Memphis

The Best Weekend Getaways Near Memphis

Flickr/Thomas Hawk
Flickr/Thomas Hawk
Flickr/Thomas Hawk

No matter how much we love living in Memphis, we can all use a bit of road therapy from time to time. Fill up the gas tank, roll down the windows, and feel the wind in your hair for a few hours and see how great you feel. All of that fun stuff going on in Memphis will still be here when you get back. These the best day trips in the tri-state area — all within a three-hour drive.

Holly Whitfield 
Holly Whitfield 
Holly Whitfield 

Best Woodsy Getaway: Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

Distance from Memphis: 17 miles, 25-minute drive

Meeman-Shelby Forest is the closest and cheapest place to escape city life completely. The hilly Woodland Trail, near the visitors center, has three interlocking loops so you can run, walk, or hike 1, 3, or 4 miles (or any multiple thereof if you’re feeling extra CrossFit). Seasonal summer rangers lead nature hikes, pontoon boat rides on Poplar Tree Lake, and occasional canoe trips in the cypress swamps. The Shelby Forest General Store is a great place to load up on snacks or get a juicy burger. Stop by on Friday nights for steak and live bluegrass. There’s also an olympic-sized pool that almost no one knows about. Do with that information what you will.

Best Curated Getaway: Wilson, AR

Distance from Memphis: 45 miles from downtown, 46-minute drive

Wilson, population 900, is owned by Gaylon Lawrence Jr., managed by John Faulkner, and branded by Memphis ad agency Loaded for Bear. All this is to say, they’ve thought of everything. Get a cup of coffee at the Welcome Center. Stop in for a blue plate lunch or upscale dinner at the delicious Wilson Cafe. Do some shopping at the Wilson Pharmacy or White’s Mercantile — a modern mercantile store opened by Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter. Visit the Hampson Archaeological Museum. Stop by the Grange for a special event or a look at the gardens.

Flickr/Sheila Brennan
Flickr/Sheila Brennan
Flickr/Sheila Brennan

Best Camping Getaway: Village Creek State Park

Distance from Memphis: 50 miles, one-hour drive

Arkansas’ second-largest state park is right over the Mississippi Bridge on Crowley’s Ridge. The rolling hills and hardwood forest are great for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There are lakes for fishing and boating. There’s even a hardcore 27-hole, Andy Dye signature golf course. There are beautiful views, a swinging bridge, and the longest preserved section of the Trail of Tears. Three-bedroom cabins are available for $95-$140 per night.

Flickr/JR P
Flickr/JR P
Flickr/JR P

Best Hill Country Getaway: Holly Springs, MS

Distance from Memphis: 50 miles, one-hour drive

You can get a taste of history, home cooking, and hill country music all in one short drive. Park your car and take a walking tour of Holly Springs’ antebellum homes, then grab a steaming-hot burger over at Phillips Grocery. There are several museums to choose from too — The Kate Freeman Clark Museum, Marshall County Historical Museum, and the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum. Don’t forget the Hillcrest Cemetery and save room for a meat & three at Annie’s Restaurant.

Best Beef-centric Getaway: Como, MS

Distance from Memphis: 47 miles, 47-minute drive

Como is for meat lovers. Take a tour of Home Place Pastures where they humanely raise cows and pigs, hold fancy dinners, casual oyster roasts, and live music. Take a cooler to fill at the farm store, then head into town for a burger and billiard’s at June’s place, better known as Como Billiards. The Como Steakhouse is also a guaranteed good time and a great place to fill your belly. Lovers of architecture can do a self guided tour of Andrew Johnson buildings.

Flickr/Paul Barrows
Flickr/Paul Barrows
Flickr/Paul Barrows

Best Beer Connoisseurs Getaway: Little Rock, AR

Distance from Memphis: 136 miles, two-hour drive

Locally Labeled” is a self-guided tour of 10 local breweries and distilleries (Rock Town Distillery, BoBrook Farms, An Enchanting Evening Winery, Stone’s Throw, Lost Forty Brewing, Blue Canoe, Damgoode Pies, Diamond Bear, and Vino’s). Though, obviously if you visit them all, it might cease to be a day trip. (If you have to choose one, start at Lost Forty!) Little Rock is also a great place to have lunch/dinner/any meal of the day — Cheese dip trail, anyone? — and get some shopping done. And let’s not forget the great hiking on Pinnacle Mountain or a cone of Loblolly ice cream that you can eat down the street at the Bernice Garden (sculpture garden). Or spend a few hours at The Dust Bowl — an old school eight lane bowling alley.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist
Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist
Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Best Paddling Getaway: LaGrange

