Tennessee Weekender: Unlocking the Volunteer State’s Best Escapes

An image of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Whether you’re an avid hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or simply looking for a peaceful camping experience, the state has something to offer everyone. Two standout destinations in the “places to go in Tennessee for the weekend” category are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Reelfoot Lake.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Overview: This iconic national park, straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, is a haven for nature lovers. With its mist-covered peaks, diverse flora and fauna, and a rich history, it’s no wonder it’s a top choice for weekend getaways.
  • Activities: Hiking enthusiasts can explore over 850 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging backcountry hikes. The park is also renowned for wildlife viewing, offering the chance to spot black bears, deer, and a variety of bird species. Camping is another popular activity, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the park’s serene ambiance.
  • Attractions: Besides its natural beauty, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts historic buildings, including churches and cabins, providing a glimpse into the area’s cultural heritage.

Reelfoot Lake

  • History: Formed by a series of powerful earthquakes in the early 19th century, Reelfoot Lake is a testament to nature’s forces. The lake’s unique feature is its hauntingly beautiful cypress trees, which rise from the water, creating an enchanting sight.
  • Recreation: Fishing enthusiasts will find Reelfoot Lake to be a paradise, with opportunities to catch crappie, bass, and catfish. The lake is also a hotspot for eagle watching during the winter months, making it an excellent destination for bird enthusiasts.
  • Scenic Beauty: The calm waters and serene surroundings of Reelfoot Lake make it a tranquil place for leisurely boat rides or photography, where you can capture the stunning reflections of the cypress trees and the abundant wildlife.

When looking for places to go in Tennessee for the weekend, consider these natural retreats. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a blend of hiking, wildlife encounters, and historical charm, while Reelfoot Lake beckons with its unique geological history and opportunities for fishing and birdwatching. Whether you seek adventure or a peaceful escape, these destinations have it all.

City Getaways

An overhead view of a location in Nashville.

When it comes to “places to go in Tennessee for the weekend,” the state’s vibrant cities offer a wide range of attractions and experiences. Two cities that stand out in this regard are Nashville and Memphis, each with its unique charm and cultural significance.


  • The Grand Ole Opry: If you’re a fan of country music, a visit to the Grand Ole Opry is a must. Known as the “Home of Country Music,” this iconic venue has hosted legendary performers for decades. It’s a window into the heart and soul of country music, with live performances that will leave you with a deep appreciation for this genre.
  • Broadway Street: Nashville’s Broadway Street is a lively hub of honky-tonk bars, live music venues, and musical energy. Stroll down this iconic street, and you’ll be greeted by the sounds of talented musicians performing everything from country classics to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a place where you can savor the true essence of Nashville’s music scene.


  • Beale Street: For lovers of blues, jazz, and soul, Beale Street in Memphis is a historical treasure trove of music. It’s a vibrant street filled with live music clubs, restaurants, and shops. The energy of Beale Street is infectious, and you can immerse yourself in the rhythms of these quintessential American music genres.
  • Graceland: A pilgrimage for Elvis Presley fans, Graceland is the former home of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Exploring Graceland offers a unique insight into Elvis’s life and career. You can tour his mansion, view his extensive collection of memorabilia, and pay your respects at his final resting place.

Whether you’re a music enthusiast or simply seeking a lively and culturally rich weekend getaway, Nashville and Memphis are prime destinations in Tennessee. Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Broadway Street offer a dose of country music magic, while Memphis’s Beale Street and Graceland immerse you in the world of blues, jazz, and the legacy of Elvis Presley. These cities are the beating heart of Tennessee’s music and cultural heritage.

Charming Towns & Hidden Gems

An aerial view of lush green surroundings in Gatlinburg

Don’t overlook the charming towns and hidden gems that offer unique experiences and a glimpse into the state’s rich history and natural beauty. Three such destinations worth exploring are Gatlinburg, Franklin, and Chattanooga.


  • Attraction: Gatlinburg is often referred to as the “Gateway to the Smokies” due to its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nature enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise, with opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives. The town also boasts a vibrant local arts scene, with numerous galleries and craft shops to explore.
  • Hidden Gem: Visit the Gatlinburg Space Needle for breathtaking panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains and the town below. It’s a fantastic spot for both daytime sightseeing and romantic evening stargazing.


  • Attraction: Franklin is a charming town steeped in history, offering a glimpse into the Civil War era. Explore the Main Street Historic District with its well-preserved 19th-century buildings, boutique shops, and local eateries. History buffs can visit the Carter House and Carnton Plantation, both important Civil War sites.
  • Hidden Gem: The Lotz House Museum provides a fascinating perspective on the Battle of Franklin. It houses an impressive collection of artifacts and offers guided tours that delve into the town’s wartime history.


  • Attraction: Chattanooga is renowned for Ruby Falls, an underground waterfall located within Lookout Mountain. Exploring the caverns to witness this stunning natural wonder is a must-do activity. Additionally, the city offers a vibrant downtown area with a diverse culinary scene and riverfront attractions.
  • Hidden Gem: Discover Rock City Gardens atop Lookout Mountain, where you can stroll through enchanting gardens, encounter unique rock formations, and soak in panoramic views of seven states from Lover’s Leap.

Gatlinburg offers a mix of natural beauty and local arts, Franklin invites you to step back in time with its historic charm, and Chattanooga dazzles with its underground waterfall and scenic attractions. Each destination promises an enriching and memorable weekend getaway in the Volunteer State.

The Historic Route

Historic Route through the state offers a captivating journey into its deep-rooted past. This route features two prominent destinations that vividly showcase Tennessee’s historical significance.

