Main street in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit David S Swierczek via Shutterstock

7 Most Memorable Small Towns in Tennessee

Although the bustling music city of Nashville draws visitors into Tennessee from all over the world, it's the state's charming small towns that are the most memorable. From rustic mountain towns to rural riverfront communities, Tennessee is a unique vacation destination for everyone. No matter what time of year you visit, or the type of trip you're taking, such as a girls' getaway weekend or a summer family adventure, you'll find a small town that will stay in your memories long after the holiday ends.

Leiper's Fork

Grocery and restaurant at Leipers Fork in Tennessee
Grocery and restaurant at Leipers Fork in Tennessee. Image credit 4kclips via

Leiper's Fork is a charming, cozy retreat from bustling Nashville, but it's just only about 30 miles away from all that the big city offers. Known for its rich history, as well as its warm, hometown feel, Leiper's Fork welcomes visitors with year-round festivals, an abundance of outdoor activities and attractions. People come from all over to enjoy the town's picturesque, historic town square, which is filled with perfectly preserved buildings, shops, and boutiques, and a mix of casual and gourmet eateries. Leiper's Fork is home to several art galleries showcasing the work of local and regional artists.

This memorable small town is also conveniently situated on the Natchez Trace, an eye-pleasing 444-mile path that has opportunities for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. You can start your outdoor adventure at the Garrison Creek Trailhead, with a picnic area for an outdoor lunch. The Leiper's Fork Distillery is another must-see stop during your visit, as it produces premium spirits using primarily local ingredients, such as limestone-filtered water, to create one-of-a-kind flavors.


Busy street in summertime with tourists and cars.
Busy street in summertime with tourists and cars in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Miro Vrlik Photography via

A quintessential mountain town located in the far eastern region of the state, Gatlinburg is best known for being the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The rustic-feeling town is the ideal place to begin exploring the 520,000-acre park, which encompasses lush green forests, streams and waterfalls, and several hiking routes, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Visitors are encouraged to view the park from the top of the historic 407-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle, which offers a breathtaking 360-degree panorama. You can also ride the attraction's glass elevators to the observation deck to take advantage of the free viewfinders.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies allows visitors a peek into the lives of giant sea turtles, sharks, and other ocean life, as well as a ride on a glass-bottomed boat. Other memorable activities you can do during your mountain retreat include walking across the Skybridge, the country's longest pedestrian bridge, going whitewater rafting, and riding the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram.

Bell Buckle

Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre.
Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre. Image credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bell Buckle is a small, hospitable southern town that is big on making its visitors have memorable experiences no matter what time of year they stop in. Although it has a population of just about 400, tiny Bell Buckle knows how to show its guests a good time, whether they're strolling through downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or viewing the perfectly preserved Victorian homes and churches. The town's collection of boutiques, gift stores, and galleries stand out as they showcase the handiwork of local artisans. An abundance of antique shops line the downtown streets, many of which are located inside historic buildings.

The town is known for having several travel-worthy annual events, including the Bell Buckle Daffodil Day and Best of the Butts BBQ Cook-Off each March and the RC-MoonPie Festival every June. In October, visitors flock to Bell Buckle for the Webb School Art and Craft Show, one of the biggest art exhibits in Tennessee.


Rogersville, Tennessee. The charming town of Rogersville, Tennessee.
The charming town of Rogersville, Tennessee. Image credit Dee Browning via

The charming town of Rogersville is a memorable setting for your girls' weekend, romantic getaway, family vacation, or any other type of trip. Rogersville's claim to fame is that it was settled in 1775 by Davy Crockett's grandparents, and it's also Tennessee's second-oldest town. The quaint town's annual Heritage Days Festival, which features a juried craft show, live music, traditional dancers, and storytellers, among other live entertainment, draws in visitors from all over.

Located in the heart of town, the historic Hale Springs Inn was built in 1824 and has welcomed such notable guests as former presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk. Even if you don't stay in one of the inn's nine cozy and beautifully appointed guest rooms, you can enjoy a drink or a meal at the onsite McKinney's Restaurant and Tavern. Outdoor lovers will want to check out Crockett Spring Park, the former site of Davy Crockett's log cabin home.


Columbia, Tennessee town square.
Columbia, Tennessee town square. Image credit Flickr user jdj150, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Quaint Columbia is located just south of Nashville, but it offers so much you may never feel the need to leave town during your visit. Named a "Top 10 Best Small Town" by Southern Living Magazine, Columbia has a lively downtown scene, an eclectic arts district, and plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities along the scenic Duck River.

If you love nature, spend a day hiking Yanahli Park's 474 acres of trails, stopping at Cheeks Bend Bluff to overlook the river. Stillhouse Hollow Falls is another must-see natural attraction within a 90-acre state natural area just southwest of Columbia. The town's historic landmarks include the Athenaeum, Historic Elm Springs, and the James K. Polk Presidential Home and Museum, which showcases the early life and residence of the 11th president.


The quaint town of Jonesborough, Tennessee
The quaint town of Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Dubbed the "Storytelling Capital of the World," Jonesborough is also Tennessee's oldest town. The pretty town will provide a memorable backdrop to your vacation story with its historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jonesborough is also home to a vibrant main street featuring stores and eateries in historic Victorian, Greek Revival, and Craftsman buildings. Each October, the National Storytelling Festival draws about 10,000 visitors to the town.

You can easily spend a day checking out the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum, with town and Old Jonesborough Cemetery tours. If you love trains and railroad history, don't miss a trip to the Chuckey Depot Museum, where you can tour a restored Southern Railway caboose. The Mill Spring Makers Market features work from over 80 local artisans and craftsmen, making it the perfect place to find one-of-a-kind souvenirs.


Water tower in Monteagle, Tennessee
Water tower in Monteagle, Tennessee. Image credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Known as the "Gateway to the Cumberland Plateau" due to its location in the southeastern region of the state, picturesque Monteagle sits at an elevation of approximately 2,000 feet. The town has a rich history, and was the home of the Highlander Folk School, which played a significant role in the civil rights movement, from 1932 to 1961.

One of highlights of any trip to Monteagle is South Cumberland State Park, which comprises about 12,166 acres and has many natural areas to explore, such as Fiery Gizzard, Lost Cove, Denny Cove, and Grundy Lakes. Begin your visit with a stop at the visitor's center, which offers interpretive exhibits and historical information. The town's Highland Bluff Studio is the place to find memorable treasures, such as handmade candles.

Whether you are spending a week or a season in Tennessee, or simply passing through on your way to another destination, get off the beaten path for a memorable small-town experience. Each hometown has something to write home about, such as locally made treasures and artwork, thought-provoking Civil War or Civil Rights history, and natural areas featuring breathtaking scenery.

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