Welcome to our ultimate Tennessee road trip planner!
We created this planner to help you plan the perfect road trip around Tennessee and it contains all the essential information you need to plan your trip today including budget and costs, car rentals, what to eat, where to stay, etc.
Here you will find recommendations for a variety of Tennessee itineraries as well as get more information on Tennessee road trip must-see attractions including Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Our mission? To make sure you have a blast in Tennessee!
Dotted Globe contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full Disclosure here. Thank you!
Why visit Tennessee?
Tennessee is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to experience all that America has to offer.
From the Music City of Nashville, to Memphis with its rich history and culture, or Chattanooga with its vibrant arts scene – there’s something for everyone in Tennessee.
Tennessee is a state with music in its soul. Listen to country music, jazz blues, gospel, and folk music. Visit iconic sites such as the Grand Ole Opry and Elvis’s Graceland Mansion.
Tennessee is also blessed with abundant natural beauty. Explore the beautiful state and hike through the famous Smoky Mountains. See the splendid fall colors from Lookout Mountain.
Explore historic sites like Chattanooga National Military Park or Belle Meade Plantation or take a tour of the many museums.
Foodies can enjoy a variety of delicious Southern dishes from barbeque to biscuits and off course, the famous Nashville hot chicken.
Sip wine on a tour of the wineries along the way. Try some of the famous Jack Daniels whisky or Tennessee’s famous moonshine.
Tennessee road trip is one of the most underrated road trips in America and we definitely recommend it for everyone.
Best of Tennessee Road Trip Itinerary
Use our Tennessee road trip itinerary to explore a variety of natural, cultural, and historic attractions in the state.
Begin your Tennessee road trip in Memphis and then drive east towards Nashville and Smoky Mountains.
Finally, explore Chattanooga and the many attractions near Lookout Mountain.
Spend a minimum of 7 to 10 days to see all the highlights.
If you can spend only 4 or 5 days in Tennessee, then explore either the east or west or south or central Tennessee.
Western Tennessee is primarily Memphis and its surroundings.
The Memphis Area – 3 Days
Memphis is Tennessee’s largest city with a rich cultural heritage.
Memphis is known as the Blues Capital of the World and is especially famous for its live music venues and museums.
The Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum on Beale Street pays homage to the pioneers of soul and rock genres.
Visitors can listen to music clips, see costumes worn by stars, and explore other interesting artifacts about the city’s music scene.
Follow it up with a walk on Beale Street and listen to live music, buy souvenirs, and enjoy the nightlife.
The city is also famous for the Memphis style barbecue.
Eat the ribs and pulled pork at iconic spots like Rendezvous BBQ, Corky’s BBQ, and Central BBQ on your Tennessee trip. Search for your favorite by visiting them all!
Head to the trendy neighborhood of Overton Square for fine dining, amazing murals, and nightlife.
Elvis Presley and Graceland
Memphis is also home to Graceland, which was the former home of Elvis Presley.
On a tour of the historic mansion, you can see an extensive collection of costumes he wore on stage, his airplanes, as well as his famous Cadillac which was featured in many of his movies.
National Civil Rights Museum
Undoubtedly, no road trip to Memphis can be complete without visiting the National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated here in 1968 and the site has been converted into a museum that commemorates MLK’s life and legacy.
At the National Civil Rights Museum, you can learn about MLK’s history, come face-to-face with powerful artifacts from the movement, and explore exhibits on segregation.
Other Memphis Attractions
Families should visit the Memphis Zoo located in Midtown Memphis.
Take a photo of the charming Memphis bridge spanning the Mississippi River at night and also visit the beautiful Mud Island State Park.
Here you will find the famous Memphis sign which is a popular Instagram spot in the city.
After Memphis, continue your road trip in central Tennessee at Nashville.
Nashville – 3 Days
Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and has a rich history.
Spend a couple of family fun days in the city exploring the range of attractions.
Also Read: 3 Days in Nashville Itinerary
The Music City is the best place to visit in America for those who love country music.
It is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, the Bluebird Café, Johnny Cash Museum, and talented country stars.
Explore the famous honky tonk bars on Music Row located on Lower Broadway and 2nd Avenue.
You can explore all of Nashville’s musical attractions on foot or by bike by following the Music Trail.
Other Nashville Attractions
Besides the music venues, Nashville is packed with many other attractions that will make your trip unforgettable.
You can go hiking or biking, shop for boots and hats, kayak down the river, or just enjoy some of Nashville’s famous hot chicken at Hattie B’s or Prince’s.
Admire the Tennessee state capitol, take a history lesson at the Tennessee State Museum, and visit the Parthenon is Centennial Park.
