The Island in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Image credit Joseph Hendrickson via Shutterstock

8 Lovely Small Towns to Visit in Tennessee This Summer

Tennessee takes a choice spot among the top destinations in the country for tourism. This state is known for many things, from country and blues music to the Great Smoky Mountains, whiskey, barbeque, and more. These amazing features are especially lavish in the state’s small towns, many of which feature quaint aura and gorgeous natural scenery. From Rogersville to Townsend, Tennessee is home to endless lovely towns, and summer is an incredible time to visit them for unforgettable retreats. Regardless of your idea of fun, these towns have something to satisfy everybody.


Historic buildings in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Historic buildings in Rogersville, Tennessee.

Rogersville is a sweet town for a summer outing, especially for history buffs. Here, visitors will be met with attractions like Hawkins County Courthouse (the second oldest in the state), Knoxville Gazette (the first newspaper in the state), and an old post office. After exploring these historic gems, visitors can have a great time at the Rogersville City Park featuring a duck pond, a city swimming pool, two walking trails, fitness trails, picnic shelters, and a playground for kids.

The town also features Crockett Spring Park, which blends history and recreation as it hosts the log cabin of Davy Crockett and his wife (grandparents of the town’s first settlers), an arboretum, and picnic areas. For more great experiences, visitors can shop for vintage clothing at Olde Towne Emporium.


The courthouse square in Carthage, Tennessee.
The courthouse square in Carthage, Tennessee. Image credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Carthage is a laid-back town in Smith County, beautified by the Cumberland River and other water bodies. While it is renowned as the hometown of famous US senator and former Vice President Al Gore, the town passes for an incredible summer vacation destination any day. First off, the Cumberland River makes it an easy choice as visitors can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, and paddling activities in the waters.

Additionally, Caney Fork forms a confluence with the Cumberland River and presents a worthy alternative for water sports and fishing adventures. Elsewhere, visitors can enjoy a ride or walk across the historic Cordell Hull Bridge, an experience spiced with panoramic views of the river and nearby ridges. The Cordell Hull Lake is an interesting stop after descending from the bridge, with a picnic area a few yards away to relax and admire the views. Meanwhile, the lake is available for fishing, boating, kayaking, camping, and hiking.


Rhea County Courthouse; Dayton Tennessee.
Rhea County Courthouse; Dayton, Tennessee.

Dayton promises a sensational summer vacation, especially for lovers of the outdoors. Once here, the nearby Chickamauga Lake is a typical first port of call, offering endless opportunities for fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, and swimming. North of the town, hikers and just about anyone can explore the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area, featuring two gorgeous waterfalls, Laurel and Snow Falls, alongside trails, and two scenic overlooks for scintillating vistas of the area.

The area also has creeks, dramatic gorges, and stunning geological formations. More natural beauty awaits 15 minutes away at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, home to sandhill cranes and accommodating over 50,000 birds yearly. The refuge also features an observation tower with breathtaking views of the Hiwassee River, joining the Tennessee River.

Tellico Plains

View along the town square in Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
View along the town square in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Image credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The small town of Tellico Plains lies by the river of the same name and is close to the Cherokee National Forest. Hence, visiting the town is a great opportunity to explore the vast forest and its 700 miles of hiking trails, 30 campgrounds, seven whitewater rivers, and scenic picnic areas. Conasauga Falls is one of the park's top attractions close to the town, and it can be explored via a 1.5-mile round-trip hike.

For history buffs, visit the Charles Hall Museum, home to over 10,000 historic artifacts, including guns, antique telephones, and switchboards. Tellico Plains also features the stunning Cherohala Skyway that stretches more than 40 miles to Robbinsville in North Carolina. Ride on this highway that rises to 5,400 feet to enjoy the dramatic and jaw-dropping scenery of Tennessee’s backcountry.