Distance from Memphis: 55 miles, one-hour drive

Floating through a cypress forest should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Ghost River section of the Wolf is breathtaking. LaGrange, Tennessee is the put-in, and the takeout is just east of Moscow, at Bateman Bridge. It’s about 14 miles on the river and can take anywhere from three to five hours to paddle, depending on the water level. There are two canoe and kayak outfitters, Wolf River Canoe and Ghost River Rentals, which can help with gear and the particulars. Above Moscow, the river is super-clean, spring-fed water, so you can and should take swim breaks. Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat.

Flickr/JR P
Flickr/JR P
Flickr/JR P

Best Literary Minded Getaway: Oxford, MS

Distance from Memphis: 75 miles, 90-minute drive

This college town has a lot more to offer than just football games. There are several top-notch restaurants to try, most of which are owned by John Currence — City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast, BourĂ©, and Snackbar. Saint Leo is a must for pizza and pasta lovers. And it would be silly to leave without having a meal at the Ajax Diner. The End of All Music is a great record store and Square Books is a book lover’s paradise — both are on the square. Once you get your literary juices flowing, pop over to Rowan Oak, home to William Faulkner and his family for more than 40 years. There’s no fee to visit the grounds, but there is a $5 cost for house admission. Pro tip: Thacker Mountain Radio is Oxford’s version of A Prairie Home Companion. They have a fantastic house band that plays with visiting musicians, and there are always authors hanging around as well. It’s recorded live every Thursday night at Off Square Books.

“Best Memphis” Getaway: West Memphis, AR

Distance from Memphis: 9 miles from downtown, 16-minute drive

Those in the know call it Best Memphis for a reason. Sure, they have gambling and medicinal marijuana, but they also have the original Pancho’s for margs and cheese dip, the bar at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building for a cheap Bud Light, CJ’s Blues Club for late night dancing, and lots of long, country roads to take your mind off of city life. For a more wholesome visit, try Big John’s Shake Shack, the Sultana Museum, and a stroll through Mound City.

Flickr/Roger Hsu
Flickr/Roger Hsu
Flickr/Roger Hsu

Best Delta Blues Getaway: Clarksdale, MS

Distance from Memphis: 75 miles, 90-minute drive

Steeped in Delta flavor, this North Mississippi town is the home of the mythical Blues Crossroads — as in where one might sell their soul to the Devil. You may meet more international music fans on the pilgrimage from Chicago to New Orleans, than American tourists. Have a meal at the Hooker Grocery or a burger at Kenoy’s. Pop in to Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art for books and records. The Shack Up Inn, built on the former Hopson Plantation, is a great place to spend the night should you decide to stay up late at Red’s Lounge (one of the last legit juke joints in the world). Check the schedule as the town hosts a plethora of festivals.

Best Safari Getaway: Alamo, TN

Distance from Memphis: 80 miles, 90-minute drive

Get up close and personal with a variety of animals, some of which you may not have known existed. The Tennessee Safari Park is open year-round, seven days a week. You purchase buckets of food at the gate, receive minimal instruction on protecting your thumbs, and then you are free to drive through and feed the animals. Hungry ostriches wait for you at the gate so they can follow you through the entire park, stick their heads in your car, and do everything in their power to eat all of your food. It’s both hilarious and a little scary. It takes about an hour to go through the park, and there is also a petting zoo, snack bar, picnic area, and restrooms.

Jamie Harmon
Jamie Harmon
Jamie Harmon

Best Daredevil Getaway: Heber Springs, AR

Distance from Memphis: 150 miles, just under a three-hour drive

Everyone needs to cliff jump at the Dam Site Recreation Area. There is a swimming area and a sandy beach for babies, young kids, and anyone not into cliff jumping. The cliffs vary in height from 3 to 30 feet. There are some that are perfect for young kids and really high ones for daredevils. There are picnic tables in some areas that have trees for shade. Bring a pop-up tent, sunscreen, towels, water shoes/sandals, a hat, and a rolling cooler with lots of hydrating liquids and food.

Best Outdoorsy Getaway: Hardy, AR

Distance from Memphis: 130 miles, two-hour drive

Hardy is the perfect place to enjoy the Ozark Mountains, the Spring River, and small-town charm. The Shops of Old Town Hardy are all housed in buildings built in the 1890s, including a goth shop for your inner angsty teenager. Main Street eateries to try: Leaves & Beans, Crosseyed Catfish, and Vanilla Cowgirl. Spring River Eatery serves Southern comfort food and healthy fare and features live music Thursday-Saturday, some Sundays (folk, country, and blues musicians from around the country, as well as local talent). Summer Music on the Street, a free event, is held every Saturday in Dr. Thompson Park on Main Street from noon-2pm, sometimes longer. Buford Beach has a boat launch, playground, picnic tables, a ball field, a swim area, floating, tubing, and fishing off-bank, all free. 3 Rivers Outfitters offers float trips from two to eight hours and kayak & canoe rentals. Griffin Park has horseback riding, fishing & swimming.Sign up here for our daily Memphis email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Blues City.

Stacey Greenberg is willing to drive to any of these places with very little notice. She’s the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys.

Memphis

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Tennessee

Get some fresh air.

Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr

As the late Charlie Daniels famously used to say, “Ain’t it good to be alive, and be in Tennessee!” That’s because Tennessee truly is a special state filled with beautiful places. If you’re of a mind to travel, here are some of the most breathtaking sites and sights across the state.

Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock
Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock
Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock

Big South Fork

Oneida
Named for the major tributary of the Cumberland River, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area covers almost 200 square miles along the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. Boasting many natural bridge and arch formations, an extensive system of hiking trails, and five developed campgrounds, Big South Fork has something to offer for adventurers at any level of experience looking to get out into the wild.

Alisha Bube/Shutterstock
Alisha Bube/Shutterstock
Alisha Bube/Shutterstock

Fall Creek Falls

Spencer
The gorgeous cataract is the tallest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi. Beautiful from above, the 256-foot tall falls is even more impressive after taking the hike down to the pool at its base. It’s worth the hike back up to the parking lot afterward, we promise

Weidman Photography/Shutterstock
Weidman Photography/Shutterstock
Weidman Photography/Shutterstock

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Gatlinburg
The most-visited national park in the United States draws more than 10 million tourists a year to marvel at close to a thousand square miles of dense forests and mountain ranges that exhibit remarkable biodiversity. Drive or hike through the park to one of many scenic overlooks to spy the beautiful fog-shrouded peaks that give the ancient mountains their name.

Bluegrass Underground
Bluegrass Underground
Bluegrass Underground

The Caverns

Pelham
This cave complex outside the small town of Pelham just off of Interstate 24 is a dual threat. Not only does it host daily cave tours featuring a single room that’s longer than three football fields, giving the attraction its former name of Big Room Cave, but it’s also a premier performance venue. Currently, the spot has established a series of concerts in an above-ground amphitheater where music fans can purchase socially distanced pods of seats overlooking the sweeping vistas of Payne’s Cove below.

Oleg Shpyrko/Flickr
Oleg Shpyrko/Flickr
Oleg Shpyrko/Flickr

Cherohala Skyway

Tellico Plains
The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile stretch of elevated highway connecting Tennessee with North Carolina and features multiple overlooks offering views of the Unicoi Mountains and the two national forests through which it passes, the Cherokee and Nantahala forests that combine to give the skyway its name. A favorite of motorcyclists, the Cherohala is one of the greatest scenic drives in the region.

Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr

Walls of Jericho

Belvidere
Once hidden away on private land, the Walls of Jericho is still rarely visited since it’s a pretty grueling hike in and out of the 8,900-acre wilderness area. Those that make the trek are rewarded with multiple waterfalls and rippling creeks along the way to their final destination, a dramatic natural amphitheater with 200-foot sheer rock walls that seep water from the Turkey Creek to create a dramatic water feature.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Clingmans Dome

Bryson City
Visitors can literally look down on the state of Tennessee from this peak, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The observation tower is surrounded by a rare evergreen forest and affords a wraparound view that reaches 100 miles on a clear day. As a bonus, there aren’t many mountain tops where you can drive all the way to the apex and park your car a short walk along a paved trail to find breathtaking views like these.

