Are you looking for the best hidden gems in Tennessee? Here’s your ultimate guide to the most underrated places in Tennessee. Prepare yourself for an off-the-beaten path experience in Tennessee.
Tennessee—the land of country music, mouthwatering barbecue, and the Great Smoky Mountains. But wait, there’s so much more to this Southern gem than meets the eye! If you’re yearning for an adventure that’s a little less mainstream and a lot more magical, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to a journey through the hidden gems in Tennessee. This is where we’ll explore the lesser-known spots that are just as captivating as the state’s famous landmarks.
Picture this: You’re standing atop a secluded mountain peak, the air crisp and the view nothing short of breathtaking. Or maybe you’re wandering through a charming small town, where the pace is slow. How about kayaking through a serene lake that’s so clear, you can see the fish swimming beneath your boat? These are the kinds of experiences that make Tennessee a beautiful destination. And they’re all waiting for you to discover them.
So, if you’re wondering what to do in Tennessee that’s a bit off the beaten path, buckle up. We’re about to dive into 12 incredible spots that will make you fall in love with the Volunteer State all over again. Let’s check them out!
Hidden Gems in Tennessee
Eager to unearth the best hidden gems in Tennessee? There are several destinations in this state that are off the usual tourist routes, catering to all types of travelers. Dive deeper as we reveal some of the most underrated places in Tennessee.
Are you looking for picturesque nature landscapes? Want to explore magical waterfalls? Or are you a fan of geological wonders? It doesn’t matter what you’re planning, Tennessee can meet your needs. Dive into this guide to discover the best hidden gems in Tennessee.
1. Roan Mountain State Park
Ah, the allure of Roan Mountain State Park—a sanctuary where nature’s grandeur meets tranquil solitude. Nestled near the North Carolina border, this park is a haven for hikers, birdwatchers, and anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle. The park’s crown jewel is the Roan Mountain itself, a peak that offers panoramic views of the surrounding Appalachian Highlands. Trust us, the hike to the top is worth every step.
Why is it a hidden gem, you ask? Well, while most travelers flock to the Great Smoky Mountains, just a stone’s throw away from Gatlinburg, TN, Roan Mountain State Park remains blissfully uncrowded. It’s the perfect spot for those seeking a more peaceful outdoor experience. The park also offers a variety of activities, from fishing in the Doe River to exploring the Miller Farmstead, a preserved 1908 homestead.
So, if you’re searching for beautiful places in Tennessee that offer both adventure and serenity, Roan Mountain State Park should be at the top of your list.
Travel Tips: The park is about an hour’s drive from Johnson City, making it easily accessible for a day trip. However, if you want to fully immerse yourself in this natural wonder, consider spending at least two days here. The park has camping facilities, and the best time to visit is during the late spring and early fall when the weather is ideal. Entry to the park is free, but some activities may require a nominal fee.
2. Bell Buckle
Step back in time as you enter the charming town of Bell Buckle. This is a place where Southern hospitality is more than just a phrase—it’s a way of life. Located just an hour’s drive from Nashville, this quaint town feels like a page ripped out of a history book. It’s complete with antique shops, historic homes, and a town square that’s the epitome of Americana.
What makes Bell Buckle a unique place to visit in Tennessee? For starters, it’s home to the annual RC Cola and MoonPie Festival, a celebration that’s as quirky as it sounds. But beyond the festivals and charming architecture, Bell Buckle offers a sense of community and warmth that’s hard to find.
If you’re looking for underrated destinations in Tennessee where you can experience the soul of the South, Bell Buckle is a must-visit.
Travel Tips: A day trip from Nashville or Chattanooga is more than enough to explore the town. While you’re there, don’t miss the Bell Buckle Cafe, known for its delicious Southern cuisine. The best time to visit is during the spring and fall when the town hosts various festivals and events. Most attractions in Bell Buckle are free, although you might end up spending a bit in the antique shops!
3. Cummins Falls State Park
Get ready to be wowed by Cummins Falls State Park, a natural wonder that’s as exhilarating as it is beautiful. Situated about an hour and a half from Nashville, this park is home to the stunning Cummins Falls, a 75-foot waterfall that cascades into a picturesque swimming hole. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to dive in the moment you lay eyes on it.
