I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
I don't believe I'll ever outgrow my love for a road trip; especially those with awesome and slightly unusual destinations!
Maybe it's because I was born and raised in a state full of quirky little attractions that don't get the attention they deserve - because you'll never see them mentioned in state tourism adverts.
1. Sunsphere in Knoxville
A gold sphere rises above the skyline in Knoxville, a reminder the city was the site of the 1982 World's Fair. Visitors are invited to take an elevator to an observation deck more than twenty stories inside the sphere. From a vantage point of a little more than 200 feet in the air, visitors can garner a wide view of the beautiful city. Popular scenes include the University of Tennessee, Neyland Stadium, and the Tennessee River.
2. The Lost Sea in Sweetwater
Visits begin with a tour of the 3/4 mile tour of the caverns, which house the hidden waters. Guides recount the history of the caverns, laced with a bit of humor for entertainment's sake, and answer guests' questions. Upon reaching the Lost Sea, visitors are invited to a very tame, approximately 30-minute boat ride to learn more about the Lost Sea and its cavern home.
3. Patrick's Bar and Grill in Copperhill
A sports bar built literally on the boundary lines of the state of Tennessee and Georgia, Patrick's makes a great Instagram spot whether you live nearby or you're just visiting. Visitors can enjoy some great food and drink but if that drink is alcoholic, you best be sitting Tennessee-side - because if you're inside Georgia, you're breaking the law.
4. The Ocoee River
The Tennessee end of the 93 mile-long river which flows northwestward through the Appalachian Mountains is known as the Ocoee River (known as Toccoa in Georgia). The river was chosen as the site for the whitewater canoe and kayak events of the 1996 Olympics because it's rated as a top whitewater recreational river in the United States. Visitors will find there are many activities promoted on the banks, such as tubing and kayaking, as well as guided whitewater rafting tours for any skill level.
5. The Minister's Treehouse in Crossville
The 97-foot high tree-supported structure was built by Horace Burgess, who claimed he was constructing the home and church combination per God's instructions. The Minister's Tree House on Beehive Lane in Crossville once held regular services at the site, open to the public, until the Cumberland County Fire Marshall ordered it closed in 2012. Clearly visible from the road, it's still a popular local attraction.
6. Bonnaroo in Manchester
Timing is important to visit this Tennessee attraction, but most certainly worth the hassle. Bonnaroo is one of the world's largest music festivals. Held on a 700+ acre farm in rural Coffee County, Bonnaroo attracts visitors from around the world with its yearly outstanding lineup for both popular and rising artists of all genres, as well as its vast food and drink choices. All while maintaining both a family friendly event and a place where the young and young-at-heart can have cut loose and have fun.
7. Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville
On the outskirts of town, tucked away in Cardwell Mountain, is America's second largest commercial cave, Cumberland Caverns. The caverns were discovered by Aaron Higgenbotham in 1810 as he was surveying the Chickamauga Trail. Today visitors are invited to guided tours to see beautiful formations with monikers like Monument Pillar, the Crystal Palace, the Volcano Room, and the Hall of the Mountain King.
8. First Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lebanon
Cracker Barrel's founder Dan Evins was born in Smithville. After a stint in the military and graduation from Auburn University, he opened his first restaurant in Lebanon. Wildly successful, Evins continued to expand his unique restaurant and gift shop stores around the southern United States until his death in 2012.
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9. Geographical Center in Murfreesboro
Drivers along Old Lascassas Road will see a landscaped obelisk along the side of the road, in the area about a half-mile from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). This simple structure marks the geographical center of the state.
10. The Parthenon in Nashville
Located inside Centennial Park, just west of downtown Nashville, is a full-size replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The structure was built to serve as an elaborate exhibit at Tennessee's Centennial celebration of 1897. Today, the Parthenon serves as a year-round art museum as well as a popular spot for concerts during summer months.
11. Amish Country in Lawrenceburg
Lawrenceburg boasts itself as "Amish Country" due to the large population of Amish living in the area and their large farms which visitors can tour and purchase homemade foods and products. The Amish are so inviting of visitors to learn more about their way of simple living, they have a large Amish welcome center staffed by the Amish themselves.
12. Grinder's Switch in Centerville
Minnie Pearl was a beloved character played by Sarah Cannon on the popular 1970's Nashville-based televised comedy show Hee Haw. In many of her skits, Minnie Pearl talked about her hometown of Grinder's Switch, which is an actual community of Centerville and actual home of Sarah Cannon. The hole-in-the-wall town capitalized their star's promotions and today hosts an adorable entertainment complex inviting visitors to stop and stay a while.
13. Bell Witch Cave in Adams
According to legend, in 1871 when John Bell, Senior purchased the farm land in Robertson County which today hosts the infamous cave, his family came under attack from an invisible entity which came to be called the Bell Witch. Records of the time claim the entity could speak and take on forms. It's believed the Witch often took refuge in this cave. Tours are available, but only for the brave.
14. Sheriff Buford Pusser Museum in Adamsville
Buford Pusser became the sheriff of McNairy County in 1964 and earned a reputation as a one who didn't play favorites when be began working immediately to dismantle the Dixie Mafia and State Line Mob gangs. Pusser survived three assassination attempts and was witness to his wife's murder. Pusser's response was to hire a hitman to murder those responsible for his wife's death. If his name sounds familiar to you, it's likely because he was the inspiration for the 1973 movie Walking Tall.
15. The Eiffel Tower in Paris
If you're dream is to see the Eiffel Tower but you're not sure when you'll make it to France, have no fear; the Paris of the South—Paris, Tennessee, that is, has it (albeit much smaller version) covered for you. Originally created in the early 1990s by engineering university students for the May in Memphis Festival which spotlights a different country each year, the tower was donated to the nearby city which shares its name with the home of the original structure.
16. Reelfoot Lake
The largest earthquake in American history known as the New Madrid earthquake of 1813 wrecked havoc on much of the western part of the state. For all of its destruction and devastation, the earthquake did form a beautiful lake in what later become Lake and Obion counties and is the state's only nature-made lake. There are an abundance of activities available to the public along the lake shores, including Reelfort Lake State Park in Tiptonville.
17. Tina Turner Museum in Brownsville
Tina Turner fans will recognize this city's name as belonging to the singer's hometown and the small community within which is the subject of one of her songs, Nutbush City Limits. Located about an hour's drive northwest of Memphis, visitors are invited to learn about the beloved singer's small town life before she was famous. The museum is housed in the building which was formerly the elementary school Turner attended as a child.
18. Casey Jones Village in Jackson
Illinois Central Railroad engineer Casey Jones went down in history when he stayed on board his train, attempting to avoid collision with a stalled freight train. Despite going against protocol and remaining with the engine, The only fatality of that dreadful event, Jones' act of bravery is said to be saved the life of his passengers. Today you can visit the engineer's last home inside the entertainment village in his memory.
19. Crystal Shrine Grotto in Memphis
Inside the Memphis Memorial Park Cemetery is a man-made cave, dug sixty feet underground, decorated with quartz crystals and such, where harp music reverberates off the walls. Cemetery gates close daily at sunset.
Off the Beaten Path
Tennessee is a state with so many wonderful yet hidden gems. Whether you're a Tennessean yourself, plan to visit, or just passing through and want to learn more about many of the places I've included and more little known destinations, I highly recommend the 2013 book Tennessee Off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places by Jackie Sheckler Finch. Finch provides an excellent source of out-of-the-way attractions throughout the state.
© 2017 Kim Bryan