10 Tips for Planning Your Tennessee Road Trip Itinerary

Tennessee beckons road trippers with its eclectic mix of natural beauty, musical heritage, and family-friendly attractions. From the vibrant cities of Nashville and Memphis to the serene landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains, this state invites exploration and promises memorable adventures. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a frequent traveler, planning a detailed itinerary will ensure you make the most of your journey. This guide provides practical tips to help you create a seamless and enjoyable road trip that caters to your interests while unveiling Tennessee’s hidden gems.

1. Start with a Rough Timeline

Before planning the finer details, sketch out a rough timeline for your trip. Think about how many days you have available and identify any major attractions or events you don’t want to miss. Are you a music lover looking to hit all the legendary studios and venues in Nashville and Memphis? Or perhaps you prefer outdoor adventures like hiking through the lush Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Having a general idea of your timeline will provide a framework for more detailed planning, ensuring that your stops align well and that you don’t miss any highlights.

2. Choose Comfortable Accommodations

Selecting the right accommodation can make or break a road trip. Opting for cabins in Tennessee ensures you experience the rustic charm of the region while having a comfortable place to unwind after a long day of exploring. Cabins provide privacy and a cozy, home-like atmosphere, complete with amenities like full kitchens, hot tubs, and fireplaces. Staying in a cabin also allows you to immerse yourself in Tennessee’s beautiful landscapes, whether you’re in the Smoky Mountains or relaxing near one of the many lakes. Choose cabins that are conveniently located to your main attractions to minimize travel time.

3. Plan Your Stops Based on Attractions

With so many iconic attractions scattered across the state, planning stops strategically is essential. Start by listing your must-see destinations and then group them according to proximity. For example, you might begin your journey with the music and cultural attractions in Memphis, such as Graceland and Beale Street, before heading to Nashville for the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, and more. This approach will allow you to cover different regions while minimizing long driving stretches. Remember to allocate enough time at each stop to fully experience the attraction without rushing.

4. Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

No Tennessee road trip is complete without exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With its majestic peaks, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife, the park is a nature lover’s paradise. Start by driving through Cades Cove, a lush valley known for its scenic beauty and historical buildings. Take one of the many hiking trails, like Alum Cave Trail, for incredible views, or Clingmans Dome for panoramic vistas from the highest point in the Smokies. If you’re into water activities, pack a picnic and head to a mountain stream or spend some time fishing.

5. Sample Local Cuisine

Tennessee’s food scene is as diverse as its attractions. Your itinerary should include tasting some of the state’s best-known dishes. For starters, Memphis is famous for its barbecue, so don’t miss out on ribs, pulled pork, and dry rub specialties at iconic spots like Central BBQ or The Bar-B-Q Shop. In Nashville, try hot chicken, a spicy fried chicken that’s not for the faint-hearted but beloved by many. Also, keep an eye out for smaller eateries serving Southern comfort food, like meat-and-three plates, cornbread, fried catfish, and buttermilk biscuits. Sampling the local cuisine will make your road trip that much more memorable.

6. Discover Tennessee’s Music History

Tennessee is renowned for its rich musical heritage, making it a pilgrimage site for enthusiasts of country, blues, rock, and soul. Start with Memphis, home to the legendary Sun Studio, where artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recorded some of their greatest hits. Nearby, visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to explore the history of soul music and its influential artists. For family fun, head to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, which celebrates the legacy of country legend Dolly Parton and includes thrilling rides and live music shows.

7. Balance City Excitement with Natural Beauty

Tennessee’s diverse geography makes it possible to enjoy urban excitement and rural tranquility in one trip. Plan visits to major cities like Nashville and Memphis, where the nightlife, dining, and museums offer endless entertainment. In Nashville, tour the iconic Music Row and enjoy the Honky Tonk Highway for live music at legendary venues. In Memphis, stroll along Beale Street to experience the blues, or visit the National Civil Rights Museum for a sobering yet powerful historical perspective. Pair your city adventures with downtime in Tennessee’s stunning natural landscapes, such as the lakes and mountains near Knoxville or the waterfalls and caves of South Cumberland State Park.

8. Plan for Scenic Byways and Roadside Attractions

One of the joys of a road trip is the journey itself, so include scenic byways and quirky roadside attractions in your itinerary. The Natchez Trace Parkway stretches from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi, offering historic sites, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks. The Cherohala Skyway, a 43-mile National Scenic Byway, provides sweeping views of the Appalachian Mountains. Don’t miss stops like the Lost Sea Adventure, an underground lake, or the quirky Rock City Gardens on Lookout Mountain. Roadside attractions like these give your trip a unique twist and create unforgettable photo opportunities.

9. Be Prepared for Weather Changes

Tennessee’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack smartly. Depending on the season, bring layers, as temperatures can shift quickly. In spring and fall, be prepared for cooler mornings and warm afternoons. Summer can be hot and humid, so lightweight clothing and plenty of sunscreen are essential. Keep an umbrella or rain jacket handy for sudden showers, particularly in mountainous regions. If you’re venturing into the Great Smoky Mountains, prepare for potentially cooler weather at higher elevations.

10. Build Flexibility into Your Schedule

While it’s important to have a clear itinerary, be ready to adapt to unexpected changes or intriguing discoveries along the way. Allow time for spontaneous stops, whether it’s an extra night in a charming town or an impromptu visit to a local festival. If an attraction turns out to be busier than anticipated, pivot to a quieter destination or nature hike. Flexibility ensures you can embrace new opportunities that will make your road trip even more memorable.


A Tennessee road trip is more than just reaching your final destination—it’s an exploration of music, nature, and Southern hospitality. By balancing iconic cities with serene natural wonders, discovering the state’s rich musical heritage, and remaining adaptable to the unexpected, your itinerary will unfold into an adventure to cherish. From cozy cabins to soulful music and scenic drives, planning thoughtfully while embracing spontaneity will lead to a memorable journey through Tennessee.

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