Ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary

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On this ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary, civilization’s best is contrasted by timeless nature in an unbeatable way. Melodious cities, never-ending forests and everything in between — such as the fun-filled Dollywood — await. So hop into your car and get ready for an epic road trip through Tennessee capturing the best of both worlds.

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  • 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 this Tennessee journey one of the favorite road trips in America. With both unique cities and some of the country’s best nature, it’s not hard to find reasons to hit the Tennessee roads.

As you road trip through Tennessee, uncover the best of Middle Tennessee, East Tennessee and West Tennessee.

Most famously, Tennessee is home to some of the greatest music cities in the world. Nashville and Memphis are fun destinations home to both awe-inspiring music traditions and eager modern-day talent.

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

After a stop in the under-the-radar Chattanooga, the Tennessee itinerary also captures a northern Alabama highlight. Huntsville is home to both a space center and a rich collection of antebellum homes — thanks for contributing to this grand drive, Alabama.

Trail framed by lush vegetation in Cades Cove, TN
Trail in Cades Cove, TN.

1. Nashville, TN

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 both East and West Tennessee highlights.

On top of the strategic location, Nashville is one of the most entertaining cities in the American South. The city, 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.

Strolling around in Downtown Nashville, you find a unique ambience. The lively bars, or honky-tonks, share their music with visitors day or night. Touring 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 scene — wow. 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 Nashville venue for music 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 (and maybe even if you don’t).

But Music City certainly has more than music to offer to a 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. Take a guided tour of Belle Meade to learn, or just to be amazed by colorful stories.

Neon signs in Downtown Nashville
Downtown Nashville, TN

2. Burgess Falls State Park, TN

  • 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 of nature.

Radiating calmness, Burgess Falls is the perfect stop on the Tennessee road trip itinerary before you continue towards the Smokies.

Through Burgess Falls State Park, the splashing Falling Water River distinctly drops in elevation. Past a few smaller drops, the show culminates with a beautiful drop of more than 130 feet (40 m).

To experience this grandeur, follow the River Trail along the river and falls. It’s a scenic 0.8-mile (1.3 km) one-way hike to the final, biggest and most eye-popping drop.

Want to return to the car and the continuation of the Tennessee road trip quickly? Opt for the paved service road back to the trailhead.

Water crashing over the brink of Burgess Falls and into the pool below
The pretty Burgess Falls, TN.

Additional stop: Another popular 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

  • 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.

So when you visit Gatlinburg, 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.

Fog hangs over tree tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smokies, TN.

But just like the Tennessee road trip itinerary captures the best of both worlds, so does a Gatlinburg stay.

The mountain town itself offers many fun things to do. For its location so high up in the mountains, Gatlinburg is surprisingly vibrant with cheerful shops, restaurants, bars and attractions.

Among many crowd-pleasers, consider Ripley’s Aquarium, Gatlinburg Space Needle and Hollywood Star Cars for your Tennessee road trip. In Gatlinburg, it’s certainly easy to entertain yourself even on rainy days.

Read more: Where to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains

Winding road in the Smokies
Winding park road.

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

4. Cades Cove, TN

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

A highlight as you visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the isolated valley Cades Cove. For good reasons, this is one of the most visited spots in the entire national park.

Hidden deep in the woods, Cades Cove is famous for its lush surroundings, historic cottages and thrilling wildlife. The valley is a real time capsule — which century is this Tennessee road trip in?

In a distant time, people used to live in Cades Cove. European settlers arrived to the valley in the 1820s and built homes as well as a wide range of other community buildings.

Many of these structures still stand, including three churches, and exploring 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 Cades Cove fans include raccoons, beavers, otters, deer and foxes.

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

5. Chattanooga, TN

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

After trekking through the Great Smoky Mountains, the tour of Tennessee continues further west. In Chattanooga, situated along Tennessee River, the verdant mountain backdrop is striking.

Great views are everywhere, and it’s not hard to approve the city’s nickname: Scenic City.

But to fully appreciate the environment, 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.

Part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, the elevated Point Park lets you indulge in the Civil War’s “Battle Above the Clouds”. The history is engaging, and Chattanooga provides a stunning background.

You certainly don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy Point Park.

Then make your way to Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium. On the banks of the Tennessee River, the aquarium full of interesting creatures and exhibits is consistently recognized as one of the best aquariums in the US.

Cannon on the edge of the mountain in Point Park on Lookout Mountain, TN
Point Park overlooking Chattanooga, TN.

6. Huntsville, AL

  • 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 itinerary, a route through Alabama 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 — this is holy soil for space lovers.

Visit the extensive U.S. Space & Rocket Center to learn all about the soaring feat, and a lot more. At the impressive complex, you find one of the largest gatherings of rockets and space memorabilia in the world.

A unique addition to the Tennessee road trip itinerary, Huntsville’s space center makes jaws drop daily.

After many miles on the road, Huntsville offers more appreciated opportunities to stretch your legs. Twickenham Historic District encompasses a fascinating collection of antebellum homes.

Taking a walk through the area in the heart of Huntsville is like visiting a museum of architecture. In the neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you find one adorable pre-Civil War home after another.

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

7. Memphis, TN

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

That the last destination on the Tennessee road trip has influenced the evolution of music is certainly no exaggeration. On Mississippi River, Memphis is known as the birthplace of both blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

Cutting through heart of Memphis, Beale Street greets you with the sounds of blues, rock and a symphony of other genres. Welcoming tones just pour out on the street from all those quirky joints that define Memphis’ characterful heart.

Walking in Memphis, like in the famous 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 exact birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. The studio is where many icons, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, recorded.

Much like the entire city of Memphis, Sun Studio has functioned as a melting pot for music. The historic recording studio contains an unbelievable amount of music history — a stop here is easy to motivate.

But 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.

Where to stay in Memphis

Downtown Memphis offers the best sightseeing and nightlife opportunities. Alternatively, bed down on Elvis Presley Boulevard, adjacent to the one and only Graceland.

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

Additional stop: If you want another stop between Memphis and Nashville, pick Jackson. It’s the biggest town along the route and home to the 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

  • 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 this ultimate Tennessee road trip, we recommend allowing 2 weeks or more. If you have less time, you can either do a pacier road trip or break up the itinerary to focus on your favorite parts.

Ultimate 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 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
Old wooden barn decorated with American flag
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.

Booking.com

Road trip in Tennessee FAQ

How long is the Tennessee road trip?

This ultimate Tennessee road trip is 931 miles (1498 km) long. Driving 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 itinerary includes Nashville, Burgess Falls, Gatlinburg, Cades Cove, Chattanooga, Huntsville and Memphis plus a few 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. If you don’t mind a significant detour, you can also drive some of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Memphis to Nashville.

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 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. This way, you get to see both a fun city and the Tennessee countryside.

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