooking over delightful entertainment.

Fort Payne, Alabama

Street view of Gault Avenue, Fort Payne, Alabama, showing shops, people, and cars.
Street view of Gault Avenue, Fort Payne, Alabama, showing shops, people, and cars.

Fort Payne feels idyllic in Alabama's Appalachian range, built around the eponymous fort, an attraction from the 1830s. Fort Payne Depot Museum describes the heritage and significance of this real architectural wonder over war artifacts and memorabilia. Nestled right up against DeSoto State Park in between Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain, visitors can enjoy the cozy feel under towering views, beckoning adventurers with numerous opportunities, like spring wildflowers and hikes through densely wooded foothills.

From hiking, picnicking, swimming, and much more, make it a family budget weekend getaway this summer at the popular DeSoto State Park Campground, with natural inspiration all around, like a trek away to the spectacular Indian Falls, a vast, plunging spectacle from 104 feet. With something for every group's solitude in nature, Great Buck Lodge is an excellent stay with a pool and easy access to everything else. The Little River Canyon National Preserve offers stunning views of the canyon, making it great for adventurous couples or friends to walk through the woods and go rafting down the river.

Jonesborough, Tennessee

Food trucks in historic Jonesborough, Tennessee, USA.
Food trucks in historic Jonesborough, Tennessee, USA. Editorial credit: Dee Browning / Shutterstock.com

Tucked in the hollers of the Appalachian range, Tennessee’s oldest town, from 1779, is the must-visit in the state when looking for a quick family getaway from the city or on a regional road trip with friends. Weaving diverse tales along its brick sidewalks, visitors can learn about Jonesborough's periodical publishing, the first of its kind exclusively devoted to abolitionism in 1820. Having warmly welcomed discriminated Jewish immigrants in the mid-19th century, their businesses and an eclectic yet traditional aesthetic lasted into the present. The red-bricked Jonesborough Courthouse with white columns saw 60 people gather underneath its high-reaching domed clock tower to listen to residents’ stories after a local teacher, Jimmy Neil Smith, placed a farm wagon just outside in 1973.

Having thus started a tradition, the self-proclaimed "Storytelling Capital of the World," Jonesborough's annual National Storytelling Festival attracts some 10,000 pairs of ears worldwide as one of the Top 100 Events in North America, according to the Los Angeles Times. Don't miss the local and tourist favorite Black Olive Italian restaurant for a fine dinner or the Old Town Dairy Bar for a simple, small-town vibe. The town's architectural legacy dates back to the founding year along the Main Street brick storefronts, including Federal and Greek Revival styles. Pack a picnic for a fresh-air stroll through Willows Springs Park, overlooking forested mountains and small and tranquil lakes, while Depot Street Brewing's India Pale Ale is a great idea to meet friendly locals in the evening.

Paducah, Kentucky

In the winter, Bob Noble Park in Paducah, Kentucky, features a tranquil scene with a bench overlooking a pond.
Bob Noble Park in Paducah, Kentucky, during winter.

Calm doesn't begin to describe this town, coined the Quilt City, symbolic of its patchwork landscapes. Awaiting adventurers at the heart of the nation's inland waterways, the city flows to the paced Ohio River. Full of creative energy and fascinating history, the River Discovery Center reveals life on the river through time, while the Coke Plant from 1939 pays tribute to Paducah’s Coca-Cola bottling past as the present-day coffee shop, brewery, and pizza place within fascinating architecture. For more 19th-century buildings, Historic Downtown nails it along the vibrant streets and the celebrated Historic Paducah Audio Tour along a real-time capsule of local shops, restaurants, and the iconic 1927 Columbia Theatre. The National Quilt Museum is a monument to Paducah's reverence for arts and crafts, while QuiltWeek Paducah is the biggest quilt celebration in the country.

