Staying in Tennessee for Spring Break while the rest of your friends flock to the beach, big cities and everywhere in between? Lucky you—there’s plenty to do in our gorgeous Southern state that neither requires a flight or hotel room. Here are some of my favorite Tennessee day trips in all corners of the state. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below!
This post was last updated in September 2021.
Explore Memphis’ musical heritage
Any musical pilgrimage in Tennessee begins and ends with Memphis, from its bluesy and gospel roots to its present-day superstars like Justin Timberlake. You could spend weeks in Tennessee’s largest city hopping around live music venues, big and small, and never go to the same spot twice. So many of my favorite artists like Johnny Cash have deep ties to the Bluff City, and there’s no better way to get a sampler platter for the city’s musical past, present and future than an afternoon with the Mojo Tour with Backbeat Tours.
Related post: A Weekend Guide to Eating + Drinking in Memphis
Go waterfall chasing in Southern Middle Tennessee
With record-high rainfall in recent years, the falls in Tennessee are absolutely gushing, almost always. Want the ultimate waterfall loop? Start at Cummins Falls, loop down to Burgess and Fall Creek Falls, then end over near us in Beersheba Springs where you can tackle Greeter Falls, the Blue Hole and Foster Falls. For a milder waterfall experience, Coffee County is full of them, from Old Stone Fort State Park to Machine Falls and Rutledge.
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Shop along Franklin’s stunning Main Street
Franklin may be known internationally for its Civil War history, but it is also an insanely popular destination among both locals and tourists for its well-preserved downtown and abundance of well-curated, independently-owned shops flanking its main drag, plus a growing number of restaurants (GRAYS on Main, 55 South and OBJ are my downtown favorites). Once you’ve spent some cash, posed in front of the Art Deco-style Franklin Theatre and had happy hour at Frothy Monkey, head over to the Factory at Franklin or out to Leiper’s Fork at sunset.
Related post: Travel Franklin’s Masters & Makers Trail
Drive (or bike) up to the Domain
I may be biased as I was a student there for two years, but Sewanee is, in my opinion, one of Tennessee’s greatest treasures. Hike the Perimeter Trail, have a specialty coffee from Stirling’s, wander the campus aimlessly, grab a bite and a beer at Shenanigan’s, drive out to Natural Bridge, then end your day at the iconic Cross, overlooking the valley below.
Related post: A Hike Out to Sewanee’s Natural Bridge
Take a food tour of East Nashville
I’m in love with Karen-Lee Ryan’s passion for food and Nashville history, both of which are evident in the trio of tour routes she now offers through Walk Eat Nashville. My personal favorite is the Five Points route, though I’m a sucker for SoBro’s growingly diverse palate, as well. Really, with Karen-Lee at the helm, you can’t go wrong no matter which tour you pick!
Related post: Eat, Sip, Stroll: The Best Food Tour in Nashville
Rent a paddleboard and SUP on Percy Priest
Percy Priest Lake is a reservoir that snakes its way through Davidson County; when arriving by plane from the south, it’s often the first thing you see of Nashville before touching down. And Nashville Paddle Company just happens to be based out of the lake’s Hamilton Creek Recreation Area. Take a SUP Yoga class, join a moonlit group paddle, or even invest in your own board as SVV and I did a few years ago. (Pro tip: Buy one of the gently-used models from the previous year and you’ll save money.)
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Spend an afternoon learning about Murfreesboro’s Civil War history
Murfreesboro is full of old 1800s buildings, as well as bluegrass and Americana music, but it’s also Tennessee’s first capital and was one of the more active spots in Middle Tennessee during the Civil War. Ever heard of the Battle of Stones River? How about Hoover’s Gap? You can do your own self-guided tour of the prominent battles that took place in Rutherford County (and maybe even give your kid extra credit for learning over Spring Break!).
Related post: Bluegrass & Americana Music in Murfreesboro
Visit Smyrna’s historic downtown
Who knew that Smyrna’s old train depot and the historic district surrounding it were getting a reboot? Thanks to non-profits like Carpe Artista, the area is brimming with arts—from music classes to rock camp—as well as a cafe, ice cream shop, and a growing number of murals. In warmer months, the depot also boasts a great farmers’ market.
