Aerial view of Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough.

The Most Picturesque Small Towns in Tennessee

The landlocked state of Tennessee is famous for all the right reasons in the United States. Bringing stars like Elvis Presley, claiming recognition as the "Birthplace of Country Music," home to the Smokies, and so much more. The Volunteer State also hosts several picturesque small towns. These small towns, each with its own story to tell and sights to behold, epitomize the beauty and allure of Tennessee.

From Townsend to Tellico Plains, you will find noteworthy architecture, history-telling museums, cultural spots, natural spaces, and everything else that makes the state a worthwhile destination. Uncover nine such towns where visitors can discover the beauty and charm that await around every corner.

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 credit Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Flaunting Victorian-style architecture that lines the main thoroughfare, Bell Buckle greets visitors with a timeless feel. One of the town's main attractions is the Bell Buckle Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It offers a look into the past with its beautifully preserved architecture. The Webb School, a prestigious preparatory school founded in 1870, is also located here, adding to the town's historical significance. For a more adventurous outing, the nearby Normandy Lake provides opportunities for boating, fishing, and picnicking, making it a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike.

Bell Buckle is perhaps most famous for its annual RC Cola & MoonPie Festival, a quirky celebration that attracts thousands of visitors each year in June. This event features a parade, live music, and several MoonPie-themed activities, providing a fun and unique experience for the whole family. A visit to Bell Buckle would not be complete without exploring its renowned Bell Buckle Café, where you can indulge in fulfilling American platters.


Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
Street view in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Image credit Dee Browning via

Jonesborough, Tennessee, holds the distinction of being the state's oldest town, established in 1779. The town's beautifully preserved Main Street, lined with Federal and Victorian-style buildings, adds to its image of being rich in history and character. For example, The Chester Inn Museum, housed in a historic 1797 inn, provides a fascinating outlook of the town's heritage with exhibits showcasing local artifacts and stories. One of the town's highlights is the International Storytelling Center, home to the annual National Storytelling Festival, held every October. Throughout the year, the center also hosts storytelling events, workshops, and performances that celebrate this timeless art form.

Simultaneously, Persimmon Ridge Park promises serene trails, picnic areas, and stunning views of the surrounding Appalachian landscape. It is a perfect 130-acre spot for hiking, bird watching, or enjoying a peaceful day in nature. Meanwhile, Jonesborough's vibrant arts scene is showcased at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, where local talent shines in several productions throughout the year. Another delightful spot is the Boone Street Market, a community-owned grocery store delivering locally sourced produce, artisanal goods, and handmade crafts, giving visitors a taste of the region's culinary delights.

Leipers Fork

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

The rolling hills of Williamson County give way to the beautiful and artsy Leipers Fork. Start your visit at the Leipers Creek Gallery, where you can admire a mix of paintings, sculptures, and photography by local artists. This gallery, set in a rustic building, perfectly captures the town's artistic spirit. Another must-visit is the David Arms Gallery, located in a beautifully restored barn. It showcases the works of renowned artist David Arms while blending fine art and home decor.

History buffs will appreciate a visit to the Leiper’s Fork Distillery. This small-batch distillery offers guided tours that delve into the art and science of whiskey making, culminating in a tasting of their handcrafted spirits. Ensure to step in the historic Fox & Locke. Originally a 1953 country store, it is now a beloved gathering spot where you can enjoy comforting Southern fare and live music performances.


Log cabin marks the site of Grinder’s Stand where Meriwether Lewis died while traveling on the Natchez Trace.
Log cabin marks the site of Grinder’s Stand where Meriwether Lewis died while traveling on the Natchez Trace. Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock

Hohenwald is a hidden treasure in the heart of Lewis County, where you can find the Elephant Sanctuary, the largest natural habitat refuge for elephants in North America. Although the sanctuary is not open to the public to ensure the elephants' peace, the Welcome Center offers interactive exhibits and live-streamed footage of the elephants.

For history enthusiasts, the Meriwether Lewis Monument is a must-visit. Located in the nearby Natchez Trace National Park, this site commemorates the famed explorer of the Lewis and Clark expedition, who met an untimely end in Hohenwald. The monument, along with a small museum, provides insight into Lewis's life and the early history of the area. A quaint spot nearby is Fall Hollow, a beautiful waterfall tucked away along a trail with the same name, ideal for a peaceful retreat.