Shiloh National Military Park

  • Overview: Shiloh National Military Park serves as a poignant reminder of the Civil War’s brutal Battle of Shiloh, which took place in 1862. It spans over 4,000 acres and is a solemn tribute to the soldiers who fought and lost their lives here.
  • Attractions: Visitors can explore the battlefield, walk along the historic trails, and witness preserved cannons and monuments that tell the story of this pivotal conflict. The Shiloh National Cemetery serves as a solemn resting place for many of those who perished in the battle.
  • Educational Experience: The park offers educational programs, guided tours, and a visitor center with exhibits that provide in-depth insights into the battle’s history and its significance in shaping the nation.

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

  • Overview: Located just outside of Nashville, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage offers a unique glimpse into the life of the 7th U.S. President, Andrew Jackson, and the intricate world of the antebellum South.
  • Attractions: Visitors can tour the beautifully preserved mansion, which was Jackson’s home, and explore the surrounding gardens and grounds. The Hermitage also includes a museum housing artifacts and exhibits that delve into Jackson’s presidency and his impact on American history.
  • Educational Experience: Guided tours provide a comprehensive understanding of Jackson’s life, his role in American politics, and the complex issues of his time, including slavery and Native American policies.

Shiloh National Military Park stands as a solemn reminder of the Civil War’s impact, while Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage provides an intimate look into the life of a U.S. President and the complexities of the antebellum South. For those with a deep interest in history, this route is a compelling exploration of Tennessee’s rich past.

Food & Drink Stops

Exploring “places to go in Tennessee for the weekend” isn’t just about sightseeing; it’s also an opportunity to savor the state’s rich culinary heritage. Tennessee offers a delightful array of food and drink experiences that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.

Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Lynchburg

  • Overview: For whiskey enthusiasts, a visit to Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg is a pilgrimage. This iconic distillery is not only a piece of American history but also the oldest registered distillery in the United States. The guided tour offers a fascinating journey through the whiskey-making process and the chance to witness the craftsmanship that goes into producing Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
  • Tasting Experience: The tour typically concludes with a tasting session, where you can sample various Jack Daniel’s products, including the famous Old No. 7. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the distinct flavors and nuances of Tennessee whiskey.

Hot Chicken in Nashville

  • Overview: No culinary adventure in Tennessee is complete without trying the famous hot chicken in Nashville. This local specialty is a spicy twist on fried chicken, known for its fiery kick and flavor. Numerous eateries throughout Nashville serve hot chicken, each with its unique blend of spices and heat levels.
  • Where to Go: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, and Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish are just a few of the iconic establishments where you can sample this fiery delight. You can choose your preferred level of spiciness, from mild to “burn your taste buds” hot.
  • Local Tip: Don’t forget to pair your hot chicken with traditional Southern sides like coleslaw and pickles for the full Nashville hot chicken experience.

A visit to Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg offers an educational and flavorful experience, while sampling hot chicken in Nashville is a spicy adventure that will add a zing to your weekend getaway. Tennessee’s food and drink scene is a delightful complement to its rich history and natural beauty.

Family Fun Choices

The state offers an array of exciting options that guarantee a memorable and enjoyable experience for all ages. Two standout destinations for family fun are Dollywood in Pigeon Forge and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge

  • Overview: Dollywood is the brainchild of country music legend Dolly Parton, and it’s a theme park that seamlessly blends thrilling rides, live music, and the rich traditions of the Smoky Mountains. It’s a destination where families can immerse themselves in a unique blend of entertainment and culture.
  • Attractions: Dollywood features a variety of rides, from high-speed roller coasters to gentle family-friendly attractions. Shows and live performances are a regular feature, allowing visitors to enjoy music and entertainment throughout the day. The park also highlights the craftsmanship of the Smoky Mountain region with artisan demonstrations and exhibits.
  • Family-Friendly: Dollywood is designed with families in mind, offering kid-friendly rides and attractions such as the Country Fair and Wildwood Grove. There are also dining options that cater to various tastes, ensuring that everyone in the family can find something delicious to enjoy.

Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga

  • Overview: The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is a world-class facility that provides a deep dive into river ecosystems and marine life. It’s a perfect destination for families interested in aquatic wonders and educational experiences.
  • Exhibits: The aquarium is divided into two buildings: the River Journey and the Ocean Journey. The River Journey takes visitors through freshwater environments, showcasing river otters, turtles, and various fish species. The Ocean Journey offers a mesmerizing look at oceanic life, including sharks, jellyfish, and penguins.
  • Interactive Learning: The Tennessee Aquarium places a strong emphasis on education, with interactive exhibits and educational programs designed to engage visitors of all ages. Kids can touch stingrays, watch divers in action, and learn about the importance of conservation and aquatic habitats.

Consider Dollywood in Pigeon Forge for its thrilling rides and cultural experiences or the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga for an educational adventure through aquatic ecosystems. Both destinations offer a perfect blend of entertainment and learning opportunities that will create lasting memories for families.


Tennessee’s enchanting mix of natural beauty, vibrant cities, and rich history makes it a treasure trove of weekend destinations. Whether you’re an adventurer, a history buff, or someone just looking to relax, the list of places to go in Tennessee for the weekend ensures that the Volunteer State has something special in store for everyone.


Q1. Are these places open year-round?

While many of these destinations, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, are open year-round, some attractions might have seasonal hours. Always check in advance!

Q2. What’s the best mode of transportation for exploring Tennessee over the weekend?

A car or RV offers the most flexibility to explore diverse places to go in Tennessee for the weekend. Major cities have public transport options as well.

Q3. Can I find accommodation easily?

Absolutely! From luxurious hotels in cities like Nashville to cozy cabins in the Smokies, Tennessee caters to all accommodation preferences.

Q4. Is Tennessee a good option for budget travelers?

Yes, among the many places to go in Tennessee for the weekend, there are numerous budget-friendly or even free attractions.

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