Living in Nashville, we are in the perfect position to take off in any direction for a short day trip. Lucky us, too, since there are so many beautiful small towns throughout the South that are worthy of exploration. If you’re looking to get out of the house for a day, here are three day-trip ideas I’ve taken with my family that are each a short drive from Nashville and offer plenty to see and do.
3 Easy Day Trips From Nashville
Short Mountain, Long Views
I first read about Short Mountain in this article in The New York Times Magazine. Having lived in Middle Tennessee for most of my life, I was surprised I had never heard of this colorful town. I looked up Short Mountain on Google Maps and was surprised to see that it was only a 1-hour, 27-minute drive from my home in Sylvan Park. So on a sunny Saturday earlier this summer, we piled into the car and set out to explore.
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With no actual destination to plug into Waze, I simply typed “Short Mountain” and it navigated us to a final destination called Firetower Road. To get there, take 24E and get off at Highway 70S, which leads through the quaint town of Woodbury (likely a worthy day trip destination itself). Once through Woodbury, a pleasant drive along Stones River Road eventually dead-ends at Short Mountain Road. Take a left, and then Firetower Road is a short way up on the left … and that’s when the fun begins.
Firetower Road offers a gradually narrowing ascent to the top of Short Mountain. Proof it’s indeed a mountain? When we first turned onto Firetower Road, the car thermometer read 90 degrees F outside; by the time we got to the top, it said 85. Along the drive, we passed beautiful pastures dotted with freshly rolled hay bales, an old cemetery with cautionary signs to keep out, and the entrance to a bible camp, which appeared closed. The higher we climbed, the more isolated it felt, and when it appeared we were at the end of the road, we spotted the old fire watchtower presumably for which the road is named. And then we turned and spotted the view.
We descended the mountain assuming that was that — that we had discovered all Short Mountain had to offer. But then we spotted a sign for “Short Mountain Distillery.” Anticipating it’s likely closure due to COVID, we intended to just drive by and take a peek, but as we pulled up, we discovered a small artisan festival taking place on the distillery grounds, complete with food trucks and live music. We parked the car, grabbed our face masks, and headed toward the action.
Short Mountain Distillery, located on a 400-acre farm, is a small-batch distillery that creates organic Tennessee whiskey and other spirits. While 45-minute distillery tours are available for $10 per person (which includes a tasting), The Restaurant at Short Mountain Distillery appears to be the superstar in my book, serving up farm-to-table fare and creative dishes that, according to the website, “reflect our sustainable farming practices.” Starters and sides include items like the Beets & Berries salad (chopped greens, roasted beets, pecans and feta in a citrus vinaigrette) and the Pulled Pork Crostinis (house-smoked pulled pork, seasonal slaw, and moonshine BBQ sauce). Sandwich options like the Bootlegger Chicken (grilled or fried chicken made “hot or not” and topped wth lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle on a brioche bun) or the Deep South Sandwich (house-smoked pork belly, fried onion strings, collards, pimento cheese and BBQ aioli) are served with Parmesan fries. And entrees run the gamut and include everything from a bourbon-glazed pork chop to the sesame-crusted Ahi. The brunch menu is fairly standard yet on-brand (think Bourbon French Toast or Bacon Benedict), and the cocktail menu shines with a healthy selection of $9 cocktails (with infusions available for an extra $1) and aged spirit cocktails for $12 each.
While pretty much the entire menu made our mouths water, unfortunately for us, due to COVID, you can only snag a table at the restaurant with a reservation, which we did not have. So, we grabbed sandwiches and drinks from a food truck and sat in the grass, where we enjoyed our lunch, some people watching and a little live bluegrass. For just a split second, life felt normal again … like how summer is supposed to feel.
After lunch, we perused the tents, realized we had no cash to purchase anything nor ATM access to get cash. So we ultimately returned home with full hearts, empty hands and a plan to return for a meal at the restaurant. In short, Short Mountain is definitely a day trip worth re-taking.
