The ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary

  • Post last modified:January 17, 2023
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On the ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary renowned cities are beautifully contrasted by timeless nature. When you road trip through Tennessee, you get to experience both vibrating cities and never-ending forests. The ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary includes the best of both worlds.

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Tennessee road trip guide

Highlights on the road trip in Tennessee are listed below. For even more great Tennessee road trip destinations you also find additional stops along the way.

  • Total distance: 931 mi / 1498 km
  • Total driving time: 17 h

Why take the Tennessee road trip?

It’s the combination of attractions that makes the Tennessee journey one of the favorite road trips in America. With both unique cities and some of the best nature in the US it’s not hard to find reasons to hit the Tennessee roads.

As you road trip through Tennessee, you find great stops all over the state to uncover. The ultimate Tennessee road trip shows you the best of Middle Tennessee, East Tennessee and West Tennessee.

Most famously the Tennessee road trip itinerary includes some of the greatest cities in the world for music lovers. Nashville and Memphis are fun destinations home to awe-inspiring music traditions.

But other gems such as Burgess Falls, Gatlinburg and Cades Cove are Tennessee stops that showcase the state’s timeless nature. Deep into the Tennessee forests you feel a world away from the loud honky-tonks in Nashville.

After a stop in the under the radar Chattanooga the Tennessee itinerary also captures a northern Alabama highlight. Huntsville is home to both to a space center and a rich collection of antebellum homes.

Trail in Cades Cove, TN
Trail in Cades Cove, TN.

1. Nashville, TN – The ultimate Tennessee road trip starts in Music City

Nashville is a convenient starting point for the ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary. From the state capital, positioned in the Middle Tennessee area, you easily reach highlights in both East and West Tennessee.

On top of the strategic location Nashville is also one of the most entertaining cities to explore in the American South. The city, also known as Music City, is nothing less than a paradise for music lovers. In particular Nashville is regarded as the world’s capital of country music.

When you stroll around in Downtown Nashville, you find a unique ambience. The lively bars, or honky-tonks, share their music with visitors day or night. To tour the Lower Broadway area in the heart of Nashville is a great way to grasp what the city is all about.

A celebrated music venue in the downtown area is the historic Ryman Auditorium. Since the opening in 1892 heroes such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash have performed on the Ryman scence. The auditorium’s concerts and guided tours are superb ways to enjoy the living history of Nashville.

Not in the downtown area but also a fantastic venue for music in Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry House. It’s the home of the show that made country music famous, the Grand Ole Opry. Such a legendary show is a must on the Tennessee road trip itinerary if you like country music.

But Music City certainly has more than music to offer to the Tennessee journey. A prime example of that is the Belle Meade Plantation. The Nashville plantation used to be an extremely prestigious thoroughbred stud farm, where the American elite flocked. A guided tour of Belle Meade is both educational and entertaining.

Neon signs in Downtown Nashville
Downtown Nashville, TN

2. Burgess Falls State Park, TN – A change of scenery on the Tennessee road trip itinerary

  • Driving distance: 80 mi / 129 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

In less than 2 hours you get from the vibrating Nashville to the relaxing Burgess Falls State Park. After loud times at honky-tonks in Nashville it’s easy to appreciate the quietness that the state’s nature offers on the Tennessee road trip.

Burgess Falls State Park is situated around the Falling Water River. Through the park the river distinctly drops in elevation. After a few smaller drops the show culminates with a beautiful drop of more than 130 feet (40 m).

From the designated parking lot the River Trail takes you along the river and the falls. It’s a scenic hike that one way to the final and biggest drop is 0.8 miles (1.3 km) long. Burgess Falls is with its peaceful beauty the perfect stop on the Tennessee road trip itinerary before you continue towards Gatlinburg.

The pretty Burgess Falls
The pretty Burgess Falls, TN.

Additional stop: Another popular Tennessee waterfall park that it’s easy to visit when you drive from Nashville to Gatlinburg is Cummins Falls State Park. It’s less than 20 miles (32 km) between Burgess Falls and Cummins Falls.

3. Gatlinburg, TN – The entertaining gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains

  • Driving distance: 153 mi / 246 km
  • Driving time: 3 h

Gatlinburg is often is referred to as the gateway to the Smokies. From Downtown Gatlinburg it’s only 3 miles (5 km) to Sugarlands Visitor Center within Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When you visit Gatlinburg on the Tennessee road trip, the thriving national park is the main attraction. Scenic drives, epic hikes and unforgettable wildlife viewing are just a few of the many top things to do in Great Smoky Mountains.

