Summer is rapidly approaching and school is almost out. We are ready to bid Nashville farewell, even if only for a day or two. Kick off the season with a quick trip to one of these five nearby destinations that require nothing more than a tank of gas. From Leiper’s Fork, TN, to Paducah, KY, these spots are desired destinations for day trips or quick overnight getaways, and all are less than three hours away by car.
Travel time: 40 minutes (36.5 miles) via I-40W
If you haven’t made the 40-minute trip to Leiper’s Fork, put it on your “must-visit” list. If you have, you already know the many reasons you need to make your way back. Settled in the late 1700s, Leiper’s Fork is full of history and character. The community evokes a desire to sit on a front porch in a rocking chair and drink sweet tea, and at the Moonshine Hill Inn, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin, you can do just that!
While in “the Fork,” make sure to squeeze in all of the must-see spots: Find apparel and gifts at West & Company; pick through antique and vintage items at Village Vintage & Homegoods; admire local art at Leiper’s Creek Gallery; discover one-of-a-kind items of all sizes at Serenite Maison; listen to great live music, drink a beer and snack on Southern staples at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant; or grab something sweet — or caffeinated — at Sugar. A Bakery. Mark your calendars, too, because Lawn Chair Theatre begins June 3 and offers family-friendly entertainment in the way of concerts and movies. And each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., a farmers market is held at 4123 Old Hillsboro Road. Be sure to head back around Christmastime, too, for the Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade! Lastly, stay tuned for the opening of Leiper’s Fork Distillery, the soon-to-be site of small-batch whisky production. Most of all, go to experience the welcoming nature of this small Southern community that’s steeped in history and located alongside the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Where to Stay:
Travel time: 1 hour, 15 minutes (65.3 miles) via I-40E
Smithville, TN, is a place that is easy to visit and hard to leave. Each summer, Smithville comes alive with the annual Fiddlers’ Jamboree & Crafts Festival, which this year takes place July 1 and 2. The ultimate street festival, this event features music, dance, crafts and food in celebration and preservation of traditional Appalachian and old-time music, dance and crafts. The festival came to be in 1971 and more than 45 years later, thousands of people gather to celebrate times gone by in this small Tennessee town.
The rest of the year, Smithville offers a variety of Southern experiences. Enjoy old-fashioned catfish at White Possum Grille or chicken and dumplings from Kilgore’s, visit the renowned Appalachian Center for Craft, take a spin on Center Hill Lake or swing a club at RiverWatch Golf Club.
If you’re looking for a serene, natural setting in which to spend a day, night or both, book a room at Evins Mill, 17-room resort on a 40-acre property. The Main Lodge serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as drinks at the full bar. The Main Lodge, Gristmill and Solstice boast common gathering areas (covered decks, living rooms, intimate dining room and expansive game hall) and private meeting and event spaces. On-site activities include hiking trails, Carmac Falls, a swimming hole, fish pond and lawn games. The stunning location serves as a venue for weddings, corporate events, romantic getaways and everything in between.
Where to Stay:
At Evins Mill, the Solstice offers three single bedroom accommodations, one two-bedroom suite and one three-bedroom penthouse. Additionally, there are 12 Creek Side rooms (six Mountain Laurel rooms and six Evergreen rooms). For a listing of all lodging options, click here.
Travel time: 1 hour, 28 minutes (93.8 miles) via I-24E
Situated atop the Cumberland Plateau in Franklin County, TN, Sewanee is widely known as the home of Sewanee: The University of the South. Beyond the school’s Gothic architecture and 13,000 acres of stunning, scenic surroundings, this town has plenty to offer. If you are interested in checking out the ample options for outdoor activities (which we highly recommend you do), rent a bike from Woody’s Bicycles or take a day hike. With more than 50 miles of trails, there are options for the novice hiker, as well as the more experienced. The Perimeter Trail, which follows the bluff line for 20 miles, can be hiked or biked and offers breathtaking overlooks, lakes, streams and miles of forestry. If you are up for it, follow the entire trail for the full experience. Once you have worked up an appetite, grab a bite to eat and a beer at one of the local joints, such as The Blue Chair Café & Tavern, Stirling’s Coffeehouse, IvyWild or Shenanigans — all of which offer something different.
Recently revamped, The Sewanee Inn is an spot ideal for weekend getaways, hosting events (from weddings to business meetings) or simply enjoying drinks and dinner while overlooking the golf course. Speaking of the golf course, golfers travel from far and wide to play the nine-hole course that was redesigned by Gil Hanse, a world-renowned golf course architect.
If you are looking to experience one of the greatest Sewanee traditions, visit in December for the Festival of Lessons and Carols. Held in All Saints’ Chapel, this celebration of Anglican music, Advent and outreach sets the tone for the Christmas season with scripture readings and traditional carols. The Fourth of July and homecoming are also great times to stop in.
Where to Stay:
Travel time: 2 hours (136 miles) via I-24 W
Paducah, KY, (originally known as Perkin) was established in the early 1800s and was an ideal settling spot due to its close proximity to waterways. It later became economically successful as a railway hub. Spots like the Paducah Railroad Museum, River Discovery Center, Tilghman Civil War Museum and William Clark Market House Museum tell the tales of and pay homage to the town’s great history.
Paducah isn’t just for history buffs, though. It also draws a large crowd of quilters for the American Quilter’s Society QuiltWeek, held each April, and art and music lovers for May’s Lower Town Arts & Music Festival and the dozens of galleries in town. And those who love beer and barbecue visit for Barbecue on the River, a grand event that takes place each September, or to stop into one of the two breweries in town: Paducah Beer Werks and Dry Ground Brewing Co. Paducah’s historic downtown and Lower Town Arts District are two hot spots in town, where shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities abound.
Stretch your legs on one of the walking trails, or stroll the riverfront for views of the Ohio River and a glimpse at the flood wall murals, which coat the concrete flood walls and depict Paducah’s history. If you are looking for something to eat, head into downtown for a variety of restaurants, many of which are housed in historic buildings dating back to the 19th century. Here are a few on our must-try list: Cynthia’s Ristorante, Kirchoff’s Bakery & Deli, Shandies, Max’s Brick Oven Cafe, Starnes Bar-B-Q, Cup of Pipers Tea and Coffee and Tribeca Restaurant.
In the words of Irvin S. Cobb, a great native of Paducah: “To be born in Kentucky is a heritage; to brag about it is a habit; to appreciate it is a virtue.”
Where to Stay:
Travel time: 2 hours, 11 minutes (135 miles) via I-24E
Tennessee River Gorge is a 26-mile canyon that winds through the Cumberland Plateau; the Tennessee River meets the gorge as it twists and turns from Alabama to Tennessee. Trails and water access allow for paddling, biking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, climbing and wildlife viewing in the Tennessee River Gorge. Suck Creek is a great entry point for paddlers looking for a six- or nine-mile paddle downstream. Bikers can tackle sections of Raccoon Mountain’s 30 miles of trails; difficulty ranges from beginner to advanced. For hikers, the trail, which takes you from Signal Point to Mushroom Rock, is a challenging, 12-mile hike that provides stunning views of the Tennessee River Gorge. And these are only three ways (out of dozens) to enjoy the gorge.
Where to Stay:
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