Aerial view of Leiper's Fork in Franklin

Tennessee's Hidden Gems In & Out of Big Cities

Discover some of Tennessee's best kept secrets.

Discover some of Tennessee’s best kept secrets and unforgettable hidden spots in and around big cities like Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Gatlinburg.

Middle Tennessee

Harpeth River State Park - Kingston Springs

The Harpeth River State Park located in Kingston Springs about 30 minutes from Nashville is a unique location that offers many ways to explore Tennessee’s natural beauty, including kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. Canoeing is open to beginner and advanced paddlers with access points located at all sites inside the park (excluding archaeological areas). For those that enjoy fishing, the river has a big variety, such as: mouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and channel catfish, and more. For hikers and nature enthusiasts, the park offers lush forests, majestic bluffs, and blooming wildflower meadows. Do not miss the Narrows of the Harpeth trail (shown in the above photo) which offers amazing panoramic views of the Harpeth Valley and be sure to check out other favorites like the Gossett Track and Hidden Lake trails. 

Puffy Cotton Candy - Franklin

Photo Credit: Amanda Burton

Family owned and operated in Franklin (just outside Nashville), Puffy Cotton Candy was founded in 2022 and takes cotton candy-making to delightful new heights as artists spin custom creations by hand, in numerous sizes, shapes, and colors — in dozens of mouthwatering flavors. In addition to spinning traditional cones, cakes, and crystals, Puffy crafts fun, edible, and delicious cotton candy art sculptures. Standing nearly two feet high, Puffy transforms a mountain of fresh cotton candy into magical characters like a rainbow unicorn, cuddly teddy bear, and even popular movie and cartoon characters. Quick tip: Puffy’s cotton candy is the perfect treat for those with food allergies; their cotton candy is gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Be sure to let the staff know of your food allergies before you order. 

Bell Witch Cave - Adams

Dating all the way back the early 1800s, the Bell Witch Cave in Adams, Tennessee is located on property once owned by the Bells, a family haunted by an entity now referred to as the Bell Witch. As the legend goes, the family lived peacefully on their farm in Adams for 13 years but in the summer of 1817, they began seeing strange animals on the farm, catching eerie sounds, and eventually hearing a disembodied voice heard all throughout their cabin. The Bell Witch Cave, located near the site of the old family farm where John Bell mysteriously died and the terrifying encounters with the entity took place, is where many believe the Bell Witch fled and currently resides. Though privately owned, the cave along with a replica Bell Cabin are open for tours in the summer months and in October. Experience the beauty of a Tennessee landmark while learning the folklore of America’s most haunted family at the Bell Witch Cave, only a 40-minute drive from Nashville.

The Row Kitchen & Pub - Nashville

Tucked away right near Broadway in Downtown Nashville, be sure to check out The Row Kitchen & Pub, where tasty local cuisine and live music have been served up for over 30 years. The hangout spot for singers & songwriters who helped shape country music history, The Row is where Brooks & Dunn were introduced, where Earl Bud Lee sold the rights to “Friends in Low Places” for a bar tab, and where song writing legend Harlan Howard held court every afternoon. With distinct Nashville dishes like their famous fried pickles, Nashville hot chicken, a variety of breakfast favorites like Steak & Eggs and Breakfast Mac, delicious burgers, and house-smoked bar-b-que hickory pork, turkey, & brisket, you will discover why the Row is still living up to their namesake, a “True Taste of Nashville”. Quick tip: The Row has a dedicated parking lot available for customers at no cost.

Leiper's Fork

Visit Leiper’s Fork in Franklin, one of Tennessee’s best-kept secrets which offers a picturesque and charming collection of art galleries, restaurants, and shops. A quaint village nestled within beautiful countryside, Leiper’s Fork features a number of old buildings turned into shops, where you can expect to find plenty of local culture, live music, and Southern hospitality as well as a plethora of antiques, crafts to wares, leather, home décor, collectibles, and more. Several restaurants are there too, so you can grab some authentic Southern fare before or after you walk around town. Just about a mile south from town is Leiper’s Fork Distillery, a small-batch whiskey distillery founded in 2016 whose story spans back generations to the early moonshine running days of the area. As you take the tour and sample a few sips of the locally produced and bottled whiskey, you’ll learn the incredible role that moonshine and whiskey played in Franklin and Tennessee’s past. 