The Smokies, TN.

But just like the Tennessee road trip itinerary includes the best of both worlds, so does a stay in Gatlinburg. From Gatlinburg it’s just minutes to the park adventure. Still the mountain town itself also offers many fun things to do on the Tennessee road trip.

Gatlinburg is surprisingly vibrant with shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. Among the popular Gatlinburg things to do to consider for the Tennessee road trip itinerary you find Ripley’s Aquarium, Gatlinburg Space Needle and Hollywood Star Cars. In Gatlinburg it’s easy to entertain yourself even on rainy days.

Where to stay

Gatlinburg is a very walkable town with some of the best places to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains. No matter where you stay in Gatlinburg, you easily reach the beautiful national park.

Winding road in the Smokies
Winding park road.

Additional stop: The famous Dollywood amusement park is located in the nearby town Pigeon Forge. As it’s only a few miles between the two Tennessee towns, you effortlessly can visit Dollywood and other Pigeon Forge attractions from Gatlinburg. But if you’re a Dolly fan, consider the best places to stay near Dollywood.

4. Cades Cove, TN – A park in a park on the Tennessee road trip itinerary

  • Driving distance: 25 mi / 40 km
  • Driving time: 1 h

A highlight as you visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee road trip itinerary is Cades Cove. The isolated valley is one of the most visited spots in the entire national park.

Most of all Cades Cove is famous for its stunning surroundings, historic cottages and thrilling wildlife. The valley is like a time capsule that is hidden deep in the woods.

Cades Cove has an interesting history, and in a distant time people used to live in the valley. European settlers arrived in the area in the 1820s and built homes as well as other community buildings. Many of the structures still stand, and to explore them adds a dimension to the Tennessee road trip.

When it comes to wildlife viewing, Cades Cove is one of the best places in the Smokies to see black bears. The black bears seem to enjoy the peaceful valley as much as its human visitors. Other animals that frequent Cades Cove include raccoons, beavers, otters, deer and foxes.

Where to stay

In Townsend in the so called quiet part of the Smokies you find lodging near Cades Cove. From the peaceful town it’s just 11 miles (18 km) to the Cades Cove experience.

Historic cabin in Cades Cove, TN
Historic cabin in Cades Cove, TN.

5. Chattanooga, TN – The tour of Tennessee takes you to the Scenic City

  • Driving distance: 143 mi / 230 km
  • Driving time: 2.5 h

After exploring the Great Smoky Mountains the tour of Tennessee continues further west. In Chattanooga, located along Tennessee River, you always have stunning views close by.

Throughout Chattanooga the lush mountain backdrop is striking. With such surroundings it’s not hard to approve the city’s nickname, Scenic City.

But to fully appreciate the environment it’s a good idea to take a short ride up to the ridge of Lookout Mountain. From Downtown Chattanooga it’s just a few miles to incredible Lookout Mountain viewpoints.

Point Park on Lookout Mountain is part of the spread out Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The Lookout Mountain section of the memorial lets you indulge in the Civil War’s “Battle Above the Clouds”. Its history is engaging, and Chattanooga provides a spectacular background. You certainly don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy Point Park on the Tennessee road trip.

If you want to connect more with nature, another popular place to visit in Chattanooga is Tennessee Aquarium. Located on the banks of Tennessee River the aquarium is consistently recognized as one of the very best aquariums in the US. Visitors come back year after year to see its great exhibits and interesting creatures.

Point Park on Lookout Mountain, TN
Point Park overlooking Chattanooga, TN.

6. Huntsville, AL – Traveling out of Tennessee to visit Rocket City

  • Driving distance: 102 mi / 164 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

When you go from Chattanooga to Memphis, one option is to backtrack towards Nashville and thus remain in Tennessee. But to add more variation to the Tennessee road trip itinerary the route through Alabama and Huntsville is preferable.

Huntsville in northern Alabama is called Rocket City for its rich space history. From Huntsville the first US satellite was sent into orbit in 1958. It’s a contemporary city that has grown to become the most populous city in Alabama.

The biggest attraction not only in Huntsville but in the entire state of Alabama is the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. At the impressive complex you find one of the largest gatherings of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. Alabama’s extensive space center is truly a unique addition to the Tennessee road trip itinerary.

