From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee really does have something for everyone! Within a long day’s drive from Miami, Tennessee is a spectacular place to visit both in the warmer and cooler months. Tennessee’s diversity makes it the perfect destination for couples, families, and even groups of friends. Its cities offer amazing restaurants and bars, while its smaller towns and mountain regions allow you to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. I have selected two top locations below that are certainly worth the drive to the “Volunteer State” (nicknamed so because of the 1500 soldiers they sent to fight in the war of 1812).
Just a note that if you will be visiting during our current pandemic situation, I do recommend checking on the local tourism office websites as well as attraction websites so you can plan accordingly, as there may be limitations to adapt to and it will be important to think ahead. Some locations may require advance reservations and others are operating at limited capacity with restricted hours. But if you do decide to visit soon, rest assured that there is still so much to see and do. We were just there over the New Year’s Holiday and managed to have an amazing time, all while following current guidelines and planning our stops in advance!
The Great Smoky Mountains and Vicinity:
This National Park is the most visited in the United States…and it’s free! An amazing place to start your adventure in Tennessee, this is where you’ll want to go to get away from it all! Here you’ll find remarkable hikes that lead to waterfalls and take you along picturesque rivers. And you’ll mostly likely bump into some of the local wildlife, such as black bears and deer. There are various entry points into the park, some being more commercial and “touristy” than others. The most popular places to stay that provide easy access are the neighboring towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The latter is where Dollywood is located, so if you’re visiting with kids, these places are really good options. They provide an incredible amount of activities, attractions and rides for kids. It is a bit like being near the theme parks in Orlando, so if you’re on a budget, the expenses here will add up quickly. There are also many places to stay here, from cheaper motels to resorts offering multiple bedroom accommodations. But if this kind of thing isn’t for you, there are numerous cabin rentals scattered throughout the area, and you may want to check out places closer to Townsend, which also provides access to the park on the Tennessee side. If you prefer to stay in a small city with lots of character, history, and great restaurants, then do check out Knoxville. This is just under an hour away. In Knoxville you are in for a real treat, as the architecture alone is quite charming. Knoxville was also selected to host the World’s Fair in 1982, which helped transform the city from an industrial town to a charming and historic small city.
Chattanooga and Nearby Mountains:
Home to Lookout Mountain and the spectacular Ruby Falls and Rock City, this should be high on your list of places to visit while in Tennessee. The city itself offers a very walkable downtown along the Tennessee River, some nice food options and even an axe-throwing bar (yes you can pay to throw hand axes at a target!). Of course, while you’re there, no matter how touristy it may seem, visiting Ruby Falls (the tallest underground waterfall that can be visited in the US) and Rock City (with its breathtaking panoramic views of 7 states and gardens made of gigantic rock formations) are an absolute MUST!!!
If you go in the winter, Chattanooga offers an outdoor ice-skating rink in the old train terminal known as the Chattanooga Choo Choo, where you’ll find restaurants, shops and bars, too. If you are into outdoor sports, make sure you check out the nearby Ocoee River and Cumberland mountains for whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking and mountain biking. The drive towards the Ocooe Whitewater Center, built for the 1996 Olympics, along highway 74, is also absolutely spectacular. By the way, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery is a little over an hour away and the factory tours and tastings are well worth the time it takes to get there.
The Bigger Names:
Though I am not touching on some of the bigger cities like Nashville and Memphis in great detail, it’s easy enough to incorporate these into any vacation to Tennessee. If you’re looking to explore the start of Rock and Roll and visit Elvis’ birthplace, Graceland, make sure you head to Memphis. While here, don’t forget to try some of that famous barbeque! Or, if you prefer to put your dancing skills to work, head over to Nashville for some line dancing! Here you’ll also find the Grand Ole Opry, where many country music singers have performed for the past 95 years. Next door is the Opryland Hotel, which is a destination in its own, containing a waterpark onsite and phenomenal indoor gardens! If you’re driving around the state, make sure you stop at some of the local wineries, cider and apple farms, and local distilleries, too!
Well, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to this beautiful state as you won’t go wrong with the variety of activities, remarkable scenery, friendly people, and delicious food you’ll find when you get there! And as they advertise on their tourism website “The Soundtrack of America is Made in Tennessee: so “roll down the windows, crank up the radio, and hit the open road”! (Check out more info on Tennessee here: wwwtnvacation.com )
CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO FROM THE TENNESSEE OFFICIAL TOURISM OFFICE: