Want to get out of the car and breathe in the glorious scents of Mother Nature while you stretch your legs? Opportunities abound for hiking, biking, boating and a great many other outdoor activities in the state. Tennessee’s varying topography makes for even more choices, depending on if you want to explore the rich history along the Mississippi River flood plains or the misty, green Appalachian Mountains.
Plus, autumn is one of the best times to enjoy local festivals, many of which have a fall or harvest theme. I bet you can picture the pumpkins and smell the funnel cakes already.
There’s nothing like getting out and enjoying the crisp fall air at a regional festival filled with fun things to do. If you’re near Brownsville on Oct. 20, check out the Hatchie Fall Fest. It has all the staples of a fun-filled celebration — live music, arts and crafts, activities for kids, games and contests.
The Tennessee Soybean Festival kicks off September in Martin. Between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8, the city will play host to a circus, sidewalk art contest, parade, rook and dominoes competitions for senior adults, talent contests, a pet show, an art show, a midway and a lot of music from performers such as Travis Tritt and Grand Funk Railroad.
Many towns throughout the state have historic walking tours, and Bolivar is no exception. A variety of architectural styles in its historic homes and buildings can be seen as you meander through town. When visiting any town in the state, inquire about these often-overlooked walking tours that can give you glimpses into stories you might have otherwise driven by.
Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park is one of only two such attractions in the state. Here you’ll be able to learn more about an era in Tennessee history that predates statehood by about three centuries. The park is home to 15 earthen mounds, the largest Middle Woodland mound group in the country. Perhaps one of the best times to visit is during the annual Archaeofest, slated this year for Sept. 15 and 16. During the celebration of Native American culture, you’ll be able to watch demonstrations of traditional crafts such as pottery, basketry and flint-knapping.
If you’re looking for a vast area in which to indulge your outdoor passions for hiking, biking, boating, camping and horseback-riding, there are few places in the state better than Land Between the Lakes. LBL consists of 170,000 acres and 300 miles of shoreline along Kentucky and Barkley lakes. Roughly half of the recreation area lies in Tennessee with the rest in Kentucky. In addition to trails, picnic areas, campgrounds and the scenic drive down the main road called “The Trace,” LBL is also home to a planetarium, the Woodlands Nature Station where you can get an up-close view of wildlife, the Homeplace living history farm and the Elk & Bison Prairie. If you’d like to coordinate your visit with one of LBL’s upcoming events, there are several to choose from: the 1850s County Fair and Storytelling Festival at the Homeplace Sept. 1 and 2, Snap Apple Night at the Homeplace Oct. 20 and the 18th Annual Howl-O-Ween at the Nature Station Oct. 27.
A tool some people might overlook when planning a more stay-local vacation is all the information available from the different tourism bureaus or chambers of commerce in each county. Take, for example, Rutherford County. Did you know that there’s a wealth of agritourism venues in the county? Visits to Christmas tree farms, corn and hay mazes, pumpkin patches, wagon rides, distilleries, wineries, farmers markets and pick-your-own farms are great ways to spend time with family and friends. The local convention and visitors bureau’s site has a ton of tourist information built around other themes such as history, parks, arts, family fun and Civil War heritage.
For many counties across the state, you could literally plan a week’s vacation in just that county. In Humphreys County, you could visit Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, the Blue Creek Nature Center, Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Waverly Train Explosion Memorial Museum, Johnsonville State Historic Park and several marinas that serve as gateways to water recreation. In nearby Dickson County, a vacation could include a visit to the Old Spencer Mill, fishing or golf at Montgomery Bell State Park, a history lesson at the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum, live music and dancing at Vance Smith’s Grand Old Hatchery, antiquing in downtown Dickson and an art gallery and classes at the Renaissance Center.
Just like in other regions of the state, autumn weekends in Middle Tennessee are filled with local festivals. The Southern Fried Festival in Columbia Sept. 28-29 has not only a cool name but also a lot to keep visitors entertained. Pick from live music, a cooking challenge, arts and crafts booths, a 5K walk/run, the Jailbreak Triathlon, a pancake breakfast and even a Barney Fife impersonator.
There is a reason that so many people vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding towns. The mountains are beautiful and biologically diverse, a feast for the senses. Towns such as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer amusements galore. Dollywood caters to fans of theme parks, and the Dixie Stampede provides an evening of dining and friendly North vs. South entertainment. Ripley’s has gone beyond its always-popular Believe it or Not Museum by adding more attractions to the area: the Aquarium of the Smokies, Haunted Adventure, Marvelous Mirror Maze, Davy Crockett Mini Golf, Old MacDonald’s Farm mini golf, Moving Theater and Guinness World Records Museum.
Perhaps you enjoy shopping. Well, you certainly won’t lack for options to indulge in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Stores featuring everything from fine art to kitschy souvenirs abound. Many people love the outlet shopping at venues such as the Tanger Outlet Center in Sevierville. After all, it’s never too early to start that Christmas shopping. Speaking of, be sure to check out the fantastic array of Christmas décor at Christmas Place. If it doesn’t put you in the mood for the holidays, nothing will.
With all that shopping, mini golfing and hiking, you have surely worked up quite an appetite. As it happens, it would probably take months to dine at every eatery in the area. Whatever type of food you’re craving, chances are you’ll find it nearby. Enjoy prime rib and rainbow trout at the Park Grill Steakhouse in Gatlinburg, fresh seafood and a S’more Sundae at the Bullfish Grill in Pigeon Forge and all things apple, including delicious apple fritters, at Sevierville’s Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant and Grill. And for breakfast, you can pretty much throw a rock in any direction and hit a pancake house.
Type these destinations in your Web browser to go to their websites:
- Hatchie Fall Fest
- Tennessee Soybean Festival
- Bolivar Historic District Walking Tour
- Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area
- Land Between the Lakes
- Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Humphreys County Chamber of Commerce
- Dickson County Chamber of Commerce
- Southern Fried Festival
- Dixie Stampede
- Ripley’s Attractions
- Tanger Outlet Center
- Christmas Place
- Park Grill Steakhouse
- Bullfish Grill
- Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant and Grill
- Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
- Sevierville Convention and Visitors Bureau