Atlanta is only about a four-hour drive from Nashville—but we’re going to let you in on a little secret… There are tons of exciting destinations on the way that you won’t want to pass up! From stargazing and dinosaur bones to spectacular views and works of art, these detours are as diverse as they are amazing. Take a look at some of our favorite road trip stops in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia!
The first stop on our list is only about 20 minutes south of Nashville, but even so, it’s still totally out of this world! Owned and operated by Vanderbilt University, the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is the only university facility that’s not on the school’s main campus in the city. Having opened in 1953, the observatory is listed on the Register of Historic Landmarks, and it houses many of the university’s original 1875 astronomical instruments and artifacts. An institution with a long history in the study of astronomy, Vanderbilt not only maintains a top-notch observatory but also allows the public to tour the grounds, free of charge!
In addition to tours, the observatory also hosts special events, like Telescope Night and Meet the Astronomers. If you’re interested in touring the observatory, you need to schedule your visit in advance by calling ahead of time or filling out the website’s online form. The grounds are typically available for self-guided tours March through November, Tuesday through Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm. While you’re there, make sure you check out the Star Chamber, a rock sculpture, camera-obscura, and sundial that resembles the galaxy.
Murfreesboro is around an hour southeast of Nashville, and if you’re someone who enjoys educational enrichment, then you’re going to want to stop here. In Murfreesboro, you’ll find Cannonsburgh Village, the Discovery Center (a children’s museum), the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, and, of course, Middle Tennessee State University. The biggest attraction in Murfreesboro, however, is probably the Middle Tennessee Museum of History, also called “Earth Experience.”
The first natural history museum in Middle Tennessee, the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History showcases historical items and artifacts with origins both local and international. Perhaps the museum’s most prized possession is its complete T-Rex skeleton (comprised of more than 300 bones!), though you’ll also find a number of other, smaller dinosaur bones on display as well. The museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm, and admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 4 to 11.
About 80 minutes southeast of Nashville, Manchester is another good stopping point as you make your way toward Atlanta. A small town, Manchester has plenty of parks where you can take a quick break from the car and stretch your legs for a bit. (If you’ve heard of Manchester before, it’s probably because of Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, which brings upwards of 60,000 people to the city every summer!) If you make a stop in Manchester, you have to set aside some time to explore Old Stone Fort Archaeological Park to the west of the city.
Nature lovers, history buffs, and archaeology enthusiasts are all sure to love this 400-acre park and historical site that still bears remnants of its prehistoric past as a Native American gathering place. Hiking, fishing, and birding are among the most popular activities to enjoy at the park, and if you’re looking to spend the night, you can reserve a spot at the park’s campground. Visitors who want to learn more about the area’s history can go to the park’s museum that has informative displays, dioramas, and exhibits, as well as Native American replicas and a short introductory film.
Located just before the Tennessee-Georgia state border in the southeastern portion of Tennessee, Chattanooga is a little more than two hours from Nashville and about two-and-a-half hours from Atlanta—which means that it’s the perfect halfway point to stop and get out of the car for a while. Situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, right alongside the Tennessee River, Chattanooga is a fun little city with versatile scenery and a well-rounded list of attractions. Some of the top places to go in Chattanooga are the Tennessee Aquarium, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Creative Discovery Museum, and the Bluff View Art District. Another one of the city’s headlining attractions is the Incline Railway, a funicular that takes visitors up Lookout Mountain for some of the best views of the city.
The Incline’s lower station can be found in Saint Elmo, a historic neighborhood that’s around four miles southwest of Downtown Chattanooga. A roundtrip ticket for the Incline is $15 for adults and $7 for children ages 3 to 12. At the Incline’s top station, the sweeping mountain top views of the Chattanooga Valley below will undoubtedly leave you awestruck. There are more attractions at the top of Lookout Mountain, including Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the Battles for Chattanooga Museum, and Ruby Falls.
Calhoun, Georgia, is around an hour-and-a-half northwest of Atlanta, and though it’s a small town, it’s still home to a few noteworthy attractions—namely, Resaca Battlefield Historic Site, Southern Estate Alpacas, and the Harris Art Center. And if you’re looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat, try Dub’s High On the Hog BBQ & Grill, Christian and Jake’s Bistro, or Classic Kitchen Restaurant. But, if you want to see something truly extraordinary, you’re going to have to go somewhere a little unexpected: church!
Behind Calhoun Seventh Day Adventist Church, you’ll find one of Georgia’s hidden gems—a rock garden created and built by volunteers that features an array of teeny, tiny buildings, all constructed from small rocks and other scrapped material. From little houses and churches to elaborate castles and cathedrals, the Calhoun Rock Garden contains truly spectacular assemblage art that you can see for free every day from dusk to dawn.
A little over an hour northwest of Atlanta, Cartersville, Georgia, is a charming little city that makes for an entertaining—if a little offbeat—stop as you get closer to the Big Peach. Like most southern cities, Cartersville is bursting with history, and the Bartow History Museum, the Rose Lawn Museum, and the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Sites are just a few examples of points of interest that make Cartersville worth a quick stop. But, if you prefer art over history, not to worry—we have the perfect place for you: the Booth Western Art Museum in Downtown Cartersville.
The only museum of its kind in the southeastern United States, the Booth Museum pays tribute to the American West with art forms both traditional and nontraditional. Fur trappers, cowboys, Native American tribes, and mountain men are just some of the figures represented in the museum’s permanent collection, which also includes a gallery with hand-signed letters from every US president. The museum also displays temporary exhibitions, the timeline for which you can view online when you visit the museum’s website. General admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9 for students, and free for children ages 12 and under.
Directly east of Cartersville lies Red Top Mountain State Park, a lakeside park that spans nearly 2,000 acres—plus the 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona. Hiking, biking, archery, miniature golf, tennis, picnicking, swimming, fishing, waterskiing, and boating are some of the most popular activities in the park, and its campgrounds include 18 cottages that are available for rent. With 15 miles of hiking trails, four miles of biking trails, two boat ramps, two docks, three playgrounds, and miles and miles of greenspace, Red Top Mountain State Park is a delightful place to spend some time outdoors and appreciate Georgia’s natural beauty.
The park is open from 7 am to dark, and there is a $5-fee for parking. Behind the park’s visitor center, you’ll find a reconstructed 1860s homestead, along with a paved trail that’s wheelchair-accessible. (Fun fact: The park is named for its distinctively colored soil, which has a red tint due to high levels of iron.)
Marietta, Georgia, is about 45 minutes northwest from Atlanta, and before you finally arrive in the Big Peach, we definitely recommend stopping in this small but mighty town that practically overflowing with history and culture. Some of the most-visited attractions in Marietta include the William Root House Museum, the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art, Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, and Marietta Square. But, if you’re a fan of Gone with the Wind (book or movie), you don’t want to miss the museum at Brumby Hall in Downtown Marietta.
At the Gone with the Wind Museum, you’ll find original movie props, personal items that once belonged to Margaret Mitchell, limited editions of the novel, and more! The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and admission is $7 for adults; $6 for seniors, students, and military personnel; and $5 for groups of 15 or more.
Not only is Atlanta Georgia’s biggest city, but it’s also the state’s capital. With a dynamic history and an eclectic range of attractions, the Big Peach is an unforgettable travel destination that you won’t want to leave. Some of the top places to see in the city are Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the College Football Hall of Fame, and, of course, the Georgia State Capitol. But just because there’s so much to do in Atlanta doesn’t mean that you have to race there from Nashville! Take your time going through Tennessee and Georgia—you never know what hidden gems you might discover on the way.