Tennessee is a small state in the southern United States. Landlocked but filled with lush valleys and rivers, the state is also home to Nashville, its centrally located state capital, which is also the heart of the country music scene. This down-home southern charm and lively music culture is continued even outside the city hubs. Get behind the wheel and head out to the smaller, rural charm that Tennessee can also offer you.
Check out our list of the best small towns to visit in Tennessee:
1. Townsend, Tennessee
A tiny town in Blount County, Tennessee, Townsend is one of three access points to the famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. First inhabited by Native Americans, the area around the town has been settled since 2000 B.C.! A bit more recently, the Cherokee claimed the land in the 1600s until moving to avoid European settlers in the later 18th century. A treasure trove of Smoke Mountains History, Townsend is the most peaceful gateway to the park – it sees the least amount of traffic.
Don’t discount the town on that, though! Townsend is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. Townsend recently has worked hard to preserve the nature around it after it was almost destroyed by the logging industry, and you can spend a few days here reconnecting with the preserved wild. Visit the national park and enjoy the spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains – don’t forget your camera. Visit the Tuckaleechee Caverns and camp out at the Cades Cove Campground.
2. Lynchburg, Tennessee
Located in south-central Tennessee, Lynchburg was first settled by western Europeans in the early 1800s. Main Street was the first road through town, and followed the East Fork Mulberry Creek. Lynchburg’s local economy suffered during Prohibition as it was illegal to manufacture liquor until 1937 since Tennessee extended the law long after it was abolished nationally. Don’t worry though, because that didn’t last long!
Fortunately, they were able to reopen the now famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery and continue producing the Tennessee whiskey we all enjoy still. Visit the still-operational distillery and enjoy the charm of this “one traffic light” town. The downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and worth a walking tour if you’ve got an hour or two. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t forget to stop at Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company and sample some of the local goodies. Lynchburg is a perfect destination for those seeking some rest and relaxation in a small town setting and to get away from the fast paced city life.
3. Tellico Plains, Tennessee
Tellico Plains is located in Monroe County, Tennessee. First settled by the historic Muscogee Native Americans, the Cherokee were the last indigenous people to live here before being displaced by colonization. The town is on the site of the former Cherokee town, Great Tellico, an important settlement for the Overhill Cherokee, and the meeting point of two Native American trails: the Trading Path and the Warrior Path.
Book yourself a few days at the unique Farmhouse Inn and enjoy some southern comfort hospitality! Hike up to the Bald River Falls or spend some time at the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center. There are plenty of options for hikers: Baby Falls or Conasauga Falls trails also surround the town. Visit the Tellico Trout Hatchery if you’re into fishing. Finally, treat yourself to a great meal at Walt’s bar BBQ and enjoy the historic, quaint atmosphere.
4. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
A mountain resort tucked away in Sevier County, Gatlinburg is a popular vacation destination due to its prime location on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Route 441. The well-used Native American footpath called the Indian Gap Trail ran through this town and connected to the Great Indian warpath; today, the US Route 441 actually still follows this path roughly.
Now, the town remains a scenic mountain destination and inviting for tourists. Full of outdoor adventures and picturesque views, visit in the winter to go skiing or snowboarding, or in the summer to whitewater raft, fish, or hike the hundreds of miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. Rent a luxury cabin, enjoy the views, and treat yourself to dinner at Taste of Italy during your state here in Gatlinburg, a charming town for both outdoor lovers and those less active.
5. Jonesborough, Tennessee
Known as Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough is in Washington County. It was founded in 1779, before Tennessee was even a state! A historic landmark for the state, Jonesborough is also considered to be the center of the abolitionist movement in the Confederate States during the American Civil War and published many articles on slavery during this time.
Now though, people visit Jonesborough because of its history and status as the state’s oldest town. There has been a lot of effort put into historic preservation of the town, and now Jonesborough boasts a rich architectural fabric which you can see for yourself during the Old Town Historic Jonesborough Walking Tour. The Chester Inn, a historic building from 1797, still stands in downtown! Treat yourself to a visit to the Tennessee Hills Distillery for some adult fun, or take a trip to Fender’s Farm and Corn Maze. If you’re into art, browse Jonesborough Art Glass Gallery and find something special to take home with you.
6. Arlington, Tennessee
Situated close to nearby big city, Memphis, Arlington has managed to retain an ideal proximity to the big city without becoming one itself, and is called the best kept secret in the county for this very reason. The town has loyal residents – many of the descendants of the original settlers from the 1830s still live in Arlington! The town is surely worth a little of your time based on that recommendation alone.
Visit the town for some rural relaxation. If you’re an outdoors lover, check out Memphis East Campgrounds and don’t forget your sleeping bag! Arlington has a historic old general store called SY Wilson. Stop by the Rachel H.K. Burrow Museum or the blacksmith shop if you’re interested in historic buildings. Kick back and enjoy a slower pace of life here for a few days.
7. Nolensville, Tennessee
A town in Williamson County, Tennessee, Nolensville was founded by William Nolen in the late 1700s. Their wagon broke down and the family had to stop for repairs. When Nolen saw the rich lands in the area and the natural resources, he decided to throw in the towel and stay right where he was. Nolensville grew up around his land grant throughout the years and still stands to this day! We’re sure that once you arrive, you’ll be enchanted the same way the original founder was when he first set foot there.
Stop in and stay at the Homeplace Bed and Breakfast for some Southern Hospitality. Nolensville is guaranteed to keep you fed and happy during your vacation – choose from any of their restaurant options. We recommend The Chef and I for some upscale eats! Relax over a good cigar and brandy at the Cigar Bar and Bistro, or if you are into nature, walk through Serenity Salt Cave and relax. Who knows, maybe you’ll want to stay longer, too.
