Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee, via Nolichuckyjake /

7 of the Most Overlooked Towns in Tennessee

Gaining the nickname of "The Volunteer State" for its contribution of 1500 troops during the War of 1812, Tennessee is much more than a historic bastion of military readiness. It's a land of awe-inspiring mountains, dense forests, a rebellious spirit, and a uniqueness unmatched by any other state. Alongside its natural beauty, Tennessee boasts many famous towns and cities, yet numerous others remain unnoticed despite their charm and uniqueness. Here are 7 of the most overlooked towns in The Volunteer State that merit recognition for their beauty and distinctiveness.


Overlooking Cookeville, Tennessee.
Overlooking Cookeville, Tennessee.

Beginning modestly in the 1700s, what would later become Cookeville was once a small settlement sparked to life by investments in the railroad. Today, the town is celebrated for its brewing practices that honor the Tennesseean tradition, alongside its own natural allure.

If Cookeville is known for anything, it is for its Cummins Falls State Park. This park features a legendary 75-foot-high waterfall that is as picturesque as its waters are rapid. Coupled with 306 acres of scenic hiking trails, tall trees, thickets, and rivers, it's easy to understand why the town is considered a hidden gem. But there's more to explore, including three specialty museums (the Cookeville Depot Museum, the Cookeville History Museum, and the Cookeville Doll Museum) that are worth visiting.

Adding to its charm are the town's unique whiskey distilleries, such as Tennessee Legend Distillery and Red Silo Brewing, making Cookeville a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors and indulge in local flavors.


Street view of popular tourist city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Street view of popular tourist city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit littlenySTOCK via Shutterstock.

Established in 1806, Gatlinburg offers a deep dive into Appalachian culture like no other. Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg blends its natural environment with a vibrant culture that exceeds expectations.

The town is renowned for its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to numerous attractions, classic tours, a ghost tour, scenic spots, breweries, and restaurants nestled at the base of this natural marvel. Various specialty museums (such as the Hollywood Star Cars Museum and the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum) add to the town's attractions, while the Gatlinburg Space Needle offers panoramic views of the entire area.

Gatlinburg is a place where there's perhaps too much to explore, raising the question of why it isn't more recognized. Nonetheless, Gatlinburg excels in leveraging its greatest assets to carve out a significant presence, a feat that requires substantial effort in a region brimming with natural beauty.


Overlooking Townsend, Tennessee.
Overlooking Townsend, Tennessee.

With a modest population of 649, Townsend is one of the smallest yet most overlooked places in Tennessee. However, its small population belies its vast natural beauty and array of scenic spots.

The most notable and breathtaking attraction in Townsend is not above ground but beneath it. The Tuckaleechee Caverns, an extensive network of ancient rock formations that predate recorded history, offer a spectacle unmatched by any other caverns. Among its marvels is a 210-foot-tall underground waterfall named “Silver Falls,” which is the tallest of its kind in the eastern half of the United States.

Above ground, The Lily Barn Garden offers a haven of lush greenery, featuring daylilies, evergreen mazes, and more. It's free, open to the public, and spans nearly 100 acres, all waiting to be explored.


Shops in Lynchburg, Tennessee
Shops in Lynchburg, Tennessee

Lynchburg adds to Tennessee's treasure trove of hidden gems with its lakes, museums, charm, and most notably, its whiskey.

The town is synonymous with Jack Daniels, the legacy drink not just of Tennessee but of the entire United States. It all began 149 years ago when Jack Daniel himself established his distillery, drawing water from the pristine, uncontaminated Cave Spring Hollow. The distillery and the spring are still in operation today and can be experienced through a guided tour that doubles as a history lesson, perfect for whiskey aficionados. However, Lynchburg's appeal extends beyond the distillery.

The town also cherishes its heritage through old-time general stores, museums (like the Lynchburg Old Jail Museum), and places of interest such as the Mulberry Lavender Farm—a B&B with a storefront selling farm-produced goods.

While Jack Daniel's legacy is a major draw, Lynchburg's charm is not confined to its famous distillery. It offers a wealth of experiences, whether you're a whiskey lover or not.


The town of Rogersville, Tennessee.
The town of Rogersville, Tennessee.

As the second oldest town in Tennessee, founded in 1785, Rogersville has fascinating historical roots that have yielded a tranquil and picturesque community.

The town's pride is reflected in its two significant historical sites: the Thomas Amis Historic Site and the Amis Mill Eatery. The former boasts the state's oldest stone dam and the colonial Amis House, which has hosted notable figures like Andrew Jackson, Daniel Boone, and personalities from the Revolutionary War.

The Amis Mill Eatery offers a refined dining experience with views of the dam and the surrounding beauty. The entire town embraces its aesthetic and historical significance, welcoming visitors interested in exploring its past and enjoying its serene landscape.


The business district in Brownsville, Tennessee.
The business district in Brownsville, Tennessee. Image credit: Thomas R Machnitzki via Wikimedia Commons.

Originally a 19th-century trade center, this cotton trading post evolved into something distinctly unique. Today, it is a town known for its historical, artistic, and quirky attractions.

One of Brownsville's most unusual and notable landmarks is not one of its specialty museums, such as the Dunbar Carver Museum or the Delta Heritage Center, but a future artistic cemetery known as The Mindfield Cemetery. Created by Billy Tripp, this cemetery features an array of twisted metal beams, looping pieces, and jagged corners that represent significant moments in the artist's life. Resembling a bizarre roller coaster, the structure is open for public viewing, and Tripp plans to be buried there upon his death, beneath his morbidly fascinating creation.

However, Brownsville offers more than just an iron maze. It is also celebrated for Helen's Bar BQ, a local eatery run by a beloved woman reputed to serve the best BBQ around. After perfecting her craft for over 25 years, visitors drawn by the cemetery often stay for the exceptional food.


Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee, USA. Editorial credit: Dee Browning /

Founded in 1779, Jonesborough is Tennessee's oldest town and a prime example of substance over style. The town exudes authenticity, rooted in traditions that predate Tennessee's statehood, giving modern Jonesborough a distinct identity.

This identity is partly found in its historic inns and museums, such as the Chester Inn Museum. This museum, located in an inn dating back to the town's founding, features rotating exhibits, events, and tours that delve into the town's rich history. Other historic inns, like the Eureka Inn, continue to operate, offering guests a deep dive into America's Old West, the early days of the nation, and regional history.

For those seeking a change of pace, Nolichucky Daylilies offers a more naturalistic experience. This small, picturesque farm invites visitors to appreciate the beauty of its gardens and lilies, serving as a reminder to occasionally slow down and enjoy both the simple and the grand aspects of life.

Why These Towns?

Tennessee is often celebrated for its natural beauty, yet some towns and cities are overshadowed by more famous locales. Each of the towns mentioned contributes something unique, embodying the spirit of their community yet often missing the spotlight.

Why are these locations overlooked? Philosopher Walter Kaufmann once remarked that success is no proof of virtue, suggesting that originality and uniqueness do not always equate to popularity or success. This principle is as true for books and films as it is for the lesser-known towns of Tennessee. Uncovering their value may require a bit of exploration, but the effort is undoubtedly rewarding.

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