16 Must-Visit Small Towns in Tennessee
Considering visiting Tennessee, but you don’t want to only pick the standard towns and tourist attractions? Perhaps you want to pick a small and relaxing town, while still having plenty of options to explore and see. You won’t be disappointed with these small towns in Tennessee. They are ones that anyone who loves history or antiques needs to add to their list
Despite being a small town nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there’s still an abundance of things to do and see. You can choose to get a hotel in the center of town or rent one of the scenic mountain cabins just on the outskirts. Gatlinburg is often known as “the gateway to the Smoky Mountains” because of where it sits.
There are quite a few places to eat in Gatlinburg. Try out one of the local restaurants or pack a picnic and find a nice place to sit and snack at one of the many scenic areas in the town. There are quite a few homemade treats as well, including taffy and fudge.
For those who like outdoor adventures, check out the skylift ride that takes you over a glass-bottom bridge. You can also try out zip-lining, mountain coasters, treetop walkways, and more at Anakeesta.
If you want to be indoors, there are plenty of museums in the area, including ones of famous cars and pinball machines. The Aquarium of the Smokies offers views of penguins, piranhas, anableps, and much more!
Despite the population being low, as it sits a little under 4,000 people, there are an estimated 12,000 tourists that visit this little town annually. This means you get the community and space that comes with small towns, but the economy of larger towns and cities.
2. Bell Buckle
Bell Buckle is a small town that started as nothing more than a railroad village. While the population hasn’t grown much, at 399 or so people, it’s still a quaint little town to visit. It’s the perfect place for those who like the slower lifestyle.
Like many small towns, it’s full of art galleries and antique shops. If you are into antiquing, you won’t want to miss Bell Buckle. It’s also the home of the Bell Buckle Cafe, a world-famous cafe full of classic Southern hospitality and comforting homemade cooking.
Besides antiques and the restaurant, the town is also known for its country music, quilts, and other homemade crafts. No matter where you’re from, you feel right at home and a part of the community wherever in the town you go.
If you like Cola and MoonPies, then you’ll want to visit Bell Buckle in June. That’s when they have their famous RC Cola-MoonPie Festival. It runs all day and celebrates the two beloved treats in the area. Get yourself a fresh MoonPie and a bottle of RC Cola. There’s a contest to see who traveled the furthest to visit the festival, lots of games, and music to give you a chance to appreciate the area fully.
Jonesborough pushes the limit a little on the term “small town”. It’s actually a little closer to a medium-sized town as it has a population of close to 6,000 people. It’s nestled between three bigger cities in the area, Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked just because of that.
It’s the oldest town in Tennessee. It was founded in 1779, which was 17 years before Tennessee was even considered a state. If you want to learn more about the history of Tennessee, then you have to stop for a visit. It’s full of history museums that offer tales of the state’s growth and important pieces in shaping the town’s heritage. There are even guided tours around the town that show off historic buildings and tales of the people who used to live in the area.
Jonesborough is also home to a building known as the International Storytelling Center. As the name suggests, it’s a building dedicated to storytelling. It even hosts the annual National Storytelling Festival where performers come from all over the world to celebrate stories. Because of this event, Jonesborough is often called “the storytelling capital of the world” alongside its title of “The oldest town in Tennessee”.
There’s another festival in June, known as the Jonesborough Days Festival. It’s a great event, where locals and visitors all get together and mingle. There are plenty of activities for everyone to try out and a lot of displays of the local talent.
4. Leiper’s Fork
Located right outside of Franklin, Leiper’s Fork is a tiny little town. Despite that, it’s home to a rather famous person, Justin Timberlake. It was also the home of other famous people like Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. The popularity of its residents hasn’t managed to increase the population much, as there are only about 650 people.
The town has a bit of its own flair. It’s a town that’s kept much of its historic charm thanks to the preservation of the town square and many of the buildings. Many of the buildings are home to art galleries and studios. There are even a few restaurants, full of delicious food and live music, like Foxe and Lock (the original).
It’s not just this small town that’s worth a visit, there are also plenty of hiking routes and paths around the town that are perfect for a leisurely walk or a horseback ride. Then you get back, check out the distillery, that still makes whiskey the old-fashioned way.
Also known as “the Peaceful Side of the Smokies”, there’s a lot to do, and a lot of ways to relax. Of course, you can’t visit the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without paying the park a little of a visit. There are plenty of hiking trails, waterfalls, and all sorts of wildlife to see, such as deer, bears, and birds.
There are also a few history museums, such as the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum and the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center to let you learn about the jobs that allowed the city to grow and the history of the land.
There are several delicious places to eat including small bistros for light snacking and a steakhouse for when you need a filling meal. Fill up before heading out onto the water for tubing, fishing, or floating.
Granville is considered to be a utopia hidden away in Tennessee. It only has a population of about 470 and not many people know about this town. It was home to former US Senator and Al Gore’s father Albert Gore, Sr.
It’s only an hour away from Nashville, but it’s amazing how it feels like it’s in an entirely different part of the world. In Granville, no one’s in a rush, and everyone knows each other intimately. It’s not even well-known enough to be a big tourist trap. Just the locals and the people that stumble across this hidden gem.