Be sure to check the plenty of shops, bakeries, breweries and distilleries in town while you are there. Search for murals and street art.
After Nashville, you can drive towards Knoxville and the Smokies or visit some nearby attractions if you have the time.
South of Nashville, you will find Lynchburg and Franklin.
Optional: Jack Daniels Distillery, Lynchburg
A visit to Lynchburg is a must for any Jack Daniels enthusiast planning a road trip in Tennessee.
Located in the heart of the state, this historic distillery is home to the original recipe.
The distillery offers an interesting tour that educates visitors about how whiskey is made from start to finish.
The tour begins at their history center and moves on to warehouses, aging rooms, bottle lines, and barrels.
After your tour, sample some whiskey from the barrels at the George Green Barrel House and stop by the gift shop for souvenirs.
Besides the distillery, there are several other things to do in Lynchburg.
Explore the Moore County Courthouse, Old Jail Museum, and other buildings in the Lynchburg Historic District.
Try the BBQ at Barrel House or Caboose Cafe.
Go hiking at Tims Ford State Park and swim in the Tims Ford Lake.
Lynchburg is located 75 miles south of Nashville and can be reached in 1.5 hours.
Charming Franklin makes a perfect stop on the Tennessee road trip.
It is located just half an hour away from Nashville and can be seen in just half a day.
Franklin was the site for the Battle of Franklin, an important battle in the American Civil War.
The town is a haven for those who love to visit beautiful and historic attractions.
Tour the red brick Carnton House Museum and visit the Carter House State Historic Site, key sites in the Civil War.
Downtown Franklin is famous for its Historic Main Street and is great to take a stroll through charming architecture, eclectic shops, and eateries.
Optional: Natchez Trace Parkway
South of Nashville, you can explore a scenic section of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The 444 miles long Natchez Trace Parkway runs through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.
It begins near Franklin and this stretch of road is charming with rolling hills, lots of trees, and wildlife.
You will find attractions such as beautiful bridges, scenic Timberland Park, and gorgeous fall foliage.
After exploring the Nashville area, drive east on I-40 towards Knoxville for the eastern Tennessee road trip.
On the way, you can stop at Lebanon and take a detour towards Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Lebanon, located 25 miles east of Nashville, offers plenty of activities.
Enjoy the hiking trails at Cedars of Lebanon State Park and see Fiddlers Grive Historic Village.
Explore the Lebanon History Museum on a self guided tour and see the artifacts about the town’s past.
Optional: Burgess Falls State Park
Just 50 miles from Lebanon, you will find one of the most beautiful state parks in Tennessee.
Burgess Falls State Park is home to Burgess Falls, a waterfall on the Falling Water River.
The cascading waterfall drops 250 feet into a lush, mossy canyon and can be easily seen from the observation deck.
The park is very popular with hikers, photographers, and nature lovers.
We definitely recommend stopping here on your Tennessee road trip.
Optional: Fall Creek Falls State Park
Further south from Burgess Falls, you will find Fall Creek Falls State Park.
This park is home to beautiful waterfalls, several hiking trails, camp sites, and cabins.
Optional: Big South Fork National River Recreation Area
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is a scenic area on the Tennessee Kentucky border.
This outdoor paradise features whitewater rapids, hiking trails, swimming holes, limestone bridges, and much more.
The park offers various outdoor activities for people of all ages.
There are campgrounds and rustic cabins to stay in while visiting the park.
Next, visit eastern Tennessee’s famous Smoky mountain region.
The major towns here are Knoxville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge.
They make excellent bases to explore the national park during your Tennessee road trip.
Knoxville – 2 Days
Knoxville is a charming small city that has plenty of things to do for everyone from history buffs to outdoor enthusiasts.
Tour the 19th century buildings in the Historic Market Square district or visit the Knoxville Museum of Art.
Take a scenic drive through the many Riverfront Parks where you can enjoy views of the Tennessee River and enjoy walking trails by its banks.
You may also want to visit the World’s Fair Park which is home to the iconic Sunsphere tower and observation deck.
The tower was built for the World’s Fair of 1982 and has panoramic views of the area.
There’s always something cool going on in Knoxville including farmers markets, live music events, and festivals.
Optional – Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is a great place to visit for old-fashioned fun and excitement on your Tennessee road trip.
In Pigeon Forge, you will find plenty of amusement parks, attractions, and shows including Dollywood, Titanic Museum, and Dixie Stampede show.
Gatlinburg – 1 Day
Gatlinburg, a charming town in the Smokies, serves as the gateway to the national park.