Sinatra Bar & Lounge - Nashville 

Photo Credit: Sinatra Bar & Lounge

Opening its doors in Spring 2023, Sinatra Bar & Lounge is a brand new intimate and elevated dining experience located on the first level of the historic Southern Turf building in Downtown Nashville, offering a Manhattan meets Palm Springs ambiance featuring classic Italian dishes, craft cocktails and live music daily playing the best of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. An homage to Ol’ Blue Eyes, the restaurant serves prime steaks along with some of Sinatra’s favorite Italian recipes. Featured drinks include martinis with three olives, Tom Collinses, Manhattans, and Sinatra’s own drink of choice, Jack Daniel’s Whiskey along with Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select. Sinatra Bar & Lounge is also the first and only restaurant in the world to serve Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century – the 100-proof bourbon created in 2015 for the centennial of Sinatra’s birth – by the drink, a nod to the legendary singer’s role in elevating the Jack Daniel’s brand. Quick tip: Sinatra Bar & Lounge maintains a business casual dress code; children under 5 are not permitted and it is 21 and up only after 8:30pm.

East Tennessee

The Lost Sea - Sweetwater

Listed as “America’s Largest Underground Lake” in the Guinness Book of World Records, The Lost Sea in Sweetwater (situated right between Knoxville and Chattanooga) is a unique natural wonder just waiting to be discovered.  On your guided tour, learn all about the history of the cave and the natural elements and phenomenon surrounding its formation. The walk down to the lake takes you through some breathtaking caverns, with the paths weaving around and across the formations. Electric boats await once you reach the underground 4-acre lagoon which will take you to see the expansive lake’s coolest features. Lost Sea even offers an overnight camping tour, called the Wild Cave Tour, for groups of 12 or more, where you can roll out your sleeping bag and snooze 140 feet below ground level after a privately guided excursion. Quick tip: The temperature down in the cave is always a pleasant 58 degrees even during the winter, so you can leave your coats in the car; hiking boots or sneakers are recommended.

Watauga Lake

With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a stunning backdrop, 6,430-acre Watauga Lake in Butler is the perfect spot tucked away in Tennessee’s beautiful countryside for a day trip. Clear, cool water and lots of space to spread out are highlights, and with pontoon and paddle craft rentals available, you’ll have so much fun out on the water with friends and family. With 106 miles of shoreline, there’s also dedicated beach areas to enjoy. And, as a featured lake in Tennessee’s newly announced Bill Dance Signature Lakes fishing program, Watauga Lake is recommended by world-famous fisherman Bill Dance as a great spot for bank fishing and camping. According to Bill, you can expect to reel in Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and Trout while fishing this extraordinary lake. Quick tip: Whether you’re a resident or a visitor planning to fish, please make sure you have a Tennessee fishing license prior to casting your first line. You can visit the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s website for further details regarding license requirements.

The Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum - Gatlinburg

A truly one-of-a-kind museum located in Gatlinburg, The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is a hidden gem you won’t find anywhere else in America. Featuring a collection of over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers, some dating all the way back to the 16th century, there is genuinely something for everyone. The fruits of more than 35 years of collecting by archeologist turned shaker enthusiast Andrea Ludden, the museum exists to show the variety, creativity, and artistry that can be found in salt and pepper shakers from all over the world. The museum’s gift shop even sells new and vintage shakers to help get your own collection started. Quick tip: The $3 admission per adult goes towards any salt and pepper shaker purchase in the gift shop; children under 12 get in the museum for free.

Dancing Bear Lodge - Appalachian Bistro - Townsend

True to the farm-to-table experience, the Dancing Bear Lodge’s award-winning Appalachian Bistro uses fresh produce grown on-site, and sources the highest quality local ingredients, to create renowned dishes that are as inviting to the eye as they are to the palate. The Townsend-based eatery offers a refined assortment of regionally inspired dishes — all served amongst the rustic surroundings of the Smoky Mountains. The menu offers seafood, steaks, and a variety of appetizers. In a relaxed yet upscale atmosphere, Appalachian Bistro presents familiar Southern dishes prepared with unique flavor twists. Outdoor seating and a full bar are available.

