The old mill in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

8 Most Scenic Small Towns in Tennessee

Tennessee's primary attraction is its culture, characterized by a preservation of Southern American traditions that can be experienced all throughout the state. However, the natural settings, architecture, and local efforts to attract tourism give the small towns of Tennessee their scenic advantage. From calm, secluded destinations that attract nature lovers and adventurers like Gatlinburg to preserved communities beautified by wooden-front shops and relics from the bygone era like Bell Buckle, read along to plan your next escape to the most scenic small towns in Tennessee.


Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Kosoff via

Known for being a gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg ranks as one of the most scenic towns in Tennessee for its many parks and family-friendly attractions like the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, and the Anakeesta Mountaintop Adventure Park. Gatlinburg’s scenic appeal lies in its balance of nature-centric adventurous atmospheres with an engaging and lively ambiance of shopping, dining, and more.

The Strip is considered the town’s main street and is enhanced with colorful buildings and architecture that add to its charm, hosting handmade local product shops like moonshine-scented candles, and iconic tourist attractions like the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. Entertainment for all ages is also a significant part of the small-town experience in Gatlinburg, with some of the most popular venues and displays being Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Iris Theater for performing arts, and more.

Despite the endless manmade attractions in town, a visit to Gatlinburg is incomplete without taking the time to appreciate the natural beauties of the nearby Smoky Mountains sitting just a few miles away, making for a memorable cruise through Route 441. Must-see places in the mountains include Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the area, the picturesque Cades Cove valley, and Grotto Falls, which make an excellent family-friendly hiking itinerary.


Aerial view of Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, and its courthouse.
Overlooking Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, and its courthouse.

The oldest small town in Tennessee is also one of the most scenic places to visit for its unique real-time-lived insights into the state’s history. The town’s architecture, paired with a range of museums and historic businesses, work in sync to narrate stories of the past, allowing visitors to travel back in time through strolling the town’s center. The town's historic scenic appeal is also amplified by annual events and community gatherings like the Chocolate Fest, Art Exhibition Series, and the National Storytelling Festival, which stands out as the town’s main local event attracting tourists and enthusiasts from all over.

The Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum is one of the best places to learn about the town’s history through artifacts and photographs. At the same time, the Heritage Alliance walking tour is a guided excursion through well-preserved buildings starting at the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum. For a well-rounded historic experience, visitors to Jonesborough can plan their stay at the Historic Eureka Inn, which dates back to the 1900s and is locally acclaimed as one of the best places to stay.


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

Rogersville blends vibrant environmental settings with historic richness and stands as a less popular tourist destination in Tennessee. Ranking as one of the most scenic towns for its stunning architecture like the Hawkins County Courthouse, the main street strip is beautified with redbrick buildings in the historic downtown district, and the Tennessee Newspaper & Printing Museum established in 1791. Travelers to Rogersville can learn more about Tennessee history by browsing museum options like the Swift Museum.

One of the best places to stay when visiting Rogersville is The Hale Springs Inn, built in 1824, and the old-school Thomas Amis House. Rogersville is a relaxed small community that makes for a serene destination with a single Main Street that features all the town’s major businesses and boutiques like the Local Artists Gallery, Red Dog On Main Taproom & Eatery, and Olde Towne Emporium.


State Street in downtown Bristol, Tennessee.
State Street in downtown Bristol, Tennessee. Image credit AppalachianCentrist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on the Virginia, and Tennessee borders, Bristol is a popular vacation escape for its serene waterfront vistas and lush green landscape. The small town is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise, thanks to its endless hiking paths and parks. It also stands out as one of the best places to learn about culture and local history, with must-see destinations like the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Bristol is also one of the most lively small towns in Tennessee for its sizeable population of 27,705, and its unique geographical location that divides through the main street into two separate states.

Those visiting Bristol will also find a lively entertainment scene with places like Blue Ridge Comedy Club, Paramount Bristol, and more. Adventures and outdoor fun in town can be enjoyed at popular spots like Steel Creek Park, Bristol Campground, and the Bristol Caverns which stand out as one of the most frequented attractions. Popular lodging options in town include the South Holston River Lodge and Hampton Inn Bristol for a central stay.

