Is music your passion? Perhaps you’re a barbecue aficionado. Does high-adventure get your heart pumping, or is a tour of historic places more your speed?
No matter where your interests lie, check out the Tennessee Department of Tourism’s 16 themed trails and byways. Traversing the state, these self-guided itineraries are a good foundation for a spring or summer road trip.
Many of the state’s historic, culinary, scenic, cultural and recreational attractions are connected through the trails that frequently overlap and provide a chance to get off the beaten path.
Take the Screaming Eagle Trail that fans outward from Nashville. Named for the 101st Airborne Division formed in the 1960s, the trail highlights the area’s military history and country music along the 353-mile route in Middle Tennessee. The trail’s tagline is “Lady Legends to Heroes.”
Attractions in Nashville include the Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry. And the music doesn’t stop once you’re outside the city. Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills features her plantation home, a frontier homestead and a simulated coal mine. The 3,500-acre grounds include the 18,000-square-foot Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum and the Native American Artifact Museum plus Loretta’s fan and doll collection in the Grist Mill Museum.
“The ranch gives a glimpse into Loretta’s personal life, but it’s also a wonderful destination,” says Karin Landers, Humphreys County Tourism consultant. “Loretta Lynn’s Ranch has so much to offer in addition to the story of her life. You can stay at the ranch in the RV park or primitive camping sites and attend concerts or go trail riding. And the ranch has a full schedule of special events for all ages and interests.”
On April 3, it hosts the Spring Fling Easter Festival. The weekend after Easter, the Middle Tennessee Dirt Riders sponsors a three-day weekend of off-road trail rides. April 24–25 is the Back Road Ridin’ the Ranch Jeep Ride. Members of the Jeep club offer off-road rides throughout the ranch.
“Loretta Lynn’s Ranch has become more of an event center with music since Loretta does not perform anymore,” Landers says. “Her grandson, General Manager Anthony Brutto, has added many of the off-road motorized events that people are enjoying at the ranch. The ever-popular horseback events continue to grow, and the ranch maintains a number of family events during the year.”
As a home to the Tennessee, Duck and Buffalo rivers, Humphreys County is known as “The Land of Three Rivers.” Outdoor recreation — from boating and fishing to camping — brings visitors from across the Southeast. Blue Creek Nature Center and the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge are composed of more than 52,000 acres for wildlife viewing.
The area is rich in Irish history, particularly in McEwen, which hosts a two-day St. Patrick’s Irish Picnic and Homecoming the last Saturday and Sunday in July. It celebrates with one of the state’s largest outdoor barbecue events.
“Our Irish Picnic and Homecoming takes place the last Friday and Saturday in July and features some 21,000 pounds of barbecue pork and more than 4,200 chicken halves,” Landers says. “The day will include music, games and dancing.”
Humphreys County also claims parts of the 600-mile-long Tennessee River Trail. Traversing nine counties, the trail highlights the history and off-the-beaten-path places that tell the stories of the people who settled the area.
At Johnsonville State Park, visitors can learn about the Civil War and one of the conflict’s naval battles, complete with a video at the welcome center. Relics and artifacts brought up from a sunken ship are on exhibit.
“Sometimes people may overlook the opportunity to simply enjoy nature, but our area offers a wealth of chances to hike, bike, birdwatch, look for wildlife and just kick back,” Landers says. “No matter what your preference, you can choose your own pace to explore.”
Other state trails and byways include West Tennessee’s Walking Tall Trail that features rockabilly sites, railways and mom-and-pop eateries, and Cotton Junction Trail named for the area’s cotton fields. Examples of themed trails in Middle Tennessee include The Jack Trail, packed with horses, music and distilleries, and the Old Tennessee Trail, steeped in history from settlers to soldiers. In East Tennessee, visit the White Lightning Trail, telling stories through Appalachian arts and crafts, historic town squares and legendary characters, and The Promised Land Trail that recreates the paths of the state’s early pioneers.
No matter where you turn in the state, there’s a themed trail for a road trip adventure. For more information about Tennessee’s Trails and Byways, visit tnvacation.com/trails-byways.