Driving through the Sequatchie Valley in Dunlap, TN

10 Tennessee Summer Road Trip Ideas

Plan a perfect southern summer road trip with these Tennessee experiences.

Put on your favorite playlist, hit the winding open road, take in the scenic beauty and history, explore urban cities, charming small towns, local restaurants, hidden gems, overlooks, and adventure across Tennessee.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Experience scenic beauty and history along the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway. The Parkway commemorates the ancient trail used by animals and people that connected portions of the Mississippi River to the salt lacks in central Tennessee. Hidden gems offer unique stories, restaurants, historic sites, campgrounds, hiking, biking, and horseback riding along the way. Highlights include Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area, Leiper’s Fork and Meriwether Lewis Park and Monument.

Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways

Stumble upon hidden gems while you take the scenic route. These 16 self-guided driving routes take you off the beaten path for authentic experiences and connect Tennessee’s 95 counties so you can discover places you never knew you’ve always wanted to visit. Trails feature attractions, restaurants, and unexpected stops as you walk in the footsteps of legends and discover Tennessee. Trace stories from cotton fields to music legends following West Tennessee’s country roads on the Cotton Junction Trail. In Middle Tennessee, retrace footsteps of pioneers and discover unique treasures on the Promised Land Trail. Follow in the footsteps of settlers, storytellers and musicians along the Pie in the Sky Trail in East Tennessee. Pick up maps at welcome centers and look for brown signs across the state.

Cherohala Skyway

Cruise the Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway, and treat yourself to sprawling views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the northeast and the Tennessee River Valley to the west. The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest and offers a glimpse into the unspoiled forest environment where Cherokee tribes and early pioneers traveled and settled in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s about 43 miles long.

Five Additional National Scenic Byways

The Cumberland National Scenic Byway demonstrates the history and significance of the Upper Cumberland and connects landmarks in eight counties between the Cumberland Gap and Cumberland River. Norris Freeway frames the town of Norris and Norris Dam State Park. The Knoxville area route is famed for its hiking, trout fishing and boating. Also, in East Tennessee, the picturesque and historic Newfound Gap Road connects Gatlinburg with Cherokee, NC. At 5,046’, the route is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Known as Tennessee’s “Great Valley,” the scenic Sequatchie Valley National Scenic Byway features the Sequatchie River and is framed by the Cumberland Plateau and Walden’s Ridge. The Great River Road in West Tennessee is rich in history and culture and follows the Mississippi River from Tiptonville to Memphis. The U.S. Department of Transportation designated these five Tennessee Routes as either a National Scenic Byway or All-American Road based upon their archeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreation and scenic intrinsic qualities. 

Cades Cove

Breathtakingly beautiful and surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A wide array of historic buildings dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries is scattered throughout the cove. These include a gristmill, a variety of barns, three churches and a marvelous collection of log homes and outbuildings. An 11-mile, one-way loop road takes you around the cove. Numerous trails originate in the cove, including the five-mile roundtrip trail to Abrams Falls and the short Cades Cove Nature Trail. Longer hikes to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top (made famous by the popular song) also begin in the cove. Several designated backcountry campsites (camping by permit only) are located along trails.

Colorblind Viewfinders

Tennessee has beauty for all to see. Visitors with red-green color blindless are now able to enjoy fall leaves bursting with color and spring’s beautiful flowers with special viewfinders at 12 scenic locations across the state, including Ober Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains, the Cherohala Skyway Lake View Overlook and Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park near Memphis. The viewfinders, which have innovative EnChroma lenses, let travelers see the bold colors of the changing seasons.

Civil Rights Trail

Learn about the inspiring stories of Americans who fought for racial equality as you follow 12 Tennessee stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Sit in a 1950s period classroom and listen to compelling stories of the Clinton 12, the high school students who braved threats of violence to attend school at Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton. Discover five centuries of the march for equality at The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Clayborn Temple is a historic church and headquarters for the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike. Stop by the “I Am a Man” plaza, the new public space next to the temple. Nashville was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement with students holding lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides. See the Witness Walls, public artwork inspired by the events and people who made history. Immerse yourself in the stories of heroes in the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room

Tennessee Music Pathways

Walk in the footsteps of legends, musical pioneers and watch songwriters perform live on stage along the Tennessee Music Pathways. The statewide driving tour connects visitors to the people, places and genres that make Tennessee the Soundtrack of America. From the largest cities, to the smallest communities, the initiative identifies and preserves music history through markers at birthplaces, resting places, hometowns, high schools, churches and locations of first-known recordings of musicians and legends who’ve shaped the seven genres of music home to Tennessee.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail

Adventures run on Tennessee whiskey. Listen to stories of the rich history of the craft at 26 registered distilleries along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. Before you leave Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, visit downtown shops, and make a reservation for a homecooked meal at Miss Mary Bobo’s. Explore the rolling hills to discover great stories at Tennessee Legend Distillery in Sevierville, Old Dominick in Memphis, Cascade Hollow Distilling in Tullahoma, Uncle Nearest Distillery in Shelbyville, where Victoria Eady Butler, a descendant of Nathan “Nearest” Green, is the first African American woman master blender. Make sure to pick up a copy of the printed Tennessee Whiskey Passport at any of the participating distilleries. Or, download the official TN Whiskey Trail app for your iOS or Android device to access a digital passport.

Civil War Trails

Visitors can follow in the footsteps of generals, soldiers, citizens and the enslaved along the Tennessee Civil War Trails. Preserved battlefields and homes tell the stories of the war that tore the country apart when the sounds of cannons shook the ground and family homes turned into hospitals. Hear the stories of soldiers and civilians through letters they wrote on a lantern tour at Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro. Overlooking the Battle of Franklin sits Carnton, a private-home turned field hospital and provided land for the Confederate cemetery. Step in the shadow of one of the Civil War’s most definitive battles at Shiloh National Military Park

Plan your route for your first or next road trip in Tennessee.

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