We recently took a family road trip throughout Tennessee and had a great time experiencing the home of country music, exploring the Smoky Mountains and seeing everything else this great state has to offer.
Nashville is the country music’s world epicenter. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when heading in to the city. We visited during the day with our kids, as we knew the night life might be a bit too much.
Well, during the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, the city was bumping. There were musicians sitting outside the bars and restaurants playing their music on guitars, banjos and even bongos. The streets echoed with music and it just put a smile on your face and a spring in your step to hear it all.
We walked up and down the streets just checking things out trying to imagine what a Saturday night must look like down here.
We ended up stopping in the Wild Horse Saloon (www.wildhorsesaloon.com) because every city walking tour deserves a beer at some point. It was a huge place with a giant stage. We found ourselves a seat and ordered some drinks. The kids found their way to the stage and had a great time dancing to the music. They put on their own personal show under the lights.
The fried pickles were delicious and the drinks were reasonably priced, so I’d definitely recommend stopping here to check it out.
After more walking, we had to duck into the Rock Bottom Brewery to take cover from a fast approaching storm. It might have been the best place to be in all of the city. They have the RoofTop Restaurant with inside and outside seating. We hung out up there and watched the storm roll through. It was a pretty cool experience. www.rockbottom.com/locations/nashville
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
While in Nashville, stopping at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center is a must. The building is amazing and so big you could spend an entire day checking it all out. The atriums and waterfalls were beautiful and made it hard to believe you were indoors.
There were several restaurants to choose from, I counted about a dozen. Everything from quick cafes to fancy sit-down restaurants.
We’ve heard their Christmas lights display is second to none, both on the interior and exterior of the resort. We’ll have to stop back to see that for ourselves.
One of my favorite things we did while in Nashville was the Pfunky Griddle. It’s a make-your-own pancake restaurant. I love me some pancakes! It’s quite a popular place, which we found out by the long line out the door.
When you do finally get in, you sit around tables with large griddles built into the center of the table. You then order the toppings you want to put in or on your pancakes, including fresh fruits, candy, nuts and a bunch more to choose from.
They bring out a pitcher of pancake batter along with your toppings and you grill up your pancakes just as you like them. It was delicious and just a fun way to have breakfast. My youngest son (3 years old at the time) sat and ate so long, they were cleaning the table around him while he finished up. Yeah, it was that good. www.thepfunkygriddle.com
Belle Meade Plantation
We’ve always wanted to visit a plantation, so we gave it a go at the Belle Meade Plantation. It was a horse plantation back in it’s prime. Now, you can tour the grounds, taste their wine and learn about their history.
It’s about a 45-minute tour of the plantation house, which was a bit much for our kids. But the wine tasting at the end made up for all that.
This is one I wouldn’t really recommend for families, but for wine connoisseurs and southern history buffs, this is right up your alley. www.bellemeadeplantation.com
The Nashville Adventure Science Center is a great stop for families. This is a wonderful place for kids to learn from hands-on activities. They even have a farting slide, which makes noises when the kids would go down. This is comedic gold for a 6-year-old. www.adventuresci.org
Cumberland Park is a really neat park just across the Cumberland River, close to the Titans football stadium.
There’s a pedestrian walk way that connects the park to downtown and the park as some really unique playground setups and a nice place to have a picnic. Click here for more information.
Another great stop on the Tennessee family road trip is Gatlinburg. Here you’ll be getting into the Great Smoky Mountains, which offers some great nature hikes and you’ll see the back country of Tennessee.
If you do one thing in Gatlinburg, it has to be going up to the top of Clingman’s Dome. This will get you up to 6,600 feet, which is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains. The drive up takes about a half hour and is just amazing. The views of the Smokies are spectacular. There are plenty of pull-outs where you can stop to take in the sights and get some great photos, so be sure to take advantage of that.
Once you get to the parking area at the top, you can walk up to Clingman’s Dome Tower. This is a half mile inclined ramp that goes up to an observation deck where you can soak up 360-degree views of the Smokies.
This was our favorite stop in Gatlinburg, and in our opinion, a must do. Be prepared with clothing layers because it is MUCH cooler at the top of Clingman’s Dome compared to what it feels like in Gatlinburg. www.clingmansdome.com.
Another great stop for families in the Smokies is the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which is just outside the city. You can learn more about the Smokies here as well as visit their gift shop. We really enjoyed the hiking trail at Sugarlands because it was very easy for our young kids to do and had plenty to keep them interested and occupied.
Our goal on the hike was to get to a small waterfall about 3/4 mile away. The trail there was very flat and well marked, so the kids had no trouble navigating it. A creek ran next to the trail for a little ways which was a big hit with the kids. They loved getting close to the water and even climbing over it on a fallen tree.
There are endless things to do in the city of Gatlinburg. It’s very touristy. VERY touristy. We knew that going in and were excited to just see all the hoopla.
The main street in Gatlinburg is packed with shops, restaurants and bars. The streets were flooded with people even though we were there during an off-peak time. We had fun walking the street, looking in the shops and just people watching in general. www.gatlinburg.com
We tried some of the moonshine at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Wow, talk about some potent stuff! Definitely a drink to be enjoyed in moderation. We also went up the Ober Gatlinburg Incline Tram which takes you up the steep hillside to a ski resort at the top.
Kids 5 and under are free to ride the tram, so it was a bonus for us. At the top there is an ice skating rink (socks required), as well as a park and fudge shop. obergatlinburg.com/aerial-tramway
We also had fun at the Ripley’s Aquarium where we enjoyed some good aquatic shows and saw some neat animals.
If you want to partake in the touristy activities, just take a walk up and down the main street in the city. They have the 5D movie, tons of knick-knack stores and just about anything else you can imagine on the strip.
We really enjoyed our stop at Chattanooga. We didn’t really know what to expect, but there was a great city park called Coolidge Park that we had a picnic, played some frisbee and kicked around a soccer ball. They also had a splash pad which is a magnet for our kids.
The absolute highlight for us was Julie Darling Donuts. We are full-time travelers and a thing we do is try to find the best donut in America. We’ve been to about 30 donut shops across the country now and Julie Darling is still among the Top 3. Stop at this place and taste them for yourself! www.jddonuts.com
Fall Creek Falls State Park
Tennessee is home to some really great state parks. The colors in fall are gorgeous and the weather is very pleasant most of the year. We camped at Fall Creek Falls State Park and really liked the park. There was plenty of hiking and exploring to do along with several waterfalls to check out.
The one drawback of the park is that it is in the middle of nowhere, so be prepared with your groceries or anything else you may need from a store because it’s quite a trip to the store. tnstateparks.com/parks/about/fall-creek-falls
American Whiskey Trail
Another spin on a Tennessee road trip would jumping on part of the American Whiskey Trail. This trail spans much more than Tennessee, but there are a few giants in the whiskey world in Tennessee.
Jack Daniels, maybe the world’s most popular whiskey, as well as George Dickel, another great whiskey, are in Tennessee. Seeing the distilleries in operation are always very neat to see. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but please enjoy responsibly. www.americanwhiskeytrail.com
Tennessee is a great state to take a family road trip in. There are so many things to do and see that your family will love it!