When looking at a map of Tennessee, if you look all the way to the western border, you find Memphis where Mississippi and Arkansas meet the bottom corner of Tennessee. Memphis is a 3.5 hour drive from Nashville so those staying in Music City can extend their stay by going on an adventure to see what lies between these two cities. You’ll find top notch Tennessee State Parks, a vibrant agricultural tourism scene, rich history and delicious sips and vittles for good measure.
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 a 1800's 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 and over 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 & breakfast, restaurant, shops, wood-carving station and 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 and is square with it’s 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, and educates on the broader Native history of Tennessee.
To connect with another era of American history, take a drive to Denmark, Tennessee to visit the Denmark Presbyterian Church, lately 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.
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 in an effort 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
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.
Wine, Whiskey and Agriculture
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 veggies 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.
Not far off the highway on the way up to Jackson, Tennessee, you’ll find gem in Century Farm Winery which has been owned and operated by the same family for over 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.
And 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
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.
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. Till next time, keep exploring.