If you’re traveling through the state of Tennessee, you’ll likely pass through Chattanooga, on the border with Georgia to the south, on I-24 bound for Nashville. This road isn’t exactly known for its travel destinations, but avid road trippers will enjoy getting off the beaten path for some offbeat attractions. This stretch of road crosses some of the state’s bodies of water and is where you should look out for barns advertising Rock City, something only seen in the South.
Start in the Bluff City, checking out the many tourist attractions, where interstates 75 and 24 come together. It’s easy to spend a few days here to see them all! Tennessee Aquarium is one of the top destinations, which has countless species from the state and beyond through two buildings. The Chattanooga Zoo is another place to get up-close with wildlife. The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is the steepest way to see Lookout Mountain. While you’re there, visit the kitschy Rock City. The Hunter Museum of American Art holds priceless works from throughout American history. And Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall that has long been a favorite of visitors.
Not far from Chattanooga, and across the border from Alabama, is the town of South Pittsburg. While there aren’t many things to do in the traditional sense, it’s home to Lodge Cast Iron, one of the country’s most well-known brands of cookware. Stop by the Lodge Factory Store in town to pick up a skillet of your own. It’s sure to last you decades. There’s also the historic The Princess Theatre, a restored movie theater.
The town of Monteagle is perhaps best associated with the Highlander Folk School Library – Historic Civil Rights Monument, which fostered Civil Rights leaders and played an important role in the movement. The Monteagle Sunday School Assembly is another historic landmark, dating back to the 1800s, and has seasonal church services and cottages for rent. Visit The Amish Hippie, one of the state’s best vintage stores. Nearby, South Cumberland State Park has over 30,000 acres of trails as well as a natural bridge and caves. In nearby Pelham, Bluegrass Underground brings musicians to perform in a massive cavern.
The town of Sewanee is best known as the home of The University Of The South, a sprawling campus reminiscent of Oxford in Europe. It’s surrounded by hiking trials but also has art galleries and the iconic stone chapel. The Mountain Goat Trail is a rails-to-trail project that connects nearby communities.
Most of the year Manchester is a sleepy community, but its population swells every summer for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. During the rest of the year, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park was constructed by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago before it was abandoned. The state park now has replicas of that time period, exhibits in their museum, and a film that introduces visitors to the history. Open since 2004, Beans Creek Winery has tastings and tours that include samples of their white, red, and sweet wines made from a local varietal.
While you’re in the area, stop by two locations on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. George A. Dickel & Co. in Tullahoma and Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg are well-known for their longtime creation of whiskey.
Murfreesboro is full of Civil War history, so start your visit at Stones River National Battlefield, home to one of the bloodiest battles in the war. It includes memorials to the fallen soldiers, Fortress Rosencrans, and the national cemetery. The Italianate plantation Oaklands Mansion was where both Union and Confederate soldiers stayed during the war, including Jefferson Davis. Cannonsburgh Village is a recreation of an 1800s village, including a gristmill and blacksmith shop. Self-guided tours are free. Kids will enjoy Discovery Center at Murfree Spring and the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History, while grown ups can stop for a pint at Mayday Brewery. Wat Lao Buddharam is a surprising landmark, a Lao Buddhist temple set in Middle Tennessee.
If Nashville is your destination, give yourself at least three days to visit the countless country music and historic landmarks. The Country Music Hall of Fame is a must-see, along with the Grand Ole Opry. The Johnny Cash Museum highlight’s the Man in Black’s career, while the Ryman Auditorium is one of country music’s most significant landmarks.