There’s no denying it. Middle Tennessee has a lot to offer, and visitors can find it difficult to narrow down the attractions to fill their itinerary when limited to a weekend. The region is innately stunning in its scenery, studded with boozy stops in the form of breweries, distilleries and vineyards, home to numerous wooded retreats, exquisite Southern cuisine and places rich in historical significance — each definitely worth a visit. We’ve found more than a few unexpected ways to spend some time in the area, though our list is ever expanding.
The natural splendor of the region is such an obvious draw that the only hard choices are in deciding how to enjoy it. Outdoors enthusiasts and casual hikers alike can find a wide range of activities that suit all needs and come with a healthy dose of fresh Tennessee air. Seeking out state parks is one of the best ways to sync up with nature, and Middle Tennessee has more than a few worth exploring. Long Hunter State Park offers 2,600 acres of shady, rocky trails and breathtaking bluff views along J. Percy Priest Reservoir, and the Day Loop Trail, a four-mile loop, is a good place to start. Edgar Evins State Park, located along Center Hill Lake, is also stunningly scenic and offers boating, birding and hiking as well. Several of their trails are noted for spring wildflowers, and birders can enjoy the thrill of spotting the Cerulean Warbler, a rare sighting outside of the park. Burgess Falls State Park is most noted for the four spectacular waterfalls that cascade through the property and for a couple of challenging trails and sought-after fishing holes. Finally, if all the hiking gets too strenuous, seek out some rest and relaxation at Evins Mill, in Smithville, TN, a short hour’s drive from Nashville. The resort property allows a true disconnect from the outside world, with well-loved dining prepared with fresh and local ingredients and cozy cabins nestled among trees and trails that lead to overlooks and to the feet of the waterfalls.
Kayaking or canoeing the Harpeth just outside of Nashville is as easy as heading to many of the rental companies along the river and hitting the water with a picnic and a good sun hat. Although reservations are recommended during the peak months of March through October, a fall ride to see the changing leaves sounds idyllic on a less crowded river. Some great options are Foggy Bottom Canoe, Tip-A-Canoe, Adventures on the Harpeth and Canoe Music City. The Buffalo and The Duck rivers are also favorites to cruise during the warmer months — Buffalo River Resort, Heath’s Canoe Rental and Duck Canoe are all fine options for a fair day outside.
It’s hard to ignore the role music plays in and around Nashville, and you don’t have to be a fan of country music to appreciate a night on Broadway. Embrace the sea of boots and grab a drink or two at the classic Robert’s Western World and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Or, check out the dueling pianos at The Big Bang and work on your dance moves at The Stage. Late night burgers are a must at Paradise Park Trailer Resort, and for a unique take on Broadway and a killer view of the Cumberland River, definitely make your way to the rooftop terrace at Acme Feed & Seed. Walking down the strip is a delightful assault to the ears by aspiring singer songwriters and veteran entertainers alike, so let the sounds lead the way and you will be sure to find what you’re looking for. For a more elevated Broadway experience, start your night with a show at the venerable Ryman Auditorium. No act there has ever disappointed, and if you are lucky, some big stars who happen to be in town may make a guest appearance.
Nashville isn’t the end of the line for those looking to be entertained. Music City Roots, Live from the Factory, the acclaimed two-hour variety show broadcast live from Franklin, TN, is one of the most authentic ways to engage with the rich flow of quality Americana and roots that pours out of Middle Tennessee. For theater, the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville is one of the largest rural community playhouses in America, and boasts an impressive concert series, indoor and outdoor stages, young audience productions, touring shows – and all while being a non-profit organization. The Gaslight Dinner Theatre is yet another way to engage your inner thespian in Middle Tennessee. Head to Dickson for a truly unique night of entertainment you definitely can’t find just anywhere.
Don’t let the stereotype of sleepy Southern towns fool you. If you want thrills, there are thrills aplenty if you do a little digging. First and foremost, you can throw yourself out of a plane at Skydive Tullahoma. Brave the clear Tennessee skies and thank your stars for the experienced team of skydiving veterans you’re strapped to as you rocket back earthward. Though maybe best enjoyed during the more temperate months, definitely try out the increasingly popular sensation that is Flyboarding. This is no average day on the water; participants are able to shoot themselves through the air using a propulsion system attached to the board below. Flyboarding is offered by Defiance Flyboard or Nashville Flyboard at many of the nearby lakes of Middle Tennessee, including Percy Priest, Center Hill, Tim’s Ford, Dale Hollow and more.
Love heights but prefer to stay landlocked? The Treetop Adventure Park at Nashville Shores offers an above-ground obstacle course riddled with zip lines, swinging suspended bridges, cargo nets and something intriguing called a Tarzan swing. Lastly, experience a real life heist or break out of prison with The Escape Game Nashville. You’ll solve puzzles, search for clues and complete secret missions all while under the pressure of an ever-ticking clock. If that’s not a rush, we don’t know what is!