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

Tellico Plains takes the stage for being the gateway to the Cherokee National Forest, making it a prime destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The scenic beauty of Tellico Plains is best experienced through the Cherohala Skyway, a 43-mile National Scenic Byway that winds through the forested mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Furthermore, a short drive from town, Bald River Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region. The falls cascade down 90 feet and provide a stunning backdrop for photos and a relaxing spot to enjoy the sound of rushing water.

Downtown Tellico Plains displays a charming array of shops and cafes. The Tellico Grains Bakery, located in a historic building, is a local favorite known for its freshly baked bread, pastries, and wood-fired pizzas.


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

The “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” or Townsend, the gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is perfect for those seeking serenity and outdoor adventure away from the bustling tourist spots. The Tuckaleechee Caverns, known as the “Greatest Site Under the Smokies,” deliver an awe-inspiring subterranean experience. These extensive caverns feature towering formations, underground streams, and the impressive Big Room, over 400 feet long and 300 feet wide. Guided tours provide fascinating insights into the geological wonders and history of the caverns.

Townsend’s cultural scene is also vibrant and inviting. The annual Townsend Spring Festival and Old Timers Day is a delightful event that features bluegrass music, local crafts, and traditional Appalachian cuisine. Meanwhile, the laid-back charm of Townsend is reflected in its local eateries and shops. The Apple Valley Mountain Village features unique gifts, locally made crafts, and delicious baked goods, while the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro serves up gourmet dishes inspired by regional flavors.


A view of Dayton, Tennessee at sunset with the mountains in the background.
Dayton, Tennessee at sunset with the mountains in the background.

Known for its significant role in American history, Dayton is full of a multitude of experiences for visitors. Dayton’s most notable landmark is the 1891 Rhea County Courthouse, the site of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. This historic trial, which debated the legality of teaching evolution in schools, has left a lasting legacy. Today, visitors can explore the courthouse and its adjoining museum, where they can view exhibits and artifacts related to the trial and learn about its impact on American legal and educational history.

For nature enthusiasts, the nearby Chickamauga Lake promises a range of outdoor activities. Fishing is particularly popular, with the lake known for its bass and crappie. The surrounding landscapes provide ample opportunities for boating, kayaking, and wildlife observation. A noteworthy mention is the Fort Bluff Camp, a scenic retreat with hiking trails, a beautiful overlook, and various recreational activities. It is an ideal spot for families and groups looking to enjoy the great outdoors in a peaceful and picturesque setting.


Historic downtown Pulaski, Tennessee.
Historic downtown Pulaski, Tennessee. Image credit JNix via

The under-9,000 town of Pulaski has a noteworthy historic downtown district. The Giles County Courthouse, with its grand architecture and clock tower, serves as a centerpiece, showcasing the town’s rich history. Nearby, the Sam Davis Home and Museum is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. This historic home, once owned by Confederate scout Sam Davis, offers guided tours and exhibits that delve into the Civil War era and the life of Davis.

For those interested in outdoor activities, the Milky Way Farm offers a scenic retreat. Once the estate of candy magnate Frank Mars, the farm now serves as a public park with hiking trails, picnic areas, and a historic mansion open for tours. Additionally, Pulaski's annual events add to its vibrancy, with highlights such as the Giles County Agricultural Fair, featuring agricultural exhibits, livestock shows, and carnival attractions.


Downtown street in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Downtown street in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Image credit Paul McKinnon via Shutterstock

Lynchburg is primarily known as the home of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey. The highlight of Lynchburg is Jack Daniel's Distillery. Visitors can take guided tours of the distillery to learn about whiskey-making, explore historic buildings like the barrelhouse and springhouse, and sample a selection of Jack Daniel's iconic spirits.

Aside from whiskey, Lynchburg also features a rich history worth exploring. The Moore County Old Jail Museum provides insights into the town's past, including exhibits on local industries, notable residents, and the Civil War era. Alternatively, spend time in the nearby Tims Ford State Park, situated along the scenic Tims Ford Lake. The park gives access to hiking trails, fishing spots, and picnic areas amid beautiful 3,500+ acres of natural landscapes. The park's secluded coves and wooded hillsides are a paradise for outdoor adventures.

From the historical significance of towns like Dayton and Pulaski to the natural beauty of places like Townsend and Lynchburg, these towns showcase the diversity and richness of Tennessee's landscapes and heritage. The vibrant cultural scenes in towns like Jonesborough add another layer of allure, with galleries, theaters, and cultural events that showcase local talent and creativity. Whether exploring historic landmarks, hiking scenic trails, sampling local cuisine, or participating in cultural events, visitors to these towns are sure to be enchanted by the beauty and authenticity they offer.

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