Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Kosoff via

Tennessee's Best Small Towns for a Weekend Escape

The landlocked state of Tennessee in the American Southeast is distinguished for its geographical and cultural diversity thanks to its unique location at the intersection of three significant geographic regions: the Gulf Coastal Plains, the Cumberland Plateau, and the Appalachian Mountains. Although thousands of vacationers from worldwide flock in large numbers to ‘The Volunteer State’ enchanted by the glamor of its big cities: Memphis, Knoxville, Clarksville, and the state capital, Nashville, the uncountable small towns sprinkled all over the state’s 41,235 sq. mi. terrain often go unnoticed. Each of these tiny communities, with wondrous landscapes, spellbinding attractions, vibrant celebrations, and plenty of recreation, makes it worthwhile for every visitor to discover these idyllic towns on the weekends.


Rogersville, Tennesse.
Rogersville, Tennesse.

Rogersville, the administrative center of Hawkins County, settled in 1775 by Davy Crockett’s grandparents and christened in honor of its founder Joseph Rogers, is the state’s second-oldest town. The town’s interesting history is well noted in its many prominent sites such as the Thomas Amis Historic Site which comprises the old Amis House and the oldest stone dam in the state; the Rogersville Printing Museum where the Volunteer State’s foremost newspaper ‘The Knoxville Gazette’ was printed; the Hawkins County Courthouse - Tennessee’s second oldest courthouse; and the Amis Mill Eatery. Walk down the streets of Rogersville Historic District and browse the several remarkable historical structures, gift shops, art galleries, first-class eating places, and hotels like Hale Springs Inn and Comfort Inn & Suites. Rogersville City Park and Crockett Spring Park are must-visits for those who wish to spend quality time outdoors.


Street view of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains.
Street view of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains. Editorial credit: littlenySTOCK /

Dubbed, “Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains,” this pleasant mountain resort town sits along U.S. Route 441 in Sevier County on the borders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, approximately 30 miles southeast of Knoxville. Primarily called White Oak Flats, the settlement was later renamed after Radford Gatlin for its enchanting sceneries, great shopping opportunities, and multiple recreations. Gatlinburg, therefore, functions as a quintessential jumping-off point for adventurists looking to discover the diverse offerings of the National Park. Holidayers must have a comfortable night’s sleep at Bear Creek Inn following their tour of Gatlinburg’s different attractions such as the Anakeesta Mountaintop Adventure Park, Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community, Hollywood Star Cars Museum, Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and the conspicuous 407 ft tall Gatlinburg Space Needle.


Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee
Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee, via Nolichuckyjake /

Tennessee’s oldest town established by European Americans in 1779, Jonesborough, Washington County’s seat of government is at the extreme northeastern corner of the state. Vacationers holidaying in this town called after Willie Jones - a North Carolina politician, can learn more about the community’s glorious past at the Chuckey Depot Museum and Chester Inn State Historic Site & Museum. Stroll down the Jonesborough Historic District and take note of the myriad contributing properties built in various architectural styles. Indulge in a day of shopping at umpteen stores like the International Storytelling Center Gift Shop, Jonesborough Antiques & Artisans, Paul’s Pens Odds & Ends, and Mauk’s of Jonesborough in the tree-lined downtown. Additionally, hike the Lost State Scenic Walkway that passes through the Persimmon Ridge Park, spend the night at the Historic Eureka Inn, and find time to participate in any of Jonesborough’s unique festivals such as the National Storytelling Festival, Doggone Christmas, Jonesborough Garden Gala, Made Around Here Market, Jonesborough Days Festival, and the Jonesborough Chocolate Fest.

Pigeon Forge

Old Mill District in the tourist area of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Old Mill District in the tourist area of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Image credit littlenySTOCK via Shutterstock

Pigeon Forge is a serene alpine resort town located only 5 miles north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee’s Sevier County along the Little Pigeon River’s West Fork. Boasting awe-inspiring views of the Smokies and an electrifying entertainment scene, this year-round family-friendly vacation retreat fascinates Southern culture and country music fans. Apart from the abundant gift shops, musical theaters, amusement rides, boutiques, and outlet malls, the town’s impressive sites of interest include the Dollywood Theme Park, Hollywood Wax Museum, Wonder Works Children’s Museum, Pigeon Forge City Park, Dollywood’s Splash Country, Titanic Museum, Wear City Park, the 16-acre Patriot Park, and the Alcatraz East Crime Museum. Savor delectable Southern cuisines at the Old Mill Restaurant or Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, get enthralled by theatrical performances at Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud and the Comedy Barn Theater, and de-stress overnight at Margaritaville Island Inn and Best Western Plaza Inn.