So, why is this one of the best hidden gems in Tennessee? While the Smokies get all the attention, Cummins Falls offers a more intimate experience with nature. The hike to the falls is a bit challenging but incredibly rewarding, taking you through lush forests and rocky terrains.
If you’re pondering coolest places to go in Tennessee for a mix of adventure and relaxation, Cummins Falls State Park is your answer.
Travel Tips: The park is most easily accessed from Nashville or Cookeville. To fully enjoy the falls, plan to spend at least half a day here. The hike to the waterfall takes about an hour, so wear sturdy shoes. The best time to visit is during the summer months when you can take full advantage of the swimming hole. There’s a small entry fee, but the experience is priceless.
4. Casey Jones Village
All aboard for a trip to Casey Jones Village in Jackson. This is a destination that’s a delightful blend of history, culture, and good old-fashioned fun. Named after the legendary railroad engineer, this village is a treasure chest of attractions, including a railroad museum, an old country store, and even a mini-golf course designed like a vintage train station.
Why is Casey Jones Village an underrated place in Tennessee? While many tourists head to Graceland or the Country Music Hall of Fame, this village offers a different kind of Tennessee experience. One steeped in railroad history and local folklore.
For those wondering where to go in Tennessee for a dose of nostalgia and a break from the usual tourist spots, Casey Jones Village is a charming detour.
Travel Tips: Jackson is about halfway between Memphis and Nashville, making the village an excellent stop for those traveling between the two cities. You can easily spend a day exploring the various attractions, but if you’re short on time, a few hours will suffice. The best time to visit is during the spring and fall when the weather is pleasant. Entry fees vary by attraction, so budget accordingly.
5. Sewanee Natural Bridge
If you’re a fan of geological wonders, then Sewanee Natural Bridge is a must-see. This awe-inspiring sandstone arch, located near the University of the South in Sewanee, stands 25 feet high and spans over 50 feet. It’s a natural masterpiece that has been carved by centuries of erosion. This makes it one of the most unique places to visit in Tennessee.
What sets Sewanee Natural Bridge apart? Unlike other natural attractions that require strenuous hikes, this one is easily accessible, just a short walk from the parking area. It’s an ideal spot for photography, picnics, and even a little birdwatching.
If you’re searching for beautiful destinations in Tennessee that are both accessible and awe-inspiring, Sewanee Natural Bridge is a picture-perfect choice.
Travel Tips: Sewanee is about an hour’s drive from Chattanooga, making it a convenient day trip. The best time to visit is in the spring when the surrounding forest is in full bloom, or in the fall when the foliage turns vibrant shades of orange and red. The site is free to visit, but donations are encouraged to help with maintenance.
6. Lost Sea Adventure
Dive into the depths of one of America’s most fascinating natural phenomena at Lost Sea Adventure in Sweetwater. This underground lake is not just any body of water. It’s the largest underground lake in the United States that’s open to the public. A guided tour takes you through a series of awe-inspiring caverns before you reach the lake, where you can even take a glass-bottom boat ride.
Why is this one of the best things to do in Tennessee? Lost Sea Adventure offers a unique experience that’s both educational and thrilling. It’s not every day you get to explore an underground lake, making it a truly off the beaten path in Tennessee experience.
For those looking for unique places to visit in Tennessee that offer a blend of natural wonder and adventure, Lost Sea Adventure is a subterranean marvel you won’t want to miss.
Travel Tips: Located about an hour’s drive from Knoxville, Lost Sea Adventure is perfect for a day trip. Tours run year-round, but the summer months are the busiest. It’s advisable to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak season. The tour lasts about an hour and a half, and there’s a fee for entry.
Step into a time capsule as you visit Rugby, a historic village that transports you straight back to the 19th century. Founded by British author Thomas Hughes in 1880, Rugby was intended to be a utopian community for the “second sons” of English gentry. Today, it stands as a well-preserved example of Victorian architecture and a testament to Hughes’ vision.
What makes Rugby a hidden gem in Tennessee? The village is not just a collection of old buildings. It’s a living, breathing community that offers a glimpse into a bygone era. From the Victorian homes to the vintage general store, every corner of Rugby whispers stories of the past.
If you’re keen on exploring underrated destinations in Tennessee that offer a rich historical experience, Rugby is a journey back in time you won’t want to miss.
