December 21, 2023
If you long to slow down a bit, escape to Tennessee's Upper Cumberland region for some rest and relaxation. Tucked along Interstate 40 between Nashville and Knoxville, the Upper Cumberland encompasses 18 small cities that are big on Southern hospitality.
Stop to explore this region’s mountainous beauty and endless recreation opportunities. Cookeville is the hub, and surrounding communities include Sparta, Livingston, Monterey, Crossville, Smithville, Granville, Jamestown, Clarkrange, Gainesboro, Byrdstown, Celina, Carthage, McMinnville, Woodbury, Red Boiling Springs, Lafayette and Rugby. Each town has hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.
Best Outdoor Adventures in the Upper Cumberland
Book a canoe or kayak trip down the picturesque Caney Fork River with Canoe the Caney in Smithville. Rated one of Tennessee’s top outfitters, Canoe the Caney provides affordable family fun led by a friendly, experienced crew, whether you like thrilling or relaxing. In Sparta, Kayaking Adventures of Tennessee offers guided kayaking trips to Burgess Falls on a peaceful lake for all skill levels. Dale Hollow Lake in Byrdstown is an ideal lake vacation destination. Sunset Marina rents houseboats, pontoons, jet skis, ski boats and fishing boats. Dale Hollow Lake has become a legendary fishing destination, with the world record smallmouth bass being caught here.
Best State Parks in the Upper Cumberland
Go chasing waterfalls at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer. One of Tennessee’s largest and most visited state parks, Fall Creek Falls encompasses nearly 30,000 acres across the eastern top of the Cumberland Plateau. Its largest waterfall, the thundering Fall Creek Falls, is 256 feet tall and one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. The park has several options for overnight lodging, including cabins, campsites and a new resort-style lodge.
For unparalleled views of the dazzling night sky, pitch your tent at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park in Jamestown. In 2015, Pickett became the first in the Southeast to gain the prestigious Silver-Tier International Dark Sky Park designation, recognizing its rich views of the night sky. Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the park has hiking trails, rustic cabins, a recreation lodge, ranger station and a 12-acre lake.
Speaking of acres, nearby Cummins Falls State Park has plenty of them. Home to a picturesque waterfall and swimming hole, it’s a popular destination for outdoor explorers.
Best Foodie Finds in Upper Cumberland
Hungry? You won't run out of delicious places to eat in the Upper Cumberland. In Walling, Foglight Foodhouse serves up a wide variety of Cajun flare. Favorites include red fish and rice, jambalaya and crawfish bisque. Seafood lovers shouldn’t miss The Stolen Coin Oyster Bar & Bistro, a hidden gem on Main Street in Gainesboro. For breakfast or lunch, Haven on Hull in Gainesboro has an enticing array of handmade sandwiches, salads, baked goods, coffees and teas. In Cookeville, Father Tom’s Pub serves good times and even better food with rotating weekly specials and a hefty bar selection.
Best Selfie Spots in Upper Cumberland
No trip is complete without photos, and the Upper Cumberland has some jaw-dropping selfie spots. In Sparta, snap a selfie in front of Burgess Falls, a cascading waterfall that plunges more than 130 feet into a limestone gorge at Burgess Falls State Park and Natural Area. Also in Sparta, Welch’s Point can be found at the end of a quick 0.3-mile walk and rewards visitors with a stunning view of the Tennessee hills over the Caney Fork River. Welch’s Point is located within the Virgin Falls State Natural Area. In Monterey, take a short hike on the 0.7-mile trail that leads to the Bee Rock Overlook, a beautiful photo spot with panoramic views.
Best Coffee & Doughnuts in Upper Cumberland
Coffee fans make a beeline to Button Willow General Store & Coffee Shop in Smithville for its flavored coffees (both hot and iced) and merchandise by local artists. For a sweet treat, head to Ralph’s Donut Shop in the heart of Cookeville for doughnuts, of course, cinnamon rolls, cream horns, muffins, lady fingers and turnovers. And in Crossville, Grinder House Coffee House’s espresso bar will have you caffeinated and in awe of their endless offerings.
Best Museum & Art Gallery in Upper Cumberland
Learn about the interesting history of Monterey and what drew people to the Upper Cumberland mountains at the Monterey Depot Museum. Housed in a replica depot and visitors center, the museum invites guests to discover local Native American history and learn why Monterey was a resort destination in years past. Love the arts? Stop in the Appalachian Center for Craft’s gallery in Smithville to browse artwork created by more than 150 regional and national artisans.
Best Breweries & Wine Trail in Upper Cumberland
When happy hour rolls around, check out what's on tap at Happy Trails Brewing Co. in downtown Sparta. The small brewery and taproom serves a mix of their own beers along with other local, regional and national beers. While in Sparta, you can also visit Calfkiller Brewing Co., a brewery started by two brothers. Reserve a behind-the-scenes tour and see how the beer is made. Wine lovers will enjoy exploring the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail, which includes eight family-owned wineries and vineyards. Many offer free tastings, and travelers who complete the entire wine trail receive a special gift after receiving the final stamp on the Wine Trail Rack Card.
Must-See Entertainment in Upper Cumberland
Catch a musical theater production at Crossville’s top attraction, the Cumberland County Playhouse. The playhouse has been entertaining crowds in the Upper Cumberland region since 1965 and attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year with Broadway-style musicals. Choose your own underground adventure, from easy to extreme, at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville. Located in Cardwell Mountain, Cumberland Caverns invites you to journey 333 feet beneath the surface and discover its storied history and rare formations. In Monterey, The Old Gray is a local favorite for memories, music and more.
Must-Do Road Tour in Upper Cumberland
Want to experience the Upper Cumberland region without worrying about logistics? Book a trip with Tour the Upper Cumberland, a locally owned and operated tour company that provides guided shuttle bus tours for a relaxing, stress-free opportunity to take in the area’s scenic beauty, points of interest, fascinating history and seasonal events.
Best Small Town in Upper Cumberland
Take a trip back in time with a visit to Granville, Tennessee’s Mayberry Town. The nostalgic town is operated by 200 volunteers who serve as docents in its historic buildings and museums. Tour the T.B. Sutton General Store, the Mayberry and I Love Lucy Museum, an 1800s cabin, Pioneer Village and more. Every Saturday night, the Sutton General Store hosts the Sutton Ole Time Music Hour, a live bluegrass radio show complete with a Southern style dinner. Book an overnight stay at Wildwood Resort & Marina on the shores of Cordell Hull Lake. The resort has a lodge and cabin rentals, vintage Airstream trailer rentals, restaurants, pontoon boat excursions and live music.
Must-See Downtown Square in Upper Cumberland
The tiny town of Livingston dates to 1833, and the center of activity for the community has always been the Livingston Town Square. Residents take pride in preserving the square's history and viability, and visitors can spend a day shopping among the square’s historic buildings housing a variety of merchants. You’ll find antiques, boutiques, jewelers, and the 1806 General Store, which has a popular eatery that serves homemade soups, salads and daily specials.
So, head to the Upper Cumberland region for some rest, relaxation, great food and plenty of fun things to do!