In addition to the national park, Gatlinburg has plenty of attractions and activities for all ages.
The downtown area has plenty of shops, galleries, breweries, distilleries, museums, and restaurants.
Ober Gatlinburg is a mountain-top amusement park with a ski area and gondola rides.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 3 Days
Finally, time for the highlight of your Tennessee road trip!
The Great Smoky Mountains National park is our favorite national park to visit in the fall.
The park is home to black bears, elk, wild turkeys, and whitetail deer. Visitors can enjoy nature in the area by camping, picnicking, hiking, and scenic drives.
Following are some of our favorite areas to explore within the Great Smoky Mountains.
Read our 3 Days in Smoky Mountains itinerary here.
Drive the scenic 11 miles long Cades Cove Loop Road to see historic buildings and log cabins built by early settlers as well as a working Grist Mill.
Cades Cove is one of the most popular places to visit and famous for its fall colors.
Clingman’s Dome is the highest mountain top in the Smoky Mountains.
A short but strenuous trail will take you to an observation tower on its summit. From here, you can enjoy 360-degree views of the gorgeous landscape!
Other attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains national park include Fontana Lake, Abrams Falls Trail, Gregory Bald trail, and Roaring Fork Motor Trail.
After exploring the Smokies, head south towards Chattanooga and southern Tennessee.
Along the way, you can road trip a section of the scenic Cherohala Skyway.
Optional: Cherohala Skyway
The Cherohala Skyway is a scenic byway that connects Tellico Plains in Tennessee with North Carolina.
The winding road passes through the Cherokee National Forest and Nantahala National Forest and is just spectacular.
Be sure to explore the charming mountain town of Tellico Plains while you are there.
Take a stroll around town and explore the Charles Hall Museum.
Hike to waterfalls such as Bald River falls and Baby Falls.
Chattanooga – 2 Days
Chattanooga is a beautiful historic city with a quaint downtown, beautiful bridges, and trendy restaurants.
The Tennessee Aquarium is a fun attraction in Chattanooga where visitors can see dolphin, turtles, and fish.
The city has plenty of outdoor activities for everyone including biking, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and fishing.
Optional: Tennessee River Gorge
The River Gorge is a spectacular sight to see while in Chattanooga.
The gorge with its steep rock cliffs and bluffs was carved in the Cumberland plateau by the Tennessee river.
Visitors can hike across the many trails in the gorge or just sit back and enjoy the scenery from overlooks such as Signal Point.
Visitors can also enjoy many outdoor activities in the area like kayaking or hiking to scenic waterfalls and having a picnic lunch overlooking the gorge.
Lookout Mountain – 1 Day
This beautiful mountain town is located near Chattanooga and makes a great day trip from the city.
It has many fun attractions including Rock City Garden, Ruby Falls, ziplines, as well as historic sites.
Ruby Falls is one of Chattanooga’s top attractions.
At Ruby Falls, visitors can descend into an underground cave to see the spectacular 145 feet tall waterfall.
Seeing the sparkling waterfall drop down into the cavern is an amazing experience and hence, definitely worth adding to your Tennessee road trip.
Rock City Garden
Rock City Garden is located at the top of Rock City Mountain.
This garden is filled with beautiful wildflowers, cacti, as well as large shady trees that will make you feel like you’re walking through a magical forest.
At the end of the trail, you can see the famous view of the Seven States.
While you can drive the car up the mountain, consider the alternative Incline Railway for an amazing fun adventure.
The Incline Railway is a funicular railway that will take you up the side of Lookout Mountain to an observation deck with spectacular views.
This one-hour round trip journey is well worth it!
Best Time to Visit Tennessee
The best time to plan a Tennessee road trip is in the spring or fall.
Tennessee winters are cold while the summers can get very hot with temperatures often topping out at over 100 degrees!
In spring, you will find colorful wildflowers including azaleas and dogwoods blooming all over the state.
Fall is especially gorgeous with colorful foliage and beautiful weather.
The whole state looks stunning in the fall, undoubtedly, the Smoky Mountains are a highlight of the fall trip!
We hope you liked our ultimate Tennessee road trip itinerary.
Did we miss out any details or must visit spots? Let us know in the comments.
More Tennessee Destination Guides
We have several other destination guides about the best places to visit in Tennessee such as Nashville, Memphis, Smokies, as well as Gatlinburg.
Check out our related blog posts to plan your Tennessee road trip itinerary.
Explore our favorite road trips in America
Plan your next vacation by going on some of our favorite road trips in the country.
Find road trip planners as well as recommendations for what to see and do, where to stay, etc.