Fort Dickerson Park - Knoxville

Visit Fort Dickerson Park, an interactive Civil War fort and lake tucked away within Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. As one of the best-preserved earthen forts from the Civil War era, Fort Dickerson Park is nestled in a spectacular area featuring a pristine quarry lake and more than four miles of multi-use natural trails. There are two covered shelters for enjoying a picnic after walking the interactive trail around the fort, which includes three authentic replica cannons. Quick tip: A perfect spot to cool off on hot summer days, you can swim in the quarry lake; please follow posted general park rules.

West Tennessee

Reelfoot Lake State Park - Tiptonville

Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee and noted for its fishing, boating and wildlife viewing, the 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of violent earthquakes in 1811-1812 that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a short period of time. As a flooded forest, the park’s ecosystem is unlike any other place in Tennessee. While Majestic Cypress trees rise above the water, below the surface are many submerged Cypress stumps. A variety of aquatic plants and flowers occupy the shoreline and saturate the shallow water. The lake harbors almost every kind of shore and wading bird as well as golden and American bald eagles. Seven updated and spacious cabins with fantastic views of the lake are available for rent and there’s also a campground available. A Bill Dance Signature Lake, Reelfoot is famous for its bluegill and crappie which rank among the best in the state and is personally recommended by Bill Dance for some great fishing opportunities. 

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid - Memphis

Located right outside Downtown Memphis, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is one of the most unique, dynamic, and immersive retail experiences in the world. In addition to an incredible assortment of fishing, boating, hunting and outdoor gear, the mega store includes the 103-room Big Cypress Lodge hotel with treehouse cabins, 600,000 gallons of water teeming with over 1,800 fish, a cypress swamp with alligator pools and duck aviaries, and a breathtaking observation deck at the top of the 32-story steel pyramid with panoramic views of Downtown. Quick tip: if you visit the observation deck in the evening after the sun goes down, you can catch an awesome light show on the Hernando de Soto Bridge which connects Tennessee to Arkansas over the Mississippi River. 

A. Schwab Store - Memphis

A true Memphis landmark, A. Schwab Dry Goods Store is a hidden gem you will not forget. Atop its characteristic battered wood floors and tables, find everything from plumbing supplies to old-fashioned candy. A trip to A. Schwab is a step back in time to the great days of general stores, offering a great selection of everything you need, and many things you might not. Browse through 44 kinds of suspenders, a wall of voodoo love potions and a full kiosk of Elvis souvenirs. Discover bongo drums and crystal balls, shoeshine kits and corncob pipes, long thermal underwear, and cotton petticoats, and so much more. When in Memphis, this is one icon not to miss. Quick tip: A. Schwab’s also offers a variety of delicious sweet treats, from gelato in freshly made waffle cones, milkshakes, malts, phosphate sodas with homemade syrups and more.

Wiseacre Brewing Co. - Memphis

A vibrant local brewery located in the South Arts District of Memphis, visit Wiseacre Brewing Co. for a great selection of beer and crafted cider. With plenty of great outdoor and indoor seating, you’ll enjoy your drinks in a fun and lively atmosphere. Two locations (one Downtown and the other on nearby Broad Street) serve up some of the coldest and refreshing brews around town, which include year-round favorites and a rotation of special seasonal selections. The Downtown location also features Little Bettie, a pizza and snack bar within the taproom that you can use to pair a tasty bite with your beer or cider. 

Discovery Park of America - Union City

Discovery Park of America is a world-class educational and entertainment experience located in Union City. Interactive and fun experiences await visitors, including a large collection of dinosaurs and a glass-floored observation tower. Outside on the 50-acre heritage park, you’ll find a working gristmill, a turn-of-the-century Train Depot with a full-size engine, passenger cars and caboose, a new permanent agriculture exhibit on farming innovation, transportation gallery with various antique cars and motorcycles, historical exhibits and lush gardens. From the 100,000-square-foot museum to the extensively landscaped park, there is truly something for every member of the family to discover at Discovery Park of America.

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