Pigeon Forge

Drone aerial of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee.
Overlooking Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge is one of the most scenic towns for a booming entertainment scene, featuring some of the biggest events in the area. Notable events include the World Famous Horse Walk, Pigeon Forge Winterfest, the historic Corvette Expo, Music in the Mountains Spring Parade, and more. The Dolly Parton’s Stampede stands out as the most popular local venue.

Its proximity and location, sitting 13 miles from the Smoky Mountains, make Pigeon Forge the ideal destination to indulge in outdoor activities, like rafting the Pigeon River, and excellent hiking parks and paths near Gatlinburg like Mynatt Park, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and more. Additionally, popular lodging options in town include the upscale Pigeon Forge Paradise Hotel, and Timber Lodge.

Leipers Fork

A scene from Leiper's Fork, Tennessee.
Downtown Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. Image credit 4kclips via

Leipers Fork adds an upscale artistic twist to the scenic allure of the Volunteer State surrounded by endless acres of farmlands, and embracing a rural ambiance and slower pace of life. Sitting just 28 miles away from the major metropolis of Nashville, Leipers Fork is one of the best scenic small towns to visit for city dwellers looking for a quick weekend escape. A community that is more of a village than a town, Leipers Fork enjoys a small population of 650, and its appeal can be attributed to its small, privately owned boutiques and galleries along with the vintage allure of the town’s main business district.

Popular tourist destinations include the Copper Fox Gallery, the high-end whisky Leiper's Fork Whisky Distillery, and Leiper's Creek Gallery which features art pieces of various local talents. Additionally, the small community is also one of the best places to enjoy a well-rounded dining scene, with some of its locally renowned dining options being the Fox & Locke, The RedByrd Coffee Shop (in nearby Franklin) along with a local wine-tasting experience at Wines In The Fork.

Bell Buckle

Garden in front of the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, United States.
Garden in front of the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Image credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most popular weekend vacation spots in Tennessee, Bell Buckle is known for its preserved history, beautified Victorian architecture, and a strong sense of Southern hospitality. From local guided trolley tours that narrate tales of the town’s past, to an abundance of quirky antique shops that add to the scenic vintage allure, Bell Buckle also stands out as a quick weekend escape for Nashville residents just 54 miles away.

Visitors to Bell Buckle can enjoy a dining experience at the railroad-style Bell Buckle Cafe, or visit during popular local events for a taste of homemade southern cuisine with events like the Bell Buckle Daffodil Day & Best of the Butts BBQ Cook-Off. Bell Buckle's blend of quirky traditions and community spirit embodies the heartwarming essence of Tennessee, making it one of the best scenic small towns to visit for a historic insight.


Overlooking Cookeville, Tennessee.
Overlooking Cookeville, Tennessee.

Cookeville, Tennessee, is the largest city in the Upper Cumberland Region and an adventure enthusiast's paradise. With a sizeable population of 35,988 is more of a rural forest city than a small town. Its scenic element is attributed to its nearby parks and recreation areas like the City Lake Natural Area, Hidden Hollow Park, Cane Creek Park, and more. Complementing the natural element is a lively downtown enhanced by a mix of modern eateries, breweries, and shops, offering a well-rounded experience for visitors.

Locally renowned dining spots in town include Crawdaddy’s, The Blue Pig Smokehouse, along with Red Silo Brewing, and Ralph's Donut Shop for an all-American breakfast. Cookeville is also one of the best destinations in Tennessee for a family trip to places like the Cookeville Depot Museum, live performances at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center, and exploring the nearby Muddy Pond’s Amish community.

Each of these Tennessee towns exemplifies the state's rich cultural tapestry and natural allure. Whether you are drawn to the historic streets of Jonesborough, the adventurous landscapes of Bristol, or the artistic edge of Leipers Fork, Tennessee's towns are a testament to the enduring appeal of the American South, inviting all who visit to explore, enjoy, and embrace their charm.

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