Those looking for a refreshing beverage in Middle Tennessee only need to throw a stone in any direction and something delicious will be within reach. Tennessee whiskey enthusiasts can embark on their sampling tour at Corsair’s distillery and taproom or Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville and Leiper’s Fork Distillery in Leiper’s Fork. Find George Dickel, which has been creating smooth libations since 1878, off the beaten path in Cascade Hollow, near Tullahoma. And, of course, the ubiquitous Jack Daniel’s of Lynchburg, Tennessee, completes any well-intentioned sampling of whiskey around these parts.These small batch producers have passion not only for using local ingredients, but also for embracing and continuing the heritage of Tennessee whiskey. (Read more about Tennessee’s distilleries here.)
Wine drinkers feel free to rejoice, for although whiskey may flow abundantly here, there are a few spots around Middle Tennessee that will convince you you’re in Napa. Arrington Vineyards is transportive, with 75 scenic acres to enjoy while picnicking and sipping on their wines. The Winery at Belle Meade Plantation purveys a taste of Tennessee’s offerings to the wine community as well and could not be a better way to cap off a tour of the historic grounds.
Wine and liquor averse? Never fear! Listing the quality breweries located in Middle Tennessee could go on forever, as Tennessee hasn’t escaped the wave of craft breweries cropping up ever more frequently these days. Choose a few of your favorites and plot out your tour. Nashville’s brew scene is a great place to start.
What better way to embrace the culinary offerings of the region than to embark on a weekend-long barbecue tour. Memphis is not the only hot spot for barbecue in the state, so come and sample all the styles of smoky meats the region has to offer at well-loved local joints and hidden spots across Middle Tennessee. There’s plenty of barbecue to choose from, but Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is a good place to start. With one location in Nolensville and two in Nashville, Martin’s offers some of the best ribs, pulled pork and smoked chicken wings in town. For a twist on the classic and some killer patios, the three Edley’s locations in Nashville offer anything from pork tacos to the Tuck Special, a brisket sandwich with pimento cheese, red and white sauce, pickles and an over-easy egg. Hog Heaven, right off Centennial Park, is a local favorite that has been slinging quality barbecue for over 25 years. Be prepared to sit outside – it’s not much more than a hut! Peg Leg Porker not only has a groovy patio but also smoked green beans, Kool-Aid pickles, pimento cheese and some of the best dry rub ribs around.
Outside of Nashville, the possibilities are endless as well. In lovely Leiper’s Fork, visitors can end their sunny afternoon of exploring art galleries and boutiques with a hearty meal at the time-honored Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant. Center Point Pit Barbecue fills the hungry in Hendersonville with pork shoulder smoked till black and famed country ham with brittle sugar glaze. Crossville boasts some of the best at Big John’s BBQ, a home-town favorite, and a stop in Lynchburg wouldn’t be as sweet without delicious offerings of Barrel House BBQ to pad the stomach before a tasting at Jack Daniel’s.
History buffs can easily explore Tennessee’s storied past through the litany of battlefields, historic military structures and elegantly aged yet exquisitely preserved mansions that dot the region. The number of state parks can seem dizzying, but a great place to start is the Shiloh National Military Park (a little outside the parameters of Middle Tennessee, but noteworthy enough that we would squeeze it in our itinerary!). Known for being one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields, the park is not only the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war, but also allows visitors to travel further back in time and visit the Shiloh Indian Mounds as well. Fort Donelson National Battlefield offers its visitors insights into an important victory site for the Union and impressive vistas along the river where it was fought. Closer to Murfreesboro, Stones River National Battlefield is home to yet another strategic Civil War battle, though notably it is said that in the night before the battle, both armies’ bands played music to lift the soldiers spirits. We are also eagerly awaiting the reopening of Fort Nashborough, located in downtown Nashville, along the riverfront. Port Royal State Park, once used as an encampment site by the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, is an official site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Many other Native American historical sites in Middle Tennessee are also listed here.
If battlefields don’t intrigue you, explore the history of Middle Tennessee through the stunningly preserved historic mansions and plantations that are still standing. These properties are the perfect platform to view the architecture and art of a bygone era, as well as have a glimpse into the narratives of past lives. The Belle Meade Plantation tour takes its visitors on a journey through the history and architecture of the 1800s in a remarkably beautiful setting. The Belmont Mansion also has tours available detailing the history of the property, including a specialty tour focused primarily on the art collection and the curator’s tour, which focuses on Adelicia Acklen’s colorful life at the mansion. Travellers Rest Plantation and Museum allows insight into the property of the influential John Overton and the Battle of Nashville in their Civil War exhibit, as well as the lives of the enslaved peoples who worked on the land in the Slavery Exhibit. Finally, if historic plantations are at all a desired focus for your weekend in Middle Tennessee, do not leave out Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Plantation. The Hermitage has been nearly fully restored, with many of Andrew Jackson’s belongings returned to the mansion, and the English-style garden, where Jackson and his wife are buried, is idyllic.
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