Pigeon Forge

Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Image credit eakkarat rangram via

Pigeon Forge is a charming little town along the west fork of the Little Pigeon River, where it scores high on scenic beauty. The river can be a starting point to bask in the outdoors on a summer vacation, with fishing, boating, kayaking, rafting, and paddling experiences. Otherwise, a short five-mile trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is enough to fill every void of adventures created by winter. For music lovers and adventurers, Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood Park featuring numerous yearly musical events, water parks, and thrilling rides, among other fantastic attractions.

Fans of Titanic are not left out of the fun in Pigeon Forge as the town is home to the Titanic Museum, shaped after the epic ship and featuring over 400 real artifacts. Families visiting can spend time at the Island Pigeon Forge, home to many attractions including carousels, rides, fountains, arcades, and a museum.


Cookeville, Tennessee, US.
Downtown Cookeville, Tennessee. Image credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Cookeville is a pretty town that sits proudly in the Cumberland region, luring laid-back and adventurous tourists each summer. Here, visitors will be met with family-friendly attractions like Dogwood Park, featuring an interactive fountain, a lovely rose garden, and a city playground. The park is a great spot to enjoy picnics, embark on strolls, and play with the kids. Crane Creek Park is another relaxing destination in this town, featuring picnic areas, and a 56-acre lake, two fishing piers, hiking and biking trails, and sports facilities.

Also, adventurous visitors can head to the nearby 275-acre Window Cliffs State Natural Area, to hike its 2.7-mile trail and see stunning geological formations. For a dose of history, visitors are invited to the Cookeville History Museum, home to exhibits and relics about the area’s past.


St. Francis of Assisi (Townsend, Tennessee) - church on the Little River
Floating down the Little River past St. Francis of Assisi, in Townsend, Tennessee. Image credit Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Townsend is a magnificent outdoor destination in Blount County, full of jaw-dropping natural attractions for a summer blast. Once here, visitors can start with the Little River that flows through the town and offers sensational tubing, floating, swimming, fishing, and rafting adventures. Proceed to the scenic Cades Cove, a secluded valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest, full of historic structures, charming mountain views, hiking trails, and wildlife like bears and deer. Meanwhile, the town is one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where a world of thrilling adventures and unforgettable sights await.

For laid-back visitors, learn about this incredible national park at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. The nearby Tuckaleechee Caverns is also a must-visit, featuring a 210-foot underground waterfall, alongside awe-inspiring rock formations. For history buffs, the Little River Railroad/Lumber Museum is a great place to learn about the town’s rail and lumber industry via exhibits and relics.


Flowers blooming in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Kosoff via

Gatlinburg has long been an incredibly famous destination in Tennessee in terms of tourism. First off, the small town is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to some of America’s proudest sights. This park is the most visited in the US, with over 800 miles of hiking trails, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and mountain peaks to explore. A relaxing way to savor the scenery of this park from Gatlinburg is to drive to Clingsman Dome, an observation tower and the highest point in the state, offering panoramic views of the mountains and up to five states.

Next, visitors can ride the two-mile Aerial Tramway from downtown to Ober Gatlinburg, where a 30-minute chairlift spoils tourists with dreamy views. The Gatlinburg Sky Park is another thrilling destination in town, accessible by an open-air chairlift from the downtown strip. Adventurous visitors can cross the 700-foot span of the Skylift Bridge and slug it out with the SkyTrail for scintillating views of Gatlinburg's landscapes.

Visit these lovely small towns in Tennessee this summer and find new paths to fun and mind-blowing memories. Each town boasts a vibrant energy, with fewer crowds, warm locals, unspoiled natural attractions, and fascinating sights. Whether one comes alone, with the family, a partner, or friends, these towns have numerous ways to make the trip worthwhile. If the mountains are too intimidating to explore, the lakes and rivers are always available to offer laid-back experiences and breathtaking scenery. As if that’s not enough, the food and music are great, and history buffs have a place or two to explore.

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