Flickr/Guillaume Capron
Flickr/Guillaume Capron
Flickr/Guillaume Capron

Reelfoot Lake

Samburg
Tennessee’s only major natural lake (you can thank the TVA for all those great reservoirs), Reelfoot Lake was formed when a series of earthquakes along the New Madrid fault in 1811-12 actually caused the Mississippi River to run backwards and fill in the land in northwestern Tennessee that had subsided due to the tremors. Known for gorgeous bald cypress trees, Reelfoot is known as paradise for fishermen and duck hunters. Bird watchers can also spy numerous nesting pairs of bald eagles.

Flickr/Joel Kramer
Flickr/Joel Kramer
Flickr/Joel Kramer

The Lost Sea

Sweetwater
Tucked in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, The Lost Sea is the nation’s largest underground lake at almost five acres. Beautiful subterranean features such as stalactites, stalagmites, and delicate crystal anthodites are visible as part of glass-bottom boat tours called The Lost Sea Adventure. Wild cave tours are also available for more intrepid spelunkers who want to go even deeper into the cavern.

Wayne Silver
Wayne Silver
Wayne Silver

Townsend

Townsend
Known as “The Peaceful Side of the Smoky Mountains,” Townsend is the least-crowded entrance into the national park. Even if you don’t ever actually cross into the park, the views from Townsend where the Cumberland Plateau meets the Tennessee Valley and the Smokies is breathtaking.

Flickr/HD_Vision
Flickr/HD_Vision
Flickr/HD_Vision

Twin Falls

Rock Island
Rock Island was created when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Caney Fork River in the early 20th century to help provide hydroelectric power to Nashville. The resulting reservoir has steep wooded banks leading down to the lake with lots of generations-old vacation homes taking full advantage of floating boat docks and water activities. Twin Falls is a striking cascade near the powerhouse where water flows out of an underground cave before falling 80ft into a pool below.

Flickr/Matthew Paulson
Flickr/Matthew Paulson
Flickr/Matthew Paulson

Cades Cove
Cades Cove

Sometimes the valley can be just as beautiful as the mountains, and Cades Coves at the foothills of the Smokies is an excellent example. An 11-mile one-way loop circles the cove offering the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty and abundant wildlife of the verdant valley without ever leaving the comfort of your car. There are also some cool historical sites along the loop, including three churches, a working grist mill, and other restored centuries-old structures. Grab a self-guided tour booklet at the entrance and take a drive through history.

Flickr/L P
Flickr/L P
Flickr/L P

Crystal Shrine Grotto

Memphis
A true oddity, Crystal Shrine Grotto is the largest man-made crystal cavern in the world. Crafted in the 1930s by artist Dionicio Rodriguez (a self-taught sculptor from Mexico), Crystal Shrine is a sort-of-kitschy/sort-of-beautiful retelling of scenes from the Bible illustrated in sculptures made using rock quartz crystal and semiprecious stones. Once you pass through the hole in a large concrete stump, you’ll be entering into a magical world.

Flickr/J. P. Lu
Flickr/J. P. Lu
Flickr/J. P. Lu

Tellico Plains

Tellico Plains
Located where the Tellico River emerges from the Appalachian Mountains, Tellico Plains is a prototypical sleepy little mountain town with picturesque landscapes of rolling fields, ancient barns down below, and spectacular mountain views looming from above. With easy access to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest nearby, Tellico Plains is a lovely home base for a weekend of outdoor adventures.

Flickr/Tim Moore
Flickr/Tim Moore
Flickr/Tim Moore

Natchez Trace Parkway

Fly
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile-long drive from Nashville to Natchez, MS. Although it’s slow going thanks to a 55 mph speed limit, it’s worth taking your time to enjoy the pastoral scenery and historical markers along the way that trace the history of the original inhabitants and settlers of the region. Particularly striking is the concrete double arch bridge across Highway 96 near Fly close to the northern terminus of the parkway. Acrophobics might want to close their eyes when crossing. (But not if you’re driving…)

Flickr/Brent Moore
Flickr/Brent Moore
Flickr/Brent Moore

Falls Mill

Belvidere
Although the latest round of health regulations forced the 140-plus-year-old mill to cease commercial operations, the waterwheel is still turning at this historic facility near Belvidere. In addition to a bed and breakfast and a museum of antique, water-powered machinery and even a dog-powered butter churn, Falls Mill is worth a visit just to sit in the placid picnic grounds along the creek to listen to the stream cascading across the wheel and into the pool below. Spring foliage is particularly dramatic in the woods surrounding the mill.

Chris Chamberlain is a Nashville writer — follow him on Twitter at @CeeElCee.

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