A street in Downtown Paris, Tennessee
A street in Downtown Paris, Tennessee

Considered West Tennessee’s oldest incorporated town, Paris is the administrative center of Henry County. Named after the French capital city, the town exudes a distinctive ‘City of Love’ vibe enticing tourists with its 70-foot-tall scale model of the Eiffel Tower at the Eiffel Tower Park. The park which is an outstanding family-centric recreation hub also provides holidayers with a public Olympic-sized swimming pool, walking trails, splash pad, tennis courts, frisbee golf course, soccer fields, and children’s playgrounds with pavilions. Throughout the year, watch musical events at the Krider Performing Arts Center and many artistic events at the Paris-Henry County Arts Council. Have a pleasant stay at premier accommodations like Home Sweet Home Bed & Breakfast, and Hampton Inn by Hilton Paris.


Overlooking Cookeville, Tennessee
Overlooking Cookeville, Tennessee

Putnam County’s seat and its biggest community, Cookeville occupies the Upper Cumberland region approx. halfway between Nashville and Knoxville. This typical college town is home to Tennessee Technological University, the private Tennessee Bible College, and Volunteer State Community College’s branch campus. Famed as the “Hub of the Upper Cumberlands,” Cookeville is a regional mecca for education, retail, health care, and cultural activities. Cummins Falls State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Cookeville Depot Museum, Cookeville Performing Arts Center, Dogwood Outdoor Performance Pavilion, etc., are some noteworthy sites of interest. Furthermore, check out the town’s downtown chock-a-full of locally-owned retail stores, cozy cafes, restaurants, and accommodations like Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Cookeville, and Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Cookeville.


Aerial view of Sewanee, Tennessee, in fall.
Aerial view of Sewanee, Tennessee, in fall.

A census-designated place in Franklin County, Sewanee sits on the western end of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee’s southeastern part. This gorgeous town is widely known for housing the scenic campus of Sewanee: The University of the South, a private liberal arts college managed by the Episcopal Church. The University’s 13,000-acre domain and adjacent state parks are ideal for hiking, golfing, mountain biking, and horseback riding, besides offering unparalleled vistas of the surrounding valleys at the Memorial Cross and Green’s View. Stroll through the quaint downtown area filled with one-of-a-kind shops, eateries, and hotels like the Sewanee Bicycle House which caters to hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers, and the Sewanee Inn - a 43-room hotel where Gothic charm and Southern hospitality perfectly amalgamate. Students and tourists look forward to attending this community's various yearly events such as the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Sewanee Summer Music Festival.

Bell Buckle

Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre in Bell Buckle, Tennessee
Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Image creditBrian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

With just 410 inhabitants, this teeny railroad village is situated in the northeastern part of Bedford County. Founded in 1852, Bell Buckle is renowned for its meticulously maintained Victorian properties, churches, vintage shops, gift stores, boutiques, galleries, and award-winning diners in and around the town’s alluring downtown area. When visiting the town, take note of the late 19th century and early 20th century structures in the Bell Buckle Historic District, drop by the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum to know more about equestrian history, partake in a variety of recreations at the adjacent Henry Horton State Park and Short Springs Natural Area, try to be present at any of the annual celebrations like the RC Cola - MoonPie Festival and the Webb School Arts & Crafts Fair, and unwind after an eventful day at the Seasons Bed & Breakfast.


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

Proudly upholding the motto: “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” Townsend is located along the winding Little River in Tuckaleechee Cove at the northern base of the Smokies in the eastern portion of Blount County. Being one of the three access points to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this 550-resident town is acclaimed for its natural surroundings and countless pretty spots. Adrenaline junkies must drive into the Smokies by taking a 1.5-mile hike to Spruce Flats Falls or traversing the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road. Immediately outside the National Park is Townsend’s most popular attraction - the ‘Tuckaleechee Caverns,’ along with large-scale old rock formations and a subterranean waterfall called “Silver Falls” - Eastern US’s tallest waterfall. To gain knowledge about the cultural and environmental history of the area, history lovers must not miss the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, and the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum. Enjoy your stay at Dancing Bear Lodge, or Little Arrow Outdoor Resort, and plan accordingly so you do not miss any of the town’s festivals like the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival, Smoky Mountain Winter Heritage Festival, Grains & Grits Festival, and Townsend Spring Heritage Festival & Old Timers Day.

From Cookeville - the “Hub of the Upper Cumberlands” to Gatlinburg - “Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains,” there is no shortage of picture-perfect towns in Tennessee. Embark on an unforgettable vacation to explore The Volunteer State’s tight-knit communities which are excellent locales for your weekend retreats, waiting to captivate tourists with their exclusive allures and warm hospitality in addition to providing a much-needed escape far away from the maddening crowds of urban metropolises.

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