Colorfully revitalized, the Lower Town Arts District is a hub of creativity in a residential neighborhood anchored by the Paducah School of Art & Design. Visitors can see the student works in galleries among art mediums for every taste, from live theater to exhibitions, art films, and classical performances by the Paducah Symphony Orchestra. From the Yeiser Art Center to Maiden Alley Cinema and Gallery, don't miss Market House Theatre, Clemens Fine Art Center, and the Carson Center. With so much to rave about in this small town of 26,500, Wall to Wall Floodwall Murals is one of the area’s most popular attractions, comprising 50 painted panels by world-renowned muralist Robert Dafford along the riverfront, retelling Paducah’s history in bright details. Among its quaint restaurants, Purple Toad Winery, and shops, the Freight House restaurant serves traditional Southern flavors before taking in the sunset over the Ohio River along the Paducah Riverwalk.

Tallulah Falls, Georgia

Tallulah Falls, Georgia, USA, overlooking Tallulah Gorge in the autumn season.
Tallulah Falls, Georgia, USA, overlooking Tallulah Gorge in the autumn season.

Ah, Tallulah Falls, the epitome of a southern-lush nature town, where even the name breathes natural serenity. Surrounded by waterfalls, Tallulah Falls is home to under 200 people and a pint-sized downtown, a real splash of color straight from the picturebook cover. With the Tallulah River through the heart, visitors can browse for views while prowling its quaint boutiques and small shops that inspire the feel of Pleasantville. Don't miss the General Store and Tallulah 1882 cafe, which add a quaint feel, accentuating the beautiful, lush Tallulah Gorge State Park, just a stroll away.

Embracing its star, the two-mile-long and 1,000-foot-deep (304m) Tallulah Gorge, in thick foliage from the eyes of the oblivious, the gorge is remarkable in every season. The pleasant southern fall weather beckons for a hike through the reds, yellows, and oranges, stark against the cascading waters falling between the rocks below. Accessible for every level, the wooden suspension bridge and staircases descend to the floor of the gorge, where the scenic Hurricane Falls Trail, a 2.25-mile (3.6km) vertical path, spurs you on through the mist of the Hurricane Falls to multiple viewpoints along the way.

Townsend, Tennessee

The landmark Smoky Mountains tunnel, located between Townsend, Tennessee, and Cades Cove, is surrounded by a vibrant display of autumn colors.
The landmark Smoky Mountains tunnel, located between Townsend, Tennessee, and Cades Cove.

As the front door of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the geographic center of the eastern US, this little town, defined by the majestic Smokies, offers all the essentials for great outdoor exploration. Featuring a great chain of lakes on the other side, the National Park is one of the most visited in the country. Townsend, "The Peaceful Side of the Smokies" is a jet set for camping, biking and hiking trails, and water pursuits for all tastes. With Little River running through the heart, which parallels the southern border, start riverside on a stroll. The 11-mile (18-km) loop through wildlife in the nearby Cades Cove, a picturesque valley overlooking natural scenery, is one of the state's most scenic walking trails.

Townsend caters to a good chunk of the annual 10 million park visitors with over a dozen hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds, woodland cabins, and lakeside cottages. Offering small-town businesses for all, visitors can enjoy easy access to a friendly game of golf or a day of swimming at the famous Townsend “Y,” a stretch of the Little River. Formerly known as Tuckaleechee Cove, with roots deep in lumbering, the legacy of world-class outdoorsmanship excites through local craft shops for gifts or decor and the Smokey Mountain Woodcarving Festival. The Great Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival is a one-of-a-kind colorful event against the blue skies around these parts, while Tremont Lodge & Resort is a highly rated two-star hotel.

Discover Serenity in the Mid-South

Consisting of Tennessee, North Mississippi, Southern Missouri, Kentucky, most of Arkansas, Northern Alabama, Northern Georgia, northwestern South Carolina, and even Eastern Oklahoma, the small towns offer the best treasures. Whether you are on a region-wide road trip or a getaway from the city in one of the relevant states, these towns warmly welcome visitors with natural wonders, attractions, and unique culture for a serene escape with a side of adventure for every group to bond, get inspired, and feel recharged.

There is no better time to plan a visit to the "Storytelling Capital of the World" in Appalachia than during Jonesborough's annual National Storytelling Festival, one of the Top 100 Events in North America. Paducah, a UNESCO Creative City since 2013, welcomes artists from around the world for crafts, family attractions, workshops, and performances.

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