Travel Tips: Rugby is about a two-hour drive from Knoxville, making it suitable for a day trip or a weekend getaway. The village offers guided tours, and the best time to visit is during one of their seasonal events like the annual Victorian Christmas celebration. Most attractions are free, but donations are encouraged to help with preservation efforts.
8. Reelfoot Lake
Nature lovers, rejoice! Reelfoot Lake is a sanctuary of serenity and natural beauty that’s unlike any other in Tennessee. Created by a series of earthquakes in the early 19th century, this shallow lake is now a haven for wildlife, including bald eagles, herons, and a variety of fish species. With its cypress trees rising from the water and the tranquil atmosphere, it’s easy to see why this is one of the best hidden gems in Tennessee.
What sets Reelfoot Lake apart? It’s not just a lake; it’s an entire ecosystem brimming with life. Whether you’re into birdwatching, fishing, or simply soaking in the natural beauty, Reelfoot Lake offers something for everyone.
If you’re wondering what to do in Tennessee that allows you to connect deeply with nature, Reelfoot Lake is a tranquil escape you’ll cherish.
Travel Tips: The lake is located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, about a two-hour drive from Memphis. To fully appreciate the area, plan to spend at least a day or two. There are various accommodation options, including campgrounds and lodges. The best time to visit is during the winter months when the bald eagles are most active. There’s no entry fee, but some activities like guided tours may cost extra.
9. Lookout Mountain
Elevate your Tennessee adventure—literally—by visiting Lookout Mountain, a peak that straddles the Tennessee-Georgia border near Chattanooga. This mountain is not just a high point; it’s a hub of attractions, including the famous Rock City Gardens, Ruby Falls, and the Incline Railway, one of the world’s steepest passenger railways.
Why is Lookout Mountain a unique place to visit in Tennessee? While many tourists head straight for the Smokies, this mountain offers a trifecta of attractions that are equally awe-inspiring but less crowded. Plus, the views from the summit stretch over seven states on a clear day!
For those seeking beautiful places in Tennessee that offer a mix of natural beauty and unique attractions, Lookout Mountain is a peak experience you won’t want to miss.
Travel Tips: Lookout Mountain is just a short drive from downtown Chattanooga, making it an easy day trip. However, with so much to see and do, you might want to extend your stay. The best time to visit is during the fall when the foliage is at its peak. Entry fees apply for the various attractions, so budget accordingly.
10. Natchez Trace Parkway
Hit the road and discover the scenic beauty of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile drive that passes through the southern part of Tennessee. This historic route was once used by Native Americans and early settlers, and today it serves as a picturesque pathway for modern-day explorers.
Why is this one of the coolest places to go in Tennessee? The parkway is more than just a road; it’s a journey through history, nature, and culture. Along the way, you’ll find hiking trails, waterfalls, and historic sites like the Meriwether Lewis Monument.
If you’re pondering where to go in Tennessee for a road trip that offers both natural beauty and historical significance, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a drive you’ll never forget.
Travel Tips: The Tennessee portion of the parkway is easily accessible from Nashville and offers a variety of stops that can be explored in a day. However, if you’re up for a longer adventure, consider driving the entire route, which ends in Natchez, Mississippi. The best time to visit is during the spring and fall when the weather is ideal for outdoor activities. The parkway is free to access, but some attractions along the way may have fees.
11. Shiloh National Military Park
History buffs, this one’s for you. Shiloh National Military Park in southwestern Tennessee is a living monument to one of the Civil War’s most significant battles. The park offers more than just a history lesson; it’s a place of reflection, set against a backdrop of rolling hills and the Tennessee River.
Why is Shiloh a hidden gem in Tennessee? While many tourists head to more famous Civil War sites like Gettysburg, Shiloh offers a quieter, more intimate experience. The park features well-preserved battlefields, monuments, and a visitor center that provides valuable insights into the conflict.
For those interested in underrated destinations in Tennessee that offer both historical and natural attractions, Shiloh National Military Park is a compelling visit.
Travel Tips: Shiloh is about a two-hour drive from Memphis, making it a feasible day trip. However, to truly appreciate the site, consider spending a full day exploring the various landmarks. The park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is during the spring and fall when the weather is pleasant. There’s a small entry fee, which goes towards the preservation of the park.
