COVID-19 Travel Info: Learn More

The Ultimate Tennessee Road Trip for History Buffs

The Ultimate Tennessee Road Trip for History Buffs

Tennessee is a veritable wonderland for lovers of history and heritage.

Tennessee is a veritable wonderland for lovers of history and heritage. The region’s rich past lives on in the form of carefully preserved, historic attractions around the state. The best way to experience all these layers of time and culture? A road trip with your family, of course. Depending on where in the state you’ll be starting from, take your pick from the following historic homes, Civil War sites, museums and landmarks. Treat this list like a choose-your-own-adventure guide, piecing together the stops on your ultimate road trip back in time.

Historic Homes

Listen for the lessons in the historic homes across Tennessee. Visit the first capitol of the Southwest Territory of the U.S., west of the Allegheny Mountains and south of the Ohio River - Rocky Mount State Historic Site. Here, you'll see the famous Cobb house and other historic structures, circa late 1700s. Stroll the 40 acres of Rocky Mount to see a blacksmith shop, garden, Cotswold sheep, costumed interpreters and educators and more. The museum is full of 18th and 19th century artifacts and even more historical information on the early days of the State of Tennessee. Andrew Jackson's Hermitage reveals the fearlessness of the seventh president through tours of the grounds and the home. The Hermitage Museum also houses the award-winning "Born for A Storm" exhibit, which dives deeper into the president's life and politics. The Hermitage has a golf cart to transport visitors needing assistance to the Visitor Center and to the mansion. Free wheelchairs are available and assistance animals, motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs are welcome. To learn more about the 11th president, tour the James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia. You can discover more about author Alex Haley and his “roots” at his Museum and Interpretive Center in Henning (ADA accessible). Take a tour of country star Loretta Lynn's plantation home and Butcher Holler homeplace at Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills. Visit Andrew Johnson’s Homestead in Greeneville for a day that the whole family will enjoy. The Visitor Center, Museum, Memorial Building and restrooms are ADA accessible. Johnson’s Early Home has an elevator for access to the first floor. Service animals are allowed in all areas of the park. Stop by Graceland for a reminder of the ongoing legacy of Elvis in Memphis.

Civil War Sites

The spirits of the battle-wounded permeate battlefields, telling stories of the war that tore the country apart. Overlooking the Battle of Franklin sits Carnton in Franklin, a private home-turned-field hospital providing land for the Confederate cemetery, a witness to the casualties of 14 Confederate generals, and adjacent to Eastern Flank Battlefield Park. Carnton’s Fleming Center and the first floor of the mansion are wheelchair accessible. There are free non-motorized wheelchairs on a first-come, first-serve basis. Certified service animals are welcome. Explore a Civil War era preserved fort at Fort Pillow State Historic Park in Henning. Trace the movements of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga campaigns from the unforgettable vantage of Lookout Mountain at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park in Chattanooga to better understand these battles.

Museums

Enjoy exploring Tennessee’s rich and colorful history at museums where you can uncover pieces of the past. Browse extensive historic collections on display at the family-friendly, ADA accessible Tennessee State Museum near Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville. Tour the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park in Pall Mall to learn the story of his heroism during WWI. Lovers of antique tractors, trucks and vehicles will want to stroll through the more than 100 vehicles displayed at The Days Gone By Museum in Portland. The West Tennessee Agricultural Museum in Milan explores the many challenges settlers faced in establishing homes in the new territory. Admission is free and guided tours are available. The museum is ADA accessible. At the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville, you can learn about the events that shaped the region. Did you know the first Medal of Honor was awarded in Chattanooga in the late 1800s? Since then, the city has seen an additional 33  Medals of Honor awarded. Learn about these recipients and more through interactive exhibits, oral histories and stories at the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. The first floor of the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis is devoted to the natural history of the Mid-South with a variety of interesting exhibits. Discovery Park of America journeys guests through the now-fossilized creatures that roamed the earth, Tennessee's natural history, regional history (you can even experience what the earthquakes of 1811-1812 were like), military history with vehicles kids and adults can explore and more.

Native American History

The fertile land full of animals and sulfur licks ensured Tennessee was a popular hunting ground for Native American tribes. Learn their history when visiting The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore; Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park near Jackson; or Red Clay State Historic Park in Cleveland. Wynnewood State Historic Site in Castalian Springs is the largest log structure in Tennessee, at one time a stagecoach inn located at the site of a salt lick and mineral springs. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail runs east to west across the state of Tennessee, carving a tragic story of the removal of Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homelands. The Trail of Tears film has closed captioning and an audio description version. Those Native Americans are honored at Cherokee Removal Memorial Park (ADA Accessible) in Birchwood, which includes a memorial wall, scenic overlook and interpretive visitor center.

Civil Rights History

Tennessee has 12 stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail that encompasses more than 100 sites across 15 states. Travel through Memphis, Nashville and Clinton and visit stops that include the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel that has powerful, interactive exhibits that tell the story of slavery, sit-in demonstrations, iconic speeches made by leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and more. See inside Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, the room where Dr. King stayed the night before he was assassinated. Walk down Beale Street Historic District, a hub for African-American culture and commerce nearly from its beginning . In Nashville, walk the grounds of Fisk University, the first African-American institution to receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Visit Griggs Hall at American Baptist College, which educated many participants of the Nashville sit-in movement. In Clinton, Tennessee, learn the story of the Clinton 12,  the first African-American students to integrate a public high school in the South.

Women's Suffrage History

Walk in the footsteps of brave women who rallied for their right to vote in 1920 as the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year. Tennessee played a pivotal role as it was the 36th state needed to ratify the Amendment. Learn about key Tennessee women like Ann Dallas Dudley, Sue Shelton White, Abby Crawford Milton and women who've been leaders in their industries like Clarksville native Pat Head Summitt, the winningest basketball coach in history, Food Network star and Nashville chef Maneet Chauhan or Dolly Parton, multi-award-winning artist, world icon, and philanthropist whose hometown is Sevierville

Pioneer History

Visit Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, established in 1779, 17 years before Tennessee was granted statehood. Main Street is well-preserved and takes you through the town where Daniel Boone, David Crockett, John Sevier, Andrew Jackson and others stood. The stories come alive when you take a guided historic walking tour with one of the Heritage Alliance's knowledgeable tour guides, dressed in 1900s-style clothing. In Clinton, you'll find the Museum of Appalachia, a pioneer mountain farm-village that tells the stories of Southern Appalachia with more than 250,000 artifacts in 3 buildings, 35 log cabins, farm animals, churches, schools, gardens and more. See how early Tennesseans lived at Historic Collinsville Pioneer Settlement. Take a self-guided tour of 16 restored log homes and outbuildings with artifacts that illustrate rural life before and after the Civil War. 

Battlefields

The Blues and Grays faced each other across fields smoky with gunpowder and cannon blasts. Places where you can discover more about the battles include Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro; Shiloh National Military Park in Shiloh, where cannons blast at the re-enactment every April; Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover near the Surrender House; Hartsville Battlefield in Hartsville; and Parkers Crossroads Civil War Battlefield in Parkers Crossroads.

Tennessee is filled with history from all time periods. Dive deep into the past at historic sites across the state. Explore more history in Tennessee.

Places in this article