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8 Most Charming River Towns in Tennessee to Visit in 2024

by Staff

Tennessee‘s geography is unique, extending from the Appalachian Mountains east to the Mississippi River in the west. It is known for its fertile lands and booming agricultural industry. While Nashville is a popular destination, you can never go wrong with a vacation to the smaller towns in the Volunteer State. The state is also home to several rivers and lakes, which are ideal for exploring in 2024. From McMinnville to Jonesborough, these charming river towns give you a perfect mix of beautiful scenery, history, culture, and heritage of the Tennessee people.


Rock Island State Park, McMinnville, Tennessee.

Welcome to the largest city in Warren County. Seated at the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau, and surrounded by amazing natural resources like the Barren Fork River, McMinnville stands out among other river towns across the state.

One feature of this town is its picturesque Main Street. Catch one of the many festivals organized every year, like the Autumn Street Fair, held in early October. The town is home to the largest show cave in the state of Tennessee, the Cumberland Cavern. Go on a guided tour around areas of public interest in the cave, like the Volcano Room. You can also go on a picnic in Riverfront Park, where you can access boat docks and fishing piers.


Busy street in summertime with tourists and cars in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Busy street in summertime in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Miro Vrlik Photography via

Are you searching for your next vacation destination? Gatlinburg, Tennessee, should be top of your bucket list. This town lies close to the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you can go whitewater rafting.

Explore the area from an aerial view at the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. The Skylift will take you up Crockett Mountain to the longest suspended footbridge in the United States. Other fascinating attractions include the Gatlinburg Space Needle, the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers, and the Ripley’s Aquarium. Go on an adventure at the theme park, Anakeesta, with your loved ones. Or check out Fannie Farkle’s amusement park before leaving Gatlinburg.

Pigeon Forge

The old mill by the river in the scenic town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The old mill by the river in the scenic town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Located on the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River is the small, charming town of Pigeon Forge. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located approximately five miles from this town, making this area one of the most visited places in the state.

Enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Little Pigeon River on a visit to the Pigeon Forge Mill, fondly called the Old Mill. This historic gristmill was built on the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Go hiking in the Smoky Mountains and view the beautiful scenery from an aerial level. If you enjoyed the movie Titanic, you should definitely check out Titanic Museum. Visit Singer, Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, and Dolly Parton’s Stampede for unforgettable fun.

Kingston Springs

A blue sky reflects in the water of the Harpeth River, Tennessee.
A blue sky reflects in the water of the Harpeth River, Tennessee.

Approximately 28 minutes from Downtown Nashville is the rural town of Kingston Springs in Cheatham County. With a population of less than 3,000, it has become a favorite tourist destination in Tennessee for people looking for a quiet but fun-filled vacation.

The Harpeth River State Park offers visitors nine access points to the Harpeth River. You will surely have a great time fishing, canoeing, hiking, and kayaking. Being a Class 1 river, the river is perfect for those just learning to row a canoe. Another outstanding attraction in Kingston Springs is the Narrows of the Harpeth, one of the oldest man-made tunnels with a lot of hiking and fishing possibilities.


Aerial photograph of a winding road through the smoky mountains in Butler, Tennessee.
Winding road through the Smoky Mountains in Butler, Tennessee.

Butler was originally called “Smith’s Mill”, after the gristmill built by Ezekial “Zeke” Smith on the Roan Creek. It was later renamed in honor of Colonel Roderick R. Butler. This town is fondly called “the Town that would not drown” because of its history of surviving seven major floods.

Before the last major flood, the town was relocated to higher grounds a few miles from its original settlement. Submerged under the Watauga Lake are over a hundred homes and businesses. You can learn about the history of “Old Butler” at the Butler Museum. While in town, stop by the Watauga Lake Winery or Villa Nove Vineyards for a taste of the exquisite wines processed here.


Sunset over Bald Cypress from Grassy Island on Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee.
Sunset over Bald Cypress from Grassy Island on Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee. Image credit anthony heflin via Shutterstock

Bounded to the west by the Mississippi River and to the east by the Reelfoot Lake is Tiptonville, located on a small rise known as the “Tiptonville Dome.” The Reelfoot Lake was created due to an earthquake that happened in the 18th century, causing the Mississippi to flow backward for a while.

The lake is also the site of the Reelfoot Lake State Park, and there are fishing opportunities at Reelfoot Lake Tourism Council. The park allows you to access this forest lake, participate in many water activities, and watch the beautiful Bald Eagles as they migrate. Tiptonville has a rich art and music heritage. It is the birthtown of Carl Perkins, famous for his song “Blue Suede Shoes.” You can also stop by the Lake County Courthouse. Looking for where to stay while in town? Check out Blue Basin Cove Lodge, a beautiful lodge that doubles as a fishing and shopping resort.


Main road in Waverly, Tennessee.
Main road in Waverly, Tennessee. Image credit Sabrina Janelle Gordon via

Located on Trace Creek Valley, east of the creek’s confluence with Kentucky Lake impoundment of the Tennessee River, is Waverly. This town is the county seat of Humphreys County and is a good starting point if you are looking to explore the area.

Visit the family-owned walk-in theatre called Mi-De-Ga Theatre. It has been operating since 1936 and has grown to become a popular movie destination in town. Stop by the Waverly Explosion Memorial Caboose. This Caboose holds memorabilia from the 1978 Train Explosion. Go skydiving at Music City Skydiving, and if you are a lover of art, check out The Walls Art Park, where you can also showcase your artistic skills.


'Downtown Sweet' coffee shop, Jonesborough, Tennessee
Downtown coffee shop, Jonesborough, Tennessee. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock

Travel back in time to how life was in the 18th century with a trip to Jonesborough. Fondly called “the World Capital of Storytelling,” there is a lot to see and do in this beautiful town seated at the point where the watershed of the Watauga River meets the watershed of the Nolichucky River.

Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of this river town as you take long strolls along its streets. Visit the Wetlands Water Park or go on Historic Walking Tours to learn about the history of the oldest town in Tennessee. Listen to local tales from storytellers at the International Storytelling Center.  Ensure to check out Jonesborough Repertory Theatre for unending performances. Do not leave Jonesborough without checking out the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center.

From the “World Capital of Storytelling” to the “Town that Wouldn’t Drown,” Tennessee is filled with fascinating towns with rivers adding aesthetics to their scenery. Visit these charming river towns today and create long-lasting memories with your friends and families. Do not forget your camera. You would not want to miss out on any moment.

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