Great as they are, there's more to the Volunteer State than Nashville and Memphis. Wander away from the buzz of the Grand Ole Opry, Graceland, and Beale Street and into the small-town heart of this music-loving, Great Smoky Mountain-dotted state.
Here are eight of the best small towns in Tennessee.
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With a population of around 4,000, Gatlinburg remains small despite the fact that its location, Sevier County, attracts around 12 million visitors each year. People love coming to this quaint mountain town in eastern Tennessee — sometimes referred to as the "gateway to the Smoky Mountains" — for its gorgeous scenery, great shopping, and plenty of adventurous activities. Here, you can explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, chase waterfalls, ride mountain coasters, and visit museums and a massive aquarium. Plus, Dollywood is just a short drive away in nearby Pigeon Forge, another popular small town for families that also happens to be full of all things Dolly Parton (she's from the next town over).
Courtesy of Visit Jonesborough
Jonesborough is small in size, but big in appeal. There's live music, great shopping, and more than 242 years of history here in Tennessee's oldest town (founded in 1779). Home to the International Storytelling Center, which hosts the National Storytelling Festival each October, Jonesborough is also considered the "storytelling capital of the world."
Beyond storytelling, visitors can enjoy a free live music series, called Music on the Square, every Friday night from May through September (or Brews & Tunes on Sunday afternoons), as well as shop wares from local and regional artisans at the annual Made Around Here Market. Christmas in Olde Jonesborough is another highlight.
For a bit of time travel, visit the 1906 Chuckey Depot Museum, then take a carriage ride along the town's well preserved Main Street, complete with historic buildings, antique stores, and charming little ice cream and candy shops.
Courtesy of TN Dept. of Tourist Development
Granville is perhaps the definition of a hidden gem. Though it was the birthplace of former U.S. senator Albert Gore, Sr. (father of former vice president Al Gore), few are in the know about this historic town.
Nicknamed "Tennessee's Mayberry Town," suggesting it as a utopian place to live, Granville is located an hour east of Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River and boasts the slow and friendly pace of yesteryear. A $5 town tour ticket from Sutton General Store gives you access to highlights like the Granville Whiskey Decanter Museum, Whistle Stop Saloon, I Love Lucy Museum, Sutton Homestead, and Pioneer Village.
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If you're a fan of hiking and the great outdoors, head to Erwin, an Appalachian Trail town nestled in the mountains and located within Cherokee National Forest. Here, expect breathtaking mountain views, great hiking, fishing and rafting along the Nolichucky River, and an adorable downtown area with a quality coffee shop, pottery studio, outdoor supply store, and more.
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Dayton, which was founded in 1820 and originally known as Smith's Crossroads until it was renamed after the Ohio city in 1877, has one particularly interesting claim to fame: It's where the Scopes Monkey Trial, which addressed whether evolution could be taught in state-funded schools, took place. You can still check out the Rhea County Courthouse where it was conducted, as well as visit the Scopes Trial Museum. Beyond this bit of historical intrigue, there are antique stores, restaurants, hiking opportunities, the Monkey Town Brewing Company, and Chickamauga Lake, allegedly home to the best bass fishing in the nation.
Courtesy of Natchez Trace RV Campground
Ever wondered if you could find Lewis and Clark history, a wine trail, and one of the nation's largest refuges for African and Asian elephants all in one tiny town? Look no further than Hohenwald, where all your wildest Tennessee dreams can come true.
Located just over an hour southwest of Nashville, Hohenwald offers a lot to do, yet a total change of pace. Make sure to check out The Elephant Sanctuary, the nearby Natchez Trace Wine Trail, Natchez Trace Wilderness Preserve, and the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway. Also, don't miss the Meriwether Lewis Site; Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) died and was buried seven miles east of the town in 1809. For a unique stay to round out your visit, check out Petite Retreats tiny house village at the Natchez Trace RV Campground.
Courtesy of Visit Franklin
An unincorporated rural village in Williamson County, Leiper's Fork is certainly small (population around 650), but its charm is turned all the way up. With a homegrown feel, this tiny spot is about the size of a large city block, but it packs in attractions like art galleries, a whiskey distillery, and tasty meat-and-three restaurants across its approximately 1,100 acres.
Expect front porches, fire pits, a community spirit, and, surprisingly, the vacation homes of stars like Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton. There's no hotel in Leiper's Fork, but the popular larger (but still relatively small) town of Franklin is just 15 minutes away.
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Located in the south-central region of Tennessee, Lynchburg first saw settlers arrive around 1801 and, not long after that, was the temporary home of Davy Crockett. Today, the downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. Oddly, though Lynchburg is home to Jack Daniel's Distillery — the oldest registered distillery in the country, founded in 1866 by Mr. Jack Daniel himself — its home county (Moore County) has been a dry county since Tennessee enacted prohibition laws in 1910. The Old Jail Museum and Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company are also popular attractions.