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Road trip ideas for Middle Tennessee residents

by Staff

Looking for a last minute trip to take this summer but don’t want to board a plane or travel too far out of state? You’re in luck.

There are plenty of destinations near Nashville to explore, sure to be fun for the whole family.

Hiking, museums, live music venues, historic sites — the following Tennessee cities have it all. Best of all, these destinations can be reached within just a few hours.


Distance from Nashville: 133 miles.

Nestled away in the foothills of southeast Tennessee, Chattanooga can be reached in just a little over two hours.

An excellent way to take in the city is the 16-mile paved Tennessee Riverwalk, which offers a plethora of activities and restaurants along its length. The path includes two boat ramps for launching on the Tennessee River. Don’t have your own watercraft? Rentals are available nearby.

Also located in Chattanooga is the Tennessee Aquarium. From the mountains to the sea, you’ll observe and interact with native fish, as well as sea life located in the most remote corners of the Earth. A great excursion for families or groups is Deeper Dives, an in-depth tour with an aquarium educator. The exclusive, guided tours offer the opportunity to experience marine life face-to-face, including at feeding time.

Just 6 miles from downtown Chattanooga is Rock City. Advertised atop barn rooftops in big, bold letters, it’s hard to miss. Here visitors can enjoy magical caverns, rock formations and breathtaking mountain top views. From Lookout Mountain you’ll be able to spot seven states — Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama.

Also nearby is Ruby Falls, a 100-foot waterfall deep within Lookout Mountain.


Distance from Nashville: 180 miles.

Although widely recognized as the home of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is more than just a college town. The city is sprawling with history, museums, galleries, arts and culture and more. From Nashville, the city can be reached within about 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Enjoy a treetop zipline adventure at the Navitat Knoxville adventure park. Located in the Ijams Nature Center near downtown, the park features six trails, each ranging in difficulty. On the trails, you can enjoy ziplines, bridges, elevated tunnels, balancing challenges, rolling barrels and climbing nets. Navitat also offers an educational component for those seeking an enriching, adrenaline-filled experience.

Are you a history buff who prefers something more laid back? Knox has something for everyone.

The city is full of Civil War historical sites, including battle sites, museums, historic homes and more. Knoxville offers three tours for those wanting to learn more about the city’s rich history:

  • Divided Loyalties is a self-guided driving tour that visits 15 downtown sites and more across Knox County.
  • Civil War Trails overlaps with the Divided Loyalties Tour.
  • Knoxville Walking Tours is a guided tour on foot that visits downtown sites.


Distance from Nashville: 212 miles.

It’s the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. From Nashville, Memphis can be reached in 3 hours, 20 minutes.

The National Civil Rights Museum is located at the historic Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Here, visitors learn all about the Civil Rights Movement, as well as modern-day movements.

The museum frequently hosts public forums, book talks, distinguished speakers and one-on-one conversations with civil rights icons and other leaders. This excursion requires at least two hours to complete, so make sure to set aside enough time to appreciate all the museum has to offer.

Since it’s rebuilding in 1928, The Orpheum Theatre has dazzled audiences, hosting performances by some of the most prominent names in music, including Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Since 1977, the theater has hosted touring Broadway productions and showcased shows like “The Lion King,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton.” Additionally, you can catch a show by Ballet Memphis, various concerts and comedians, and local cultural and community events. It was one of the first buildings in Memphis placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of course no trip to Memphis would be complete without a visit to Graceland — the home of the one and only Elvis Presley. There you’ll be able to experience his career and get an intimate look into The King’s life.

His mansion sits on 120 acres, where you’ll also find tons of memorabilia, including gold records, jeweled jumpsuits and classic cars.

Inside the mansion, you’ll be taken on an interactive iPad tour, hosted by John Stamos. It features commentary and stories by Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie. You’ll step inside the living room, his parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, TV room, pool room, the famous Jungle Room, his father’s office and more.

Diana Leyva covers breaking and trending news for The Tennessean. Connect with her by email at [email protected] or follow her on twitter at @_leyvadiana

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