8. Greeneville, Tennessee
The county seat of Greene County and aptly named, Greeneville is named after the Revolutionary War hero, Nathanael Greene and is the only town in the US with this spelling of Greeneville (they must really like their “E”s!). President Andrew Johnson began his political career here as well, and the town continued to participate in politics up to the Civil War when it was a staunch supporter of abolition.
Book yourself a few days at Nolichuckey Bluffs Bed and Breakfast for the comfort as well as the spectacular scenery around you. Greeneville is full of activities to keep you busy: visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site or the Greeneville Antique Market. Head out the Margarette Falls or Buffalo Trail Orchard for some exercise before unwinding over some coffee at the Creamy Coffee shop!
9. Bell Buckle, Tennessee
Bell Buckle is located in Bedford County. With a name as charming and unique as this, it should be no surprise to learn that the downtown area of the town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bell Buckle Historic District. However, even if you ask around, you’ll still not be able to discover the exact origin of the unique name Bell Buckle. Ask any local and you’ll hear a few different tales: one says that the first settlers found a carving of a cowbell and buckle on a tree, or in another version, that a bell and buckle were mysteriously tied to the tree. Either way, Bell Buckle is still situated by the creek nearby that bears the same name and is perfect for lazy afternoons.
Come to Bell Buckle for its well-known for the preserved and restored Victorian homes in town, as well as the historic shops and churches. An ideal destination for quilting enthusiasts and craft lovers, Bell Buckle hosts a yearly craft fair, the Webb School Arts & Crafts Fair. Eat at the Bell Buckle Cafe, located on Railroad Square, or pop in to the Phillips General Store for a Moon Pie or RC Cola.
10. Dayton, Tennessee
Dayton is located in Rhea County, and was originally named Smith’s Crossroads when it was founded in 1820. It was later renamed after Dayton, Ohio. The famous Scopes Trial was held here in town in 1925, drawing in people from all walks of life to watch the trail over whether evolution should be taught in public schools or not. You can still visit to see where this historic moment took place.
Stop by Dayton and visit the Rhea County Courthouse, and treat yourself to a vacation at the Blue Water Resort. Don’t forget your walking shoes so you can spend the day at the Pocket Wilderness exploring their trails. Indulge your sweet tooth at Cumberland Cafe or have a relaxing meal at Jacob Myers Restaurant on the River.
11. Leipers Fork, Tennessee
An unincorporated, rural community in Williamson County, Leipers Fork is located on the Natchez Trace pathway and is listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. The Natchez Trace, an important travel path for the Native American settlers, was later used by the early European settlers who came here. The name Leipers Fork was selected due to the stream that runs through the town, historically the center of trade for the western part of Williamson County.
Stop in at Puckett’s Grocery while you are here for some groceries or to be in the hub of the local gatherings – concerts are often hosted here at this popular venue. Justin Timberlake even recorded a music video in town because it made such an impression on him! Wander through downtown and along the Old Hillsboro Road to see the historic buildings and shop at the antique and gift shops there, or walk along Natchez Road to retrace the steps of those who walked here before us.
12. Ripley, Tennessee
A town in Lauderdale County, Ripley was one of six municipalities in Tennessee selected for downtown revitalization in the early 2000s. The courthouse square was restored here thanks to those efforts. Ripley was named in honor of General E Ripley, a hero from the War of 1812 and the county’s first newspaper, the Ripley Gazette, was first published and circulated in town in 1860.
Take a few vacation days and relax at the Country Hearth Inn. The town has plenty of excellent restaurant options as well, such as Kissell’s Kitchen or Olympic Steakhouse for those meat lovers out there. Finally, there is a waterpark here that promises fun for all ages – stop by to check out the waterslide and pool!
13. Rogersville, Tennessee
The county seat of Hawkins County, Rogersville has ties back to the very founding of the USA – it was founded by the grandparents of Davy Crockett, and is the second oldest town in the state. Named for Joseph Rogers, the founder, the first Tennessee post office is located here, and the Rogersville Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Relax at one of the lush parks that Rogersville has to offer – Rogersville City Park even has basketball courts and tennis courts, as well as a community pool. Visit the Printing Museum and remember that the first state newspaper was printed in town. Have a delicious bbq meal at Pig&Chick before walking it off while you explore the historic district.
14. Paris, Tennessee
While not the glamorous city in France, Paris, Tennessee does retain its own charm. Located along a fork of the West Sandy River, there is even a replica of the Eiffel Tower standing in town! Like the original city, Paris is also a big supporter of the arts. Come visit for a getaway and spend a few days on holiday without having to dust off your passport.
Take an afternoon and go to Memorial Park, the location of the Eiffel tower and many tennis courts and a swimming pool! There are even walking trails if you want to stretch your legs. Paris is also well known for its fish fry, called “the World’s Biggest Fish Fry” which happens every year in April. You can also see musical productions at the Krider Performing Arts Center. Relax at the Home Sweet Home Bed and Breakfast and have a drink at Perrylodgic Brewing Co.
15. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
A lovely mountain resort destination, Pigeon Forge is in Sevier County, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Named for an old iron forge built near the Little Pigeon River, It is said that there were flocks of passenger pigeons on the banks of the river when the first European settlers arrived. Now, the town is known for its malls, music theatres and country music culture.
Bring your hiking shoes and check out the over 800 miles of trails through the Smoky Mountains! You can even camp out there if you want. If you’re more into music, check out Dollywood, founded by Dolly Parton! Ride a rollercoaster or listen to a concert here before going to a down home country fair. You can also check out the shopping and The Island if you’re looking to lighten your wallet and splurge while on vacation!