Hike out to Stone Door
South Cumberland State Park is made up of nine different sections, including the nearly 16,000 acres and 55 miles of hiking trails comprising Savage Gulf State Natural Area that houses one of my favorite easy hikes and scenic overlooks: Stone Door. Once you get out, you can take a narrow staircase down to a couple of spectacular rock formations and slot canyons. Nearby is the Fiery Gizzard Trail for those looking to get their steps in.
Related post: Hiking with Dogs in Middle Tennessee
Spend an afternoon in Lynchburg
Jack Daniel Distillery brings in nearly a half-million tourists a year to the tiny town of Lynchburg. And for good reason: It’s one of the most recognizable brands in the world, plus the tour is just plain fun (if you truly want to taste your way through Jack, I must recommend the Angel’s Share experience). Don’t like whiskey? The tour is still fun, whether you imbibe or not.
Plus, the square has an old-timey general store and other curiosities, not to mention Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, the place to eat if you’re passing through. The delightful hostesses will give you an earful on the history of the area as you stuff your face with Southern treats, both savory and sweet. Looking for a whiskey twofer? My home of Tullahoma is the next town over and lays claim to the distillery of Jasper Daniel’s famous pal, George Dickel (now called Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.).
Related post: On the Whiskey-Fueled Tennessee Backroads
Test your balance on Tims Ford Lake
Love waterskiing? Always wanted to try wakeboarding? Want to be hooked up to the back of a ski boat and go for a spin on an oversized float? Middle Tennessee’s largest lake recreational facility is totally for you then. Tims Ford State Park sits at the cusp of three counties—Franklin, Coffee and Moore—and draws the adrenaline junkies en masse. We’ve always launched from Holiday Landing Marina—if you don’t have a boat of your own, you can rent one for the day there—but the new Twin Creeks development has added even more options, including a dock restaurant, Drafts & Water Crafts.
Related post: Introducing Tims Ford’s Latest Lakefront Development
Take a trip back in time to Bell Buckle
If you want to time travel, there’s nowhere quite like Bell Buckle for a dose of old-fashioned fun paired with a MoonPie sundae. It barely has a couple hundred residents, yet Bell Buckle is one of the area’s biggest tourist destinations, and with plenty of antiques malls, a quaint square and a mighty fine cafe, it’s easy to see why.
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Get tipsy on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail
Obviously, you’ll need a designated driver (or the assistance of Lyft) for this one, but you know I love the two-year-old Tennessee Whiskey Trail, which now boasts more than 30 member distilleries. Don’t have time to do the full trail? A few of my favorites—including Nelson’s Green Brier and H Clark—are in Middle Tennessee so you can base yourself in Franklin or Nashville and make the most of your day or weekend.
Related post: Traveling the Tennessee Whiskey Trail
See a drive-in movie
I love me a good night at the movies; it’s one of the few times I shut my brain (and phone) off for a two-hour stretch. And what’s better than seeing a movie beneath the twinkling stars? Drive-ins are a dying breed, but Estill Springs right near where I was born has a two-screener, Montana, and I’ve also always wanted to go to Stardust Drive-In Theatre in nearby Watertown, as it just screams nostalgia. Bonus: You pay for one movie and can stick around for both showings if you please.
Check out Lebanon’s charming square
As Nashville booms in all directions, its neighboring cities get that much cooler. Growing up, we only went to Lebanon for the outlet mall or sports tournaments, but now it’s a bona-fide destination itself, not only because of its I-40 locale but also the revitalization of its darling town square. Also worth visiting while you’re in WilCo: Sweet Biscuit Company, Long Hunter State Park, Voodoo Smokehouse and the towering Cedars of Lebanon State Park.
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Rent a houseboat out on Center Hill Lake
Just 45 minutes east of Lebanon is one of Tennessee’s most popular lakes—and for good reason. Center Hill Lake was a dam constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1948 and now is a popular recreation destination with houseboats, marinas and campgrounds aplenty.
