The drive from Memphis to Nashville is a little over three hours—but don’t make the mistake of thinking that there’s nothing worth stopping for on the way! From dynamic parks and public art to niche museums and archaeological relics, the destinations that dot the road to Nashville are sure to surprise and entertain you. These are just a few of our top picks for places to stop when driving through West and Middle Tennessee…
The Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is about an hour northeast of Memphis, and if you’re a nature love, an outdoor recreation enthusiast, or just someone trying to take a break from the car and get a little fresh air, then you don’t want to pass up the chance to stop as this riverside preserve. Managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is a 11,556-acre stretch of protected land that contains bottomland hardwood forests, upland forests, swamps, grasslands, and scrublands. Some of the animals that you might encounter when exploring this area along the Hatchie River include mallards, owls, hawks, white-tailed deer, raccoons, turtles, and frogs.
Photography, wildlife viewing, and hiking—as well as regulated fishing and hiking—can all be enjoyed at the Hatchie NWR. Many visitors consider the nature preserve to be a “hidden gem” of West Tennessee, and it’s definitely a place where you never know what you might find. (The visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm, so if you visit on the weekend, there won’t be any restrooms available.)
Just a little over an hour northeast of Memphis, Brownsville is a charming small town that’s slightly north of the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge. Located in Haywood County, Brownsville is perhaps best known for being the hometown of none other than American super star Tina Turner—also known as “The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The Tina Turner Museum, part of the Western Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, offers visitors intimate insight into Turner’s life and features an array of memorabilia. (The museum is even located in a restored one-room schoolhouse where Turner attended classes as a child!) But, while you’re driving through this portion of Tennessee, one roadside attraction that you don’t want to skip is Billy Tripp’s The Mindfield, a massive assemblage sculpture that’s claimed the title as the tallest outdoor sculpture in the state.
Tripp, an outsider artist and Tennessee native, began work on his sculpture, titled The Mindfield, in 1989 and has been adding to it ever since. Comprised mainly of scrap metal and steel girders, The Mindfield is an abstract representation of Tripp’s life and its many ups and downs. Taking up nearly an acre of land and reaching as tall as 125 feet, the sculpture is truly a sight to be seen, and because it’s located on Brownsville’s main street, it’s kind of hard to miss.
Around an hour-and-a-half from Memphis, Jackson is a regional economic and industrial hub (in fact, Jackson’s nickname is the “Hub City”!), and it’s a fun, energetic city that’s well-deserving of a stop on your way to Nashville. A few of Jackon’s best-known attractions are the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Casey Jones Home & Museum, the Legends of Tennessee Music Museum, and Cypress Nature Park. But, if you’re a movie buff or a gearhead, one place you’ll want to check out for sure is Rusty’s TV & Movie Car Museum, a collection of 25 famous cars (and counting!).
Open Friday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm (and Monday through Thursday by appointment), Rusty’s TV & Movie Car Museum is the result of one man’s passion for car collecting. Rusty Robbinson, a long-time collector and lifetime car lover, has been buying and storing cars for more than 24 years, and he decided to share his ever-growing collection with the world! But, Rusty isn’t interested in just any kind of vintage car—his collection is dedicated to cars that have made appearances in TV shows and movies. (He was even featured on the show Tennessee Crossroads!) “Star” cars from The Dukes of Hazzard (1979–1985), Knight Rider (1982–1986), Starsky & Hutch (1975–1979), Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005), and many, many more notable shows and movies can be found at Rusty’s museum, which only costs $5 to see!
Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park is about 20 minutes southeast of Jackson, and it offers visitors the extraordinary chance to walk through history. The park encompasses upwards of 1,200 acres, and on the grounds, you’ll find 15 Native American mounds that are thought to have been used for burial and ceremonial purposes. A National Historic Landmark, Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park is much more than a scenic place to stretch your legs (though, it’s certainly that too!)—it’s a living testament to the prehistoric tribes that occupied this piece of Tennessee many, many years ago.
