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‚Ķ)

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.

Memphis

How to Support the Black Community in Memphis Right Now

From nonprofits and community organizations to restaurants and bookstores.

City Tasting Box
City Tasting Box
City Tasting Box

None of the music, food, and culture that Memphis is so renowned for would exist if it weren’t for the Black community that gave rise to it. And right now, in the wake of a global pandemic that has no end in sight to the continued racial inequalities in the United States, the Black community needs the support of all Memphis.

“It’s important to support Black business now more than ever because we are going through a global pandemic,” says Cynthia Daniels, founder of Cynthia Daniel and Co. and creator of Memphis Black Restaurant Week and Juneteenth Shop Black Virtual Experience. “While the numbers are much higher than they were six months ago, it is still hard for Black businesses, they have to rely on grants and loans. But now more than ever, the community is trying to rally around the ones choosing to stick through the pandemic and support them as much as we can.”

You can support the Black businesses, restaurants, and nonprofits that make our city what it is in a variety of ways-including donating money, volunteering your time to community efforts, and being deliberate about patronizing black establishments. Here are a few of the ways you can do your part.

Michael Gordon/Shutterstock
Michael Gordon/Shutterstock
Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

Donate to nonprofits and community efforts

Memphis is a giving city and consistently ranked as one of the most generous places in the country. There’s a multitude of nonprofits, social justice organizations, and community programs to support, including Black Lives Matter MemphisNAACP MemphisMemphis Artists for Change, National Civil Rights Museum, Juice Orange Mound, Historic Clayborn Temple, Memphis Black Arts Alliance, The CLTV (Collective), Memphis Slim Collaboratory, and so many more. 
 
Journalism plays a critical role in bringing awareness and drawing attention to where justice is needed. You can donate to MLK50: Justice Through Journalism.  It’s a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to creating change and awareness to causes aligned with the views of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Getting yourself educated and fully understanding the history that shaped African-American history in the United States is essential. Visit The Wither’s Collection and Gallery that showcases the works of photojournalist Ernest C. Withers, who captured many significant moments during the Civil Rights Movement. There’s close to 1.8 million of Withers images in archive, some available for viewing and purchase online. The Wither Collection and Gallery accepts donations and also has an array of books online available for purchase.

City Tasting Box
City Tasting Box
City Tasting Box

Support these black-owned restaurants

Feed your soul at the Four Way Grill Restaurant. Martin Luther King frequented it during the Civil Rights Movements. This soul food restaurant has been a staple in the Soulsville Neighborhood since 1946, a neighborhood that birthed sounds of Memphis soul music at Stax Records and Royal Studios. And you can’t talk about Memphis’s soul food without mentioning Alcenia’s Restaurant, owned and operated in the Pinch District by B.J Chester-Tamayo since 1997. 

Snatch a rack of ribs from Payne’s Bar-B-Que or Cozy Corner; they’ve spent over 40 years serving the best barbecue in the world’s barbecue capital. If BBQ isn’t your thing, then head over to Chings Hot Wings and try another Memphis classic: their honey gold hot wings. 

Got a sweet tooth?  Check out Margie’s 901 Homemade Ice Cream and Cakes, Suga Mama Snow Balls, Phillip Ashely Chocolates, and Makeda’s Cookies

Capture the many flavors of Memphis by taking a food-tasting tour with Cristina McCarter. She’s the owner of City Tasting Tours, and City Tasting Box, which allows visitors and locals to experience a variety of Memphis restaurants. Looking for additional black restaurants to support, check out Edible Memphis Black-owned restaurants guide.

Patronize local Black-owned businesses

Gift yourself some artwork from the talented vibe curator and brand consultant Eso Tolson. He creates work rooted in affirmation, pride, and community.  Eso turned some of his most popular social media posts into works of art. He took his phrases like “Make Dope Stuff Every Day” and “Black History is American History” into wearable and shareable art.  

“Supporting black businesses goes beyond buying their products and paying for their services. We have to give them a fighting chance, share knowledge, resources, and provide access to loans and capital funding for their businesses. We have to reimagine how we think about black businesses and not treat them like a charity case. Support them beyond a month, beyond the trend, because Black Businesses Matter,” says Eso Tolson.

Signup for a subscription or advertise your business with The New Tri-State Defender newspaper. They have been serving the Memphis community since 1951, and supporting them ensures that black Memphians have a place where all their stories and experiences can be shared and heard. 

Purchase season tickets to Hattilo Theatre. It’s currently celebrating its 15th season and is the only freestanding Black repertory theater in the five surrounding states near Memphis. Support other black theater and production companies LilyRoze Studios founded by Nadia Matthews and Princeton James Productions-which not only produce plays but create spaces for black youth to be introduced to the arts. Support the Collage Dance Collective, one of the largest black-owned dance schools in the south that increases professional ballet access and diversity.

Commission videographer Jason Thibodeaux the owner of Millennium Media Label or photographer Ziggy Mack owner of Fomoloop Photography for your next event or creative project. Take A Tour of Possibilities with Carolyn Michael-Banks, who takes visitors and locals on a journey in Memphis showcasing the city’s African-American History. 

Finally, support organizations like Black Business Association of MemphisLove Memphis Buy Memphis, and Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum that provide support and access to black owned businesses.Sign up here for our daily Memphis email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Blues City.

Milton Howery III, aka “Milton Memphis,” is a writer, publicist, creative, music entertainment professional, and a Memphis native. Follow him on Instagram.

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