West Tennessee can easily be overlooked as simply a hurdle to cross between Nashville and Memphis—and those folks are sorely missing out. You’ll find top notch Tennessee State Parks, a vibrant agricultural tourism scene, rich history and delicious sips and vittles dotted throughout this chunk of Tennessee. These "hidden gems" unfold the local, artistic talent of West Tennessee from savory and sweet options to antique and interactive art.
Your first stop and base-camp for your western excursion should be a cozy cabin on the banks of the Tennessee River in Pickwick Landing State Park, located 2.5 hours from Nashville. From your private deck, you can watch the fog roll in over the water and a vibrant sunrise chase away the morning chill. Nearby Pickwick Dam was constructed at the site of an 1800s riverboat landing by the Tennessee Valley Authority as part of a depression-era initiative. The dam created Pickwick Lake, the picturesque center of water sports recreation, summer programs, corporate retreats and competitive fishing in the area.
Fun fact: During construction, the dam and lake took the name of the nearby community where legend says the founding postmaster had been reading the Charles Dickens novel, The Pickwick Papers and decided it was as good a name as any for his new office.
The resort-style state park now boasts a marina, golf course, and various accommodations including camping and private cabins. Featuring 119 rooms, the Inn has modern amenities, a new full-service restaurant and lounge. There is also a restaurant, gift shop, rentable boats and water sport gear plus more than 1,400 acres of wooded hills with hiking trails. You can easily make Pickwick your sole destination for a weekend.
Insider Tip: The Outpost at Pickwick Dam
A surprise find in this area may be The Outpost at Pickwick Dam. Less than 3 miles away from your Pickwick Landing State Park cabin, its mini-cowboy-town flare will catch your eye. You’ll easily want to go for a huge southern breakfast every day of your stay! They have a little market and bakery, bed-and-breakfast, restaurant, shops and wood-carving station. The newly erected barn in the back is a wedding venue and idyllic spot for a stroll or a photo-op.
Pinson Mounds, one of the two archeological parks in Tennessee, is registered as a National Historic Landmark. This prehistoric Native American complex includes the remains of over 17 burial and ceremonial mounds, earthen enclosures, and a museum with both genuine and replica artifacts.
The largest mound rises clear from the surrounding woods 72 feet in the center of the park. It is square with each corners facing the four cardinal directions. Climb the wooden stairs to the observation deck at its summit and you can make out the changes in the surrounding forest marking other further mounds and sites. Don’t skip the museum - it brings to life the fascinating ancient local culture and customs, as well as educates on the broader Native American history of Tennessee.
Historical Denmark Presbyterian Church – Denmark
To connect with another era of American history, take a drive to Denmark, Tennessee, to visit the Denmark Presbyterian Church, recently restored by the Big Black Creek Historical Association back to its condition during the Civil War. The Battle of Briton’s Lane occurred mere miles away in 1862, and the church was used as a Confederate prison during wartime. During restoration, names of the Union prisoners were found carved in the floorboards upstairs.
Johnsonville Historic State Park – New Johnsonville
Continuing on your Civil War -themed portion of the tour, stop by Johnsonville Historic State Park. This charming day-use park stretches over more than 1,000 acres and contains the original site of a bustling Union Supply Depot on the Tennessee River that was critical in supporting the North’s troops. In November 1864, Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked Johnsonville to frustrate the Union’s shipment of supplies.
When the attacking forces gained a hold, the Union tried to burn the vessels the Confederates had seized. This backfired and much of the Depot was destroyed. What remained eventually become the railroad town of Old Johnsonville, which thrived until the 1940s construction of another dam that flooded out the area. Now, earthen embankments, rifle pits and replicated soldier’s quarters remain to be seen in this beautifully kept park.
Special Sight: Chickasaw State Park – Henderson
Head to Chickasaw State Park where a new Colorblind Viewer was recently added. Thanks to innovative Enchroma technology, people who have never been able to see the spectrum of nature’s colors can finally take in the full glory of the Tennessee mountains and valleys in all seasons. Find out where more of these special viewers can be found.
Discovery Park of America – Union City
Located in the middle of a field, Discovery Park of America in Union City consists of a 70,000 square-foot museum, gardens, and outdoor exhibition attraction. The area's natural history is told through a large aquarium, exhibits, and an interactive story of how an earthquake created Reelfoot Lake (feel the quake tremors yourself!). World history, from dinosaurs to cultural deities, is shown among the many rooms of the museum. See aircraft from World War II, race cars and a knight's armor. Meander outside to walk through Japanese gardens, visit a century-old church and see the farm equipment from days gone by.
Have an interesting and captivating day at The Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm, the only freshwater pearl culturing farm in the U.S. Started in 1925, the farm began harvesting Tennessee's state gem. Go into the showroom to buy a pearl from the farm's collection, but also marvel at freshwater pearl jewelry from around the world. Visit the museum to learn about the harvesting process and then see it for yourself by taking a tour of the farm. A full tour package includes a presentation from a local diver, the farm manager and a barbecue luncheon.
Wine, Whiskey and Agriculture
Falcon Ridge Farm – Toone
The history of West Tennessee isn’t only found in battlements and burials, but also in the rich heritage of the family farm and its finest fruits. Spend some time at agricultural destinations that will give you warm family fun vibes.
Falcon Ridge Farm is always buzzing with school children on field trips and families visiting to pick pumpkins, play in the corn-maze, and pet storybook-level-friendly barnyard animals. Falcon Ridge supplies local markets with more than a whopping 40 types of fruits and vegetables and stays involved with the community through educational programs and seasonal events on the farm. Plan your visit around their Strawberry Festival, Fall Festival or make a special trip to pick out your Christmas tree.
Century Farm Winery – Jackson
Not far off the highway on the way up to Jackson, Tennessee, you’ll find a gem in Century Farm Winery which has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 100 years. In a quaint farmhouse-style welcome, you can taste multiple award-winning wines crafted onsite, from grapes harvested only yards behind the house in the now 13-acre vineyard. The grounds are lovely and the family hosts a seasonal concert series along with other periodic events.
Samuel T. Bryant Distillery – Jackson
For imbibers with slightly differing tastes, you can head a few short miles up the same road to the Samuel T. Bryant Distillery. This one-stop-shop has been churning out homemade (but fully certified) moonshine and whiskey varieties since 2016, brewing in the barn and selling at the bar in their lodge-like event space. Tour the facilities and see for yourself the art that goes into the crafting of their unique small-batch products.
Where to Eat
Rock N’ Dough – Jackson
You can’t very well be in the neighborhood and not stop by downtown Jackson for Rock N’ Dough, a vibing pizza and microbrewery, that uses locally sourced ingredients for all their pizzas. You’ll get the freshest of the fresh here. Sit a spell and have a meal or box up a giant pie for the road.
Sally Lane's Candy Farm – Paris
Since 1958, Sally Lane's has been a sweet and steady fixture in the Paris, Tennessee, community. The shop has become a place where older generations reminisce while a new generation becomes introduced to the timeless treats. Known for its popular pink and white mints—which find themselves at parties, showers and weddings all over the region—Sally Lane's offers scrumptious chocolates and confections of all shapes, styles, and flavors.
At the end of your trip, you’ll have sampled a strong variety of offerings in West Tennessee and this is just a sampling of all the area has to offer. Until next time, keep exploring.
Tennessee's Upper Cumberland region is natural for frequent waterfall sightings.