The start of autumn usually means the perfect weather for a quick weekend day trip. These six stops across the Volunteer State vary from natural paradises to intriguing communities and exhibits, and are all within four hours of Music City.
Homeplace at Land between the Lakes. Photo by Joe Schneid
Land Between the Lakes
West Tennessee/Southwest Kentucky
Land Between the Lakes, stretching from southwest Kentucky to West Tennessee, provides plenty of outdoor recreation for a day trip. Located about two hours west of Nashville, Land Between the Lakes boasts more than 200 miles of hiking trails, many miles of old logging and scenic back roads for mountain biking and cycling, horseback riding trails and facilities and a 40-foot dome planetarium.
Intrepid hikers may wish to hike the North-South Trail, spanning both states, or try Fort Henry National Recreation Trail, located in Tennessee. Cyclists can enjoy mountain biking through Kentucky on Canal Loop Trail, a 14.2-mile system, or a 31-mile portion of North South Trail.
For equestrians, Wranglers Campground provides campsites for you and stalls, troughs and hitching posts for your horse, along with 100 miles of riding trails to embark on.
Finally, for those seeking less physical recreation, Land Between the Lakes also accommodates Golden Pond Planetarium, with two major telescopes for public use.
– Angela Sander
Graceland. Photo by TPHolland
If a road trip through the Volunteer State takes you to Memphis, its most populated city, a visit to the former home of the “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” will put you among more than five million sightseers who’ve been there since it opened to the public in 1982.
Elvis Presley purchased Graceland, located in the vast Whitehaven neighborhood nine miles from downtown Memphis, on Aug. 16, 1957. He lived at the property until he died exactly 20 years later. Even today, thousands flock to his estate on that date to pay homage to him.
Nearly 600,000 people go to the 14-acre estate annually to bear witness to Presley’s quirky jungle room, his personal racquetball court and a museum containing artifacts like the legend’s many awards, famous Vegas jumpsuits, Gold records, “Lisa Marie” jetliner and extensive auto collection. An audio tour takes fans throughout the Graceland grounds to showcase all these iconic items and more.
A visit to West Tennessee is not complete without a visit to 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard and the U.S. National Historic Landmark known as Elvis Presley’s Graceland.
– Dustin Stout
Festival time in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Photo by Brent Moore.
Hidden away in the rural hills of Bedford County is the last place you’d expect a thriving artist community to reside. But right in the heart of Middle Tennessee sits Bell Buckle, home to famous folk art and a festival dedicated to one of Tennessee’s most famous sugary confections.
The tiny town, with a population under 500, holds two annual festivals, the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival and the Webb School Arts & Crafts Fair, that brings in thousands of tourists and onlookers. While the RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival usually takes place in June, students looking for a day filled with handmade trinkets and folk art can attend the Webb School Arts & Crafts Fair on Oct. 15-16.
Can’t make it to the fair? Visit Bell Buckle on a regular weekend to enjoy the quiet atmosphere, local art galleries and the delicious Southern cooking found at the Bell Buckle Café. Fried clam strips and chicken fried steaks, both served with your choice of three heaping piles of sides, are crowd favorites. If you make the trip during the right time of year, live performances will grace the makeshift stage on Friday nights. Be sure to come early; even the locals can have trouble getting seats.
– Autumn Allison
The Minister's Tree House. Photo by Chris Shiflett.
The Minister’s Tree House
Tucked away off I nterstate 40 in Crossville, Tenn., is one of the world’s largest tree houses. About two hours away from Nashville, the tree house is massive wooden structure that will give you a whole afternoon full of fun.
Horace Burgess, a landscaper and a preacher, began building the Minister’s Tree House in 1993. The 10-floor sure is still under construction. Burgess believes the building will be finished in roughly 40 years. Burgess is now 60 years old.
You can release your inner child by climbing through the many rooms inside the tree house. Or you can just admire the view from several lookouts and relax in the tree house’s chapel. The tree house is definitely a spectacle to add to your weekend to-do list. But visit at your own risk; there are no harnesses – safety is up to you.
– Dylon Walker
Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Angela Smith.
Need a penguin fix? Want to see a 10-foot shark in front of you or pet a stingray? Then Chattanooga has the place for you.
A two-hour drive from Nashville, the Tennessee Aquarium on the banks of the Tennessee River has become one of the top-rated aquariums in the country since its opening nearly 20 years ago. Visitors can see thousands of unique water-life species on their trip there, including sharks, penguins, alligators, and huge catfish and turtles.
Admission for the aquarium is $24.95, but the full experience, complete with river and ocean journeys, is well worth the cost. Visitors can also pay extra for admission to the local IMAX theatre or a ride down the Tennessee River on the River Gorge Explorer.
While in the area, be sure to also check out the downtown area and the Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Battlefield ($3) on Lookout Mountain for great hiking trails.
– Brian Wilson
A creek in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Brian Stansberry.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee – the most visited of the 394 U.S. national parks – offers a fun fall getaway.
The 800 square-mile mountain range features many activities, including hiking and biking trails. Some of the more popular hiking trails and overlooks include Chimney Tops, intended for experienced hikers and rock climbers; Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee; and Mount LeConte, accessible via the Alum Cave Bluff trail.
The park also offers the perfect opportunity to observe nature and photograph the beautiful surroundings. Often, Smoky Mountain National park visitors will even see black bears, deer and bobcats.
Also available in the area – and perfect for a day or weekend trip – are horseback riding, local shopping in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, nature observation and ziplining for the thrill seekers. Less than four hours from Belmont, a trip to the Smoky Mountains National Park is bound to refresh and revitalize any student.
– Kyle Dee Johnson