After many miles on the road Huntsville also offers great opportunities to stretch your legs. Twickenham Historic District encompasses a fascinating collection of antebellum homes. A walk through the area in the heart of Huntsville is like visiting a museum of architecture. In the stunning neighborhood you find one impressive pre-Civil War home after another

Space rocket under blue sky in Huntsville
The space center in Huntsville, AL.

7. Memphis, TN – Walking in Memphis on the Tennessee road trip itinerary

  • Driving distance: 216 mi / 348 km
  • Driving time: 4 h

The last destination on the Tennessee road trip is unparalleled. Memphis has in a unique way influenced the evolution of music. The city on Mississippi River is known as the birthplace of both blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

When you walk down Beale Street in the heart of Memphis, you’re greeted by the sounds of blues, rock and other music genres. The music just pours out on the street from bars and other joints. Walking in Memphis, like in the song by Marc Cohn, is an experience in itself.

Sun Studio is the legendary recording studio in Memphis that often is referred to as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. The studio is where many icons, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, recorded. Much like the entire city Memphis, Sun Studio has functioned as a melting pot for music. The historic recording studio contains an unbelievable amount of music history.

For Elvis fans the most mandatory stop on the entire Tennessee road trip itinerary is Graceland. At the former home of Elvis original decor and fun memorabilia, such as the notorious jumpsuits, are showcased. The huge Memphis mansion is so nicely kept that the king of rock ‘n’ roll feels more alive than ever as you road trip through Tennessee.

Welcome sign on Beale Street in Memphis
Welcome to Beale Street.

Additional stop: If you want another Tennessee road trip stop between Memphis and Nashville, it makes a lot of sense to pick Jackson. It’s the biggest town along the route and home to Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum.

Additional stop: Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444 miles (715 km) long scenic drive from Natchez in Mississippi to Nashville in Tennessee. You can explore the northernmost part of the parkway as you drive from Memphis to Nashville if you’re ready to make a significant detour.

8. Nashville, TN – Finishing the Tennessee road trip

  • Driving distance: 212 mi / 341 km
  • Driving time: 3 h

After a grand road trip through Tennessee it’s time to round off the adventure. The last 212 miles (341 km) finishes the loop and takes you back to where the TN road trip started, Nashville.

Itineraries with days

For the ultimate Tennessee road trip it’s recommended to have 2 weeks or more. If you have less time, you can either do a pacier road trip or break up the Tennessee itinerary to focus on your favorite parts.

Ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary (2 weeks)

  • Day 1-3: Nashville
  • Day 3: Burgess Falls State Park
  • Day 3-7: Gatlinburg
  • Day 7-9: Cades Cove
  • Day 9-10: Chattanooga
  • Day 10-11: Huntsville
  • Day 11-14: Memphis

Pacy Tennessee itinerary (1 week)

  • Day 1-2: Nashville
  • Day 2: Burgess Falls State Park
  • Day 2-4: Gatlinburg
  • Day 4: Cades Cove
  • Day 4-5: Chattanooga
  • Day 5: Huntsville
  • Day 5-7: Memphis
A perfect road trip in Tennessee
A perfect road trip in Tennessee

Use the booking tool below to find the perfect places to stay for your Tennessee road trip. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to start with hotels in Nashville.

Road trip in Tennessee FAQ

You find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Tennessee road trip below.

How long does it take to drive the ultimate Tennessee road trip?

The ultimate Tennessee road trip is 931 miles (1498 km) long. To drive it takes about 17 hours, not including any stops along the way.

Where should I go on a road trip in Tennessee?

Tennessee offers an appreciated mix of fun cities and impressive nature. This Tennessee road trip itinerary includes Nashville, Burgess Falls, Gatlinburg, Cades Cove, Chattanooga, Huntsville and Memphis plus additional stops along the way.

What is there to see between Memphis and Nashville?

Jackson is the biggest town along the Memphis to Nashville route and home to Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum. You can also drive some of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Memphis to Nashville, but that’s a significant detour to take.

How many days do you need to see Tennessee?

For the ultimate Tennessee road trip it’s recommended to have 2 weeks available. But if you have less time, you can do a pacier Tennessee road trip or break it up to focus on certain parts.

How can I spend 4 days in Tennessee?

With 4 days in Tennessee it’s as good idea to concentrate on a certain area of the state. One way to do it is to spend most of your time in Nashville but to also take a day trip to Burgess Falls and Cummins Falls. That way you get to see both a fun city and the Tennessee countryside.

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