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Granville: Tennessee’s Mayberry
Travel about 90 minutes east of Nashville, and you’ll discover Granville, which is referred to as “Tennessee’s Mayberry Town.” Originally a riverboat town, settlers arrived in Granville via the Cumberland River way back in the early 1800s. With the decline of riverboat travel, Granville reinvented itself as a farming town, but when Cordell Hull Dam was built, farmlands were flooded, so residents moved away and Granville fell into decline. Ironically, in the late 20th century, it was the Cumberland River that sparked renewed hope of putting the town back on the map as a vacation destination.
Main Street, in historic Granville, features a selection of interesting and perhaps odd attractions. Things like the Mayberry – I Love Lucy Museum celebrate simpler times with relics from “Andy Griffith” and “I Love Lucy,” while the Farm to Your Table Museum — complete with 1934 milk delivery truck — shines a light on the imperative role that agriculture played in Granville’s history. There is also a selection of self-guided exhibits you can explore. The T.B. Sutton Store, which first opened in 1870 acts as a museum, restaurant and music venue, broadcasting weekly bluegrass shows from its stage. And be sure to check the Granville website for a calendar of upcoming festivals. Yes, small towns love their festivals, and Granville’s will take place this year despite the pandemic, albeit with face mask requirements and temperature checks.
Back to Granville as a vacation destination … If you wish to extend your visit beyond just a day trip, the Wildwood Resort & Marina has an amazing array of accommodations — including a new vintage Airstream park, waterfront cabins, campgrounds and the Lakeside Inn. Rent a boat or bring your own, enjoy a meal at the restaurant or the cafe, and mark your calendar for the monthly Newbird on the Water — like a Bluebird Cafe concert but lakeside and with a bonfire. Once a month from June to October, songwriters indulge guests in an evening of acoustic music as they share the stories behind their songs. (SB TIP: There are only two more Newbird on the Water events before the series ends for the season. Learn more and buy tickets HERE.)
Smiths Grove (via the Duncan Hines Scenic Byway)
Consider this day trip suggestion a two-for-one deal, because that’s exactly what it is. We headed north to Kentucky on a recent Sunday so we could check out the Duncan Hines Scenic Byway (we know how Kentucky loves its scenic byways!). The 80-mile loop begins and ends at 3098 Louisville Road in Bowling Green, at what was once the home and office of Duncan Hines (yes, that Duncan Hines). The route leads throughout the bucolic Kentucky countryside — we passed cornfields and cafes, faded signs and abandoned structures, beautiful churches and stunning views. We missed the detour around Mammoth Cave National Park, so several miles into the park — part of the byway — we were expecting to take a short ferry ride across the river. Alas, the detour was there for a reason — the ferry wasn’t operating. So, we backtracked and recalibrated.
While there are plenty of sites to take in from the comfort of an air-conditioned car, we only made one stop on the byway, and that was when we discovered Nolin River Lake. This 5,800-acre reservoir is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and offers swimming, boating and what sounds like some amazing fishing. Camp on the banks or drop in your boat — there were plenty of folks enjoying the cool water on the hot day we were there.
Just as we were preparing to wind up our tour of the byway and head for home, we arrived at the adorable town of Smiths Grove. The road we were traveling dropped us right onto Main Street — and across the street from Flavor Isle, an eatery that, according to its Facebook page, has been in business since 1964. With 4+ star ratings on both Google and Facebook, we decided to order up a couple of burgers and a milkshake to tide us over on the ride home (all of it delicious!).
Pay a visit to any small town in America, and you’re nearly guaranteed to find a selection of standard businesses — antiques stores, a women’s boutique, a post office, a cafe, a hair salon (these nearly always have kitschy names like “Sheer Genius” or “A Cut Above,” but that’s another article altogether … ). Smiths Grove is no different, offering all of these and more — most notably a quilting shop called Psycho Granny’s, which sadly was closed during our visit, not surprising since it was a Sunday. But with Smiths Grove being so close to Nashville, perhaps we’ll return on a Saturday next time and peruse the antiques and grab another burger from Flavor Isle.
Pick a day, and hit the road. Most importantly, enjoy exploring the South — there’s so much to see!
All photography by Ashley Haugen unless otherwise noted.
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