While there is plenty to see, do and eat in Tennessee’s three largest cities, sometimes the Chris Columbus in us just yearns to get out and explore some of the other cool places the Volunteer State has to offer. To help you out, we’ve compiled some of Tennessee’s best-kept secret (or not-so-secret) towns and attractions less than two hours from the big city.
Leiper’s Fork, TN (27.9 miles)
Less than 30 miles from Nashville and just off the Natchez Trace Parkway, the lively town of Leiper’s Fork offers a day trip packed with fun. Start with a tour and tasting at Lieper’s Fork Distillery, which practices the time-honored Tennessee tradition of whiskey production. Stop for a meat-and-three lunch at the original Puckett’s Grocery, then come back later for Puckett’s famed Open Mic Night. Stay around long enough and you just might catch a glimpse of the town’s most famous resident, Justin Timberlake.
Bell Buckle, TN (53.6 miles)
With a population of just under 500, Bell Buckle oozes with Southern charm. A trip to the town in Bedford County can be a welcomed retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you happen to go in June, be sure to check out the RC Cola & Moon Pie festival, which celebrates the two Southern staples. If you can’t make the festival, stop in at the Bell Buckle Café for a Moon Pie sundae — along with pork chips, chicken and dumplings, fried okra and buttermilk biscuits. Grab some home-made goodness at Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor, then hunt for treasure at Hilltop Antiques or Bell Buckle & Livery Stable Antique Malls.
Collierville (30.4 miles)
Tennessee is the buckle of the Bible Belt, so it’s only fitting to visit the Museum of Biblical History. The museum in downtown Collierville features a collection of Egyptian artifacts as well as artifacts dating back to the time of biblical heroes Abraham and Sarah. Saddle up to the old-fashioned soda fountain at the Silver Caboose. The restaurant also serves up Southern fare, such as fried squash and country fried steak. Touting “vintage finds and fresh designs for Southern gentlemen,” Dixie Pickers offers everything from soaps to building signs.
Dyersburg (78.9 miles)
Get down and dirty at Bikini Bottoms Off Road and Zip Line Park. Go ATVing or take in a mud race. One weekend each month, the park hosts live concerts and offers free camping. Housed in the iconic blue and white Dyersburg bus station, the Bus Stop Café offers some of the best coffee, soups and sandwiches in northwest Tennessee. Memphis native Chef Eric Moore brings a bit of gourmet style to typical diner fare. Before Duck Dynasty, there was Falls n Calls, a shop specializing in hand crafted duck calls.
Pigeon Forge (27.6 miles)
Experience Great Smoky Mountains majesty just a few miles from Knoxville. Pigeon Forge is known for its outlet shopping and family-friendly attractions, such as Dollywood, Wonderworks Indoor Amusement Park and The Island, which offers amusement rides, ropes courses and more, but the town also has quite a few hidden gems. At English Mountain Trout Farm & Grill, you can actually catch your own meal. Or you can take a tasting tour of the area’s five wineries and distillery via the Rocky Top Wine Trail.
Johnson City (105.7 miles)
Just 90 minutes northeast of Knoxville near the Virginia border, Johnson City is a great place to spend the day (or two). The city’s hills are alive with the sound of music, and you can sample it yourself at one of several downtown restaurants and nightclubs, such as Down Home and Capone’s hosting live Americana music. You can rent a bike and cycle along the scenic Tweetsie Trail, an old railroad bed connecting Johnson City and Elizabethton. Or take a taste tour of the region’s best barbecue joints, including Firehouse Restaurant, housed in an old fire station, Hokie Smokie and Southern Craft, which takes barbecue to a whole other level.