Memphis, in the southwest corner of Tennessee, is the state’s second-largest city and arguably its most famous.
Memphis is well known internationally for being the home and last resting place of Elvis Presley, one of the most famous characters in musical history.
More than this, the city’s long association with blues and the southern American music scene makes it a favorite getaway for those looking to immerse themselves in some quality musical history and culture.
Away from the city, there are many day trips for music lovers too, with the birthplace of Elvis in nearby Tupelo just a short drive away, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame lying lust across the state border in the city of Tuscumbia.
Even if you aren’t into the colorful music scene of Memphis and its surrounds, the city is still a great base from which to explore the rest of Tennessee and the neighboring states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
There are many unique towns and cities to visit and some of the southern USA’s best natural wonders and state parks to explore.
Here are the best day trips from Memphis:
1. Tupelo, Mississippi
Elvis Presley – one of music’s most revered legends – is well known for his association with Memphis.
The performer began his career in the city in the 1950’s and eventually died in his Graceland estate, which can be visited in Memphis today.
Less well known is the fact that Elvis was born and spent the early years of his life in the small city of Tupelo, found across the border in Mississippi.
Elvis grew up here in a ramshackle family home before relocating to the big city when he was a teenager.
Tupelo is really a pilgrimage for many Elvis fans – it’s possible to see the house where he was raised, which has become somewhat of a shrine.
There’s a detailed museum showcasing his life and talents, and although the city of Tupelo has little else to offer, the birthplace of Elvis is reason enough to make the journey from Memphis.
2. Tuscumbia, Alabama
After paying homage to the birthplace of the legendary Elvis Presley, music lovers will undoubtedly need to plan a day trip to the state of Alabama to visit the Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.
The city lies on the banks of the beautiful Tennessee River and is one of the oldest European settlements in the area.
As historic as it is though, Tuscumbia is mostly visited because of its present-day association with music.
The city was selected to host the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which provides a platform for the state’s best musicians and performers to be remembered.
The Hall of Fame has exhibitions on the most talented of Alabama’s musicians, and also puts on shows and performances on site.
3. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the largest city and state capital of Tennessee.
It’s a long day trip from Memphis, but it’s a trip that’s worth making to experience the ‘Home of Country Music’. The city is another firm favorite for music and culture lovers – its long association with the country scene has made it a world-famous location.
It’s more than just music though; Nashville today is a modern, thriving city that’s continually drawing in more visitors.
While perhaps not as famous as Memphis, it’s still the heart and soul of the state and there’s a lot to be discovered in Nashville.
4. Oxford, Mississippi
Just over an hour’s drive south of Memphis, in the state of Mississippi, lies the city of Oxford.
This historic place dates back to the mid 19th Century and was in fact named after the city of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Like its namesake in England, Oxford too became a University town.
The city is home to the University of Mississippi and is a lively, cultural, and fun place to visit on a day trip.
The former home of famous American writer William Faulkner – winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1950’s – can be visited, as can much of the surrounding countryside and areas, which formed the inspiration for much of his work.
5. Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson is the largest city, and capital of the state of Mississippi.
It’s a bit of a drive from Memphis but it’s worth the extra time spent getting here and the early start for a day trip to experience the cultural center of Mississippi.
The city’s roots stem from the early 19th Century, and it was named after Andrew Jackson, one of the first presidents of the USA. It’s a historic place and there are many interesting and informative museums and heritage buildings to discover, as well as a burgeoning culinary trail, and – as with everywhere in the south – an ever-lively music scene to enjoy.
6. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, Tennessee
A little closer to Memphis – this time within the state boundaries – Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is just a 15-mile drive away from the city, but it’s easy to spend more than just the day immersed in the beautiful natural surroundings found here.
This state park really does offer an escape from the urban confines of Memphis and is incredibly easy to reach.
Meeman-Shelby Forest is full of unique swamplands formed on the edge of the huge Mississippi River.
There’s a visitor’s center with detailed information about the wildlife and habitats found in the park.
There are also countless walking trails to explore.
The best thing to do here is to get out on the spectacular swamps in kayaks or canoes and paddle through the forest.
7. Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, Tennessee
Another beautiful, protected area of land found close to Memphis is the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge.
This refuge is an area of wild, watery swampland that’s about as southern as you could imagine.
Tall trees rise from the murky waters amongst the dense vegetation – it’s an excellent place to kayak, hike, bike and explore.
8. Holly Springs National Forest, Mississippi
Holly Springs National Forest is a huge area of diverse wilderness found just an hour’s drive south-east of Memphis.
Holly Springs contains vast concentrations of forest, which is punctuated by beautiful, calm lakes and marshy areas of swampland.
It’s a haven for local wildlife and an excellent place to visit to spot some of southern America’s most unique species, including many snakes and birds.
Many of the lakes are great for swimming, particularly in summer, and there are campgrounds and hiking trails throughout the park, meaning that you may be enticed to spend more than just a day exploring Holly Springs from Memphis.
9. Little Rock, Arkansas
To the west of Memphis lies the state of Arkansas.
Little Rock is the largest city in Arkansas, and also the capital.
Little Rock is a wonderful place to visit to learn more about this neighboring state.
It’s a small city – easy to explore in just a day, but Little Rock offers a beautiful setting on the banks of the wide Arkansas River.
There are some fantastic state museums to visit, offering tourists an insight into the diverse history of the state and the many people and cultures who have passed through or stayed to make their homes here.
10. Jackson, Tennessee
Not to be confused with the state capital of Mississippi – also named after the same Andrew Jackson, former president of the US – Jackson, Tennessee is a much smaller city to visit, closer to Memphis.
Jackson Tennessee makes for a lovely day trip and there are many cultural and historic sights to keep you busy here, including an important railroad museum which charts the expansion of settlers across the states, and a few Civil War battle sites.
11. Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas
If you follow the mighty Mississippi south from Memphis you will reach the beautiful Mississippi River State Park once you cross the border into Arkansas.
This is a relatively new protected area and there are excellent day use and camping facilities to match, making it the perfect place to hike, kayak or bike before enjoying a picnic in the wild, green surroundings.
12. Village Creek State Park, Arkansas
Some of the best and most pristine scenery to be found near Memphis is actually in Arkansas, and the Village Creek State Park is another beautiful spot to visit to explore the incredible natural wonders awaiting across the border.
Just an hour west of the city, Village Creek State Park offers visitors a spectacular outdoor arena, with dense forest full of hiking trails and a network of fresh streams that look like nowhere else in the southern states.
13. Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
Yet more outstanding wildlife spotting opportunities and beautiful landscapes can be found in the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, which is again located just across the border, on the opposite bank of the Mississippi River.
The refuge is one of the best places in the region to go bird spotting, as many seasonal birds migrate here and many species – including eagles – call the area home.
14. Wolf River, Tennessee
Just on the eastern outskirts of Memphis, Wolf River is one of the most famous stretches of river in the state of Tennessee.
Although nowhere near comparable to the raging Mississippi River, Wolf River has its own charms that have allowed it to find a way into the hearts of locals.
The ‘Ghost River’ section is the best place to hit the water and is a favorite spot for kayaking and canoeing.
15. Water Valley, Mississippi
Water Valley is fast becoming a popular day trip attraction amongst visitors to the region.
Found south of Memphis, this small town offers an artsy escape from big city life or an enjoyable change from hiking through state forests.
It’s a small, charming place – the real appeal lies in the fact that there’s not really a huge amount to do, except enjoy the laid-back, small-town lifestyle that’s prevalent here.