The park features paved, wheel-accessible trails that are bike-friendly, as well as gravel, forest-floor hiking trails where bikes are not permitted. If you’re interested in learning more about the rich history behind the park and the mounds that it protects, don’t forget to stop by the park museum, which is dedicated to Tennessee prehistory and has a number of informational exhibits. As you’re hiking through the park, keep an eye out for interpretive panels that denote additional information about the mounds and the park itself.
Close to 40 minutes east of Nashville, Montgomery Bell State Park is another beautiful place where you can get in touch with Tennessee’s natural side. Formerly the epicenter of Middle Tennessee’s iron industry, Montgomery Bell State Park doubles as both a park and resort, and in addition to its traditional park features, it has an onsite restaurant and conference center, as well as campsites and cabins available for rent. Birding, biking, fishing, boating, swimming, and hiking can all be enjoyed at the park, which has three lakes: Lake Woodhaven, Creech Hollow Lake, and Acorn Lake.
The park also has tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, plus sports fields, a golf course, picnic areas and shelters, and kayak and paddle boat rentals. Basically, Montgomery Bell State Park is the perfect place to relax and spend some time outdoors before heading into the city. Whether you hike on one of the trails, play a round of golf, or go for a swim, you’re sure to fall in love with this bucolic getaway.
Franklin is around 30 minutes south of Nashville, and it’s probably most famous—or, rather, infamous—for the 1864 Battle of Franklin during the American Civil War. A delightful city that’s brimming with history, Franklin has a number of compelling attractions, including Carnton Plantation, the Carter House, Fort Granger, and Franklin Battlefield. Another historically significant place in Franklin that you’ll want to see is the Lotz House Civil War Museum, which has been listed on the National Historic Register since 1976.
In November of 1864, the Lotz family inadvertently found themselves in the middle of the Civil War when Union troops retreated into Franklin from the nearby Spring Hill. Soon, it became clear that fighting would inevitably break out in the area around the family’s property, and the Lotz fled to safety in a neighbor’s basement (the Carter House across the street). An estimated 10,000 American soldiers died during the Battle of Franklin, and the Lotz House served as a hospital for the wounded until the next summer. Today, you can tour the house and see blood stains that were left behind from fallen soldiers. (Tours are offered Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm, as well as on Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $6 for children ages 7 to 13, and free for children ages 6 and under.)
A suburb of Nashville, Brentwood is about 20 minutes south of the city. Among Brentwood’s main attractions is Radnor Lake State Park, where you can hike, look for and learn about native wildlife, or attend a ranger-led interpretive canoe float. On the outskirts of Radnor Lake State Park, you’ll find the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory, an astronomical research facility that’s owned and operated by Vanderbilt University. But, if you’re interested in environmental education and stewardship (or you just like birds), then be sure to take some time to visit Radnor Lake State Park’s Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center, where you can see non-releasable rescued birds of prey up-close.
Open 7 am to 1 pm on Wednesdays and 1 pm to sunset on Saturdays, the park’s aviary education center is home to owls, hawks, and eagles that have been rescued but are unfit to be released back into the wild. (The limited public hours at the aviary are intended to minimize stress on the birds.) In addition to the birds that live there, the center also has interpretive displays about the animals that can be found in the rest of the park and in the surrounding area.
Not only is Nashville Tennessee's biggest city, but it’s also the state’s capital. While most famous for being “The Country Music Capital of the World,” Nashville is a must-see travel destination for music-lovers of any genre. Among Nashville’s most prominent music-related attractions are the Country Music Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry, The Bluebird Cafe, the Gallery of Iconic Guitars at Belmont, the Johnny Cash Museum, the Musicians Hall of Fame, and Music City Walk of Fame Park.
Other popular places to go in Nashville include the Adventure Science Center, Centennial Park, the Frist Art Museum, and the Tennessee State Capitol. As you can see, Nashville’s cultural significance extends far beyond just music, and it’s a city that has something for everyone. All in all, this Tennessee destination is a ten-out-of-ten!