Related post: City Dog Explores Edgar Evins State Park
Channel Johnny and June in Centerville
In the town of Bon Acqua, Johnny Cash’s legacy very much lives on. Though he and June Carter Cash got rid of all of their pastoral properties over time, they did hold onto one: a 107-acre farm in Hickman County where they resided for three decades.
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See a show at the Opry
So many people I know journey from all over the world to see a show on this iconic stage. Yet so many Nashvillians I know have never in their lives been to a show at the Grand Ole Opry. How is that possible? Shows take place several nights a week year-round, are very affordable, and introduce show-goers to a bevy of talent, some newcomers and the others industry veterans. Don’t miss the VIP Backstage tour.
Related post: Date Night at the Grand Ole Opry
Get your thrills at Dollywood
Good golly, Miss Dolly is my favorite Tennessee resident by far, and her theme park Dollywood is every bit as fun as the songbird herself. While you’re there, see one of her dinner shows, and check out a pair of my favorite East Tennessee distilleries, Sugarlands and Old Forge.
Related post: Planning a Dolly-Themed Vacation to the Smokies
Experience the peaceful side of the Smokies
Not looking for the bright lights of Sevier County? There’s a quieter side to the Great Smoky Mountains, and it’s located in Blount County. Rent a cabin in Townsend or stay in Maryville, bike Cades Cove, tube down the Little River (once it opens later spring) and explore this more peaceful mountain experience.
Related post: Sip Your Way Through East Tennessee’s Moonshine Culture
Learn about science and nature at Discovery Park of America
Up in the northwestern Tennessee town of Union City is the ultimate family playground: 70,000 square feet of interactive indoor exhibits and 50 acres of outdoor space comprising Discovery Park of America. From lessons on wildlife education to how to build a cardboard boat, the park’s offerings are wide-ranging and appeal to all ages, plus there’s currently a Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks exhibit through May showcasing Lego renditions of the world’s most impressive skyscrapers. While you’re in the area, be sure and check out Lake Isom National Wildlife Refuge and Reelfoot Lake, which was formed by an earthquake more than two centuries ago.
Experience peace and quiet in Ijams Nature Park
Over the past few years, Ijams Nature Center’s lush 300 acres has become one of my favorite Knoxville retreats in warmer months. It’s got 10 miles of hiking trails, a pair of quarries, an adventure center—oh, and did I mention it’s FREE to visit? The activities like zip lining do cost money, but you can also just go hang by the water or check out the blooms and not pay a penny.
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Geek out at Beechcraft Heritage Museum
This may or may not be one of SVV’s favorite places in Tullahoma (it definitely is), and it’s easy to see why: Beechcraft Heritage Museum hosts regular fly-ins of world-class planes, but even when there’s nothing going on, the aviation museum is open and full of glimmering beauties.
Blast off into space at the planetarium
You don’t have to be a budding scientist to love the hands-on experiences at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville; the 44,000 square foot building lays claim to 175 exhibits running the gamut of biology, astronomy, physics, earth science, energy, weather, sound and space. Most notable is the Sudekum Planetarium, featuring various shows in the giant, 63-foot domed theater, as well as fun special activities like Yoga Under the Stars and themed laser shows set to soundtracks like Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd are not to be missed.
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Fore! Golf at the Honors in Chattanooga
My golf-loving brother-in-law Josh tells me the Honors is the Holy Grail for golfers in Tennessee. Given that he’s racked up his own set of honors (by way of countless trophies and golf championships) in the four years he’s been a Tennessean, I’d defer to his recommendation on anything sports-related. This Pete Dye-designed, 18-hole course in the northeast Chattanooga suburb of Ooltewah was born the same year as me and, according to the website, “was considered radical in the 1980’s because of its acres of tall, native-grass rough, unusual Zoysia grass fairways and terrifying speed as lightning greens.” Bear Trace at Tims Ford is another top-notch course I’ve actually had the good fortune of playing.
Mural hunt in Nashville
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I could probably go on with 26 more ideas for day trips to take in Tennessee, but each of these are relatively manageable to plan last-minute if you’re looking for something to do, like, this weekend or even tomorrow.
What are your favorite ways to take advantage of Spring Break in Tennessee?