12. Ozone Falls
End your Tennessee adventure on a high note by visiting Ozone Falls, a hidden waterfall that’s as majestic as it is secluded. Located near the town of Crab Orchard, this 110-foot waterfall is a sight to behold, especially after a heavy rain when it roars with full force.
What makes Ozone Falls one of the best hidden gems in Tennessee? Its sheer beauty is a given, but what sets it apart is its accessibility. A short hike from the parking area leads you straight to the falls, making it a perfect spot for those who want to experience natural beauty without the strenuous effort.
If you’re looking for beautiful destinations in Tennessee that offer a grand finale to your journey, Ozone Falls is the cherry on top.
Travel Tips: Ozone Falls is about an hour’s drive from Knoxville, making it an ideal day trip. The best time to visit is during the spring when the falls are at their most powerful, or in the fall when the surrounding foliage adds an extra layer of beauty. The site is free to visit, but it’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes for the hike.
Frequently asked questions about the best hidden gems in Tennessee
Are you searching for more content about unique places to go in Tennessee? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about the most underrated places in Tennessee.
Tennessee is a state that’s rich in diversity, offering a unique blend of natural beauty, history, and culture. While it’s famous for its contributions to country music and its delicious Southern cuisine, what truly sets it apart are its hidden gems. From the awe-inspiring waterfalls like Ozone Falls and Cummins Falls to historic sites like Shiloh National Military Park and Rugby, Tennessee offers a range of experiences that are both unique and off the beaten path. Each of these destinations provides a different perspective on what makes Tennessee a beautiful and unique place to visit.
Finding local hidden gems in Tennessee can be an exciting adventure in itself. While travel blogs and articles (like this one!) are a great starting point, don’t underestimate the value of local knowledge. Speak to locals or visit local tourism offices to get insider tips on where to go in Tennessee for an authentic experience. Social media platforms and travel forums can also be valuable resources. Just remember, the best hidden gems are often those you stumble upon unexpectedly. So keep an open mind and a sense of adventure!
For nature enthusiasts, Tennessee is a paradise filled with scenic trails, majestic mountains, and serene lakes. Places like Roan Mountain State Park and Reelfoot Lake offer a tranquil escape, while the Natchez Trace Parkway provides a scenic drive through some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes. If you’re looking to experience a slice of Tennessee lakeside living, book one of the lake house vacation rentals scattered around the state offering on-site amenities such as outdoor pools, hot tubs, private boat docks, and complimentary water toys. These beautiful places in Tennessee offer a range of activities, from hiking and birdwatching to fishing and boating.
While many of the hidden gems in Tennessee are free to visit, such as Sewanee Natural Bridge and Roan Mountain State Park, some do require an entry fee or have activities that cost extra. For example, Lost Sea Adventure and Shiloh National Military Park have nominal fees. Always check ahead and budget accordingly to make the most of your trip.
The time needed to explore these hidden gems in Tennessee varies depending on your interests and the distance between locations. Some spots like Bell Buckle and Cummins Falls State Park are perfect for day trips. While others like Reelfoot Lake or Rugby might warrant an overnight stay to fully experience what they have to offer.
The best time to visit these beautiful destinations in Tennessee largely depends on the type of experience you’re seeking. Spring and fall offer mild weather and are ideal for outdoor activities. However, some places like Reelfoot Lake are best visited in the winter months for eagle watching, while others like Cummins Falls are most enjoyable in the summer when you can take a refreshing dip in the water.
Final thoughts on Tennessee’s hidden gems
And there you have it—twelve hidden gems in Tennessee that will make your trip to the Volunteer State unforgettable. From the towering peaks of Roan Mountain and Lookout Mountain to the charming streets of Bell Buckle and Rugby, these destinations offer a diverse range of experiences that cater to all types of travelers.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or someone who simply wants to escape the daily grind, Tennessee has a hidden gem waiting just for you. Each of these spots offers something unique. This includes a chance to connect with nature, delve into history, or simply enjoy the peace of a less-traveled path.
So, the next time you find yourself pondering where to go in Tennessee, remember this list. These underrated destinations are not just places on a map. They’re invitations to explore, to discover, and most importantly, to be amazed.
Thank you for joining us on this journey through Tennessee’s lesser-known wonders. We hope this guide inspires you to pack your bags and set off on your own adventure. After all, the best treasures are often found off the beaten path.