If you want to learn more, the residents of the town do offer a tour of the town for only a few dollars. You can learn about the locals and the buildings. You also have the chance to see some of the highlights such as the popular museums (I Love Lucy, anyone?) and the saloon.
Located just within Cherokee National Forest, Erwin offers some of the most amazing sights you’ll ever see. You will find mountains surrounding you as well as the Nolichucky River to play in. The town is also right on the Appalachian Trail.
This town provides you the comfort and easy walking distance of a downtown part of a city but the whole town feels that way. There are plenty of craft and art studios, including pottery. There’s also a coffee shop, and a store to supply you with all the items you need for survival in the great outdoors and the tools you need for outdoor sports.
Because it’s right on the trail, the town never gets a lot of visitors at once, but there’s a pretty regular stream of them as people meet up with their friends who are hiking or people stop by and refill their rations for the long trail.
As another small town just an hour away from Nashville, Hohenwald is rather unknown. It does have a fairly good population though, pushing at about 3,800. The most interesting part is that if you haven’t seen the town before, you’d never be able to guess what it has in store for its guests.
Did you ever expect to find an elephant sanctuary in the heart of Tennessee? Well, if you visit Hohenwald, that’s exactly what you’ll find. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee focuses on providing captive elephants the enrichment and needs they need, while also providing information on the crisis that wild elephants face every day. The sanctuary is home to both Asian and African elephants.
That’s not all the town offers. You can find history about Lewis and Clark. Meriwether Lewis was buried seven miles east of Hohenwald in 1809 and many museums talk about the expedition in detail for those that are curious. There’s also a wine trail, a wilderness preserve (separate from the sanctuary), and a parkway to check out in this park.
9 . Sewanee
Sewanee is a small town that’s home to the University of the South. It started as a railroad village in the 1840s. Since then, the population has increased to 2,700. There are more people in this town most of the year, however, thanks to the small college.
The University of the South opened in 1858 after the Episcopal Church purchased 5,000 acres of land from the local mining company. Now, the church stretches out over 13,000 acres. It’s a great place to get an education and spend time exploring the great outdoors.
The town itself is full of historic buildings and retail shops. There’s even the Sewanee Inn for a cozy and historical feel when you stop for a visit. The town has only one requirement for its visitors, and that’s you always stop and say hello to the locals who greet you. The town promises that whether you’re going to college, vacationing in the area, or moving into town, you won’t feel like a stranger for long.
Monteagle is the perfect place for those who love the great outdoors. It’s full of beautiful woodlands and scenic marshes, as well as streams and beautiful trails. You may even stumble across scenic waterfalls if you’re lucky.
The town started in 1792 with a land grant from John Bostick. Then, in 1855, the Mountain Goat Railroad was built. The railroad first from Cowan to Sewanee and then to Monteagle Tracy City. The town wasn’t officially named, however, until 1962.
The town is rich in history, with famous names being in the area including Al Capone, Andrew Lytle, Conference Center, Hamper McBee, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and Rosa Parks.
There are plenty of places to stay and eat. Find comforting chains you know and love, or give some of the local fare a chance. You even have the option of places to stay. Something cozy like an inn or lodge may appeal to you, or you can try a life of luxury with a nice hotel.
11. Tellico Plains
Don’t want to choose between water and mountains? Tellico Plains is the place for you. It’s located at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, but also has rivers, streams, and lakes all around the town. It’s inside the Cherokee National Forest, which means there are plenty of options for fishing, hiking, camping, and birdwatching.
There’s even a waterfall not so very far away. The Bald River Falls is only twenty minutes from Tellico. This waterfall is 90 feet tall and is a picture-perfect destination.
There are a lot of community events and fairs in Tellico Plains as well. If you want to get to know the locals and feel like a part of the community, you have to visit the area during the Candlelight Walk or the Christmas Parade.
If you decide to stop by Rogersville, it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t spend the night in Hale Springs Inn. It’s a historic hotel that’s been preserved and once housed presidents such as Andrew Jackson.
There are a lot of historic sites in the town. Many of them functioning like normal buildings, such as the Hawkins County Courthouse. There are many historic sites as well that haven’t been touched and remain empty for guests to explore.
If you like water, the Cherokee Reservoir isn’t all that far away. There’s a riverwalk alongside the Holston River that lets you keep an eye on the water, flora, and fauna in the area.
After your walk, you’re bound to be hungry. There are plenty of restaurants that cater to southern-style home-cooked food that you won’t be able to get enough of. There are also many different concerts and plays throughout the year worth a visit.
One of the biggest draws for tourists to Lynchburg is the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. The distillery lets you take a guided tour and learn more about the whiskey-making process. Of course, at the end, you also get some delicious samples.
Like other small towns in Tennessee, there are plenty of museums and historic sites. A lot of the ones in Lynchburg tend to focus on the prison process including a museum of old jail cells.
There’s the wonderful Wiseman Park. It’s a big open green space that you can use for camping, playing sports with your family, having a picnic, or just sitting under a tree and reading. If you want to relax a little further out of town, you can also drive down to Short Springs State Natural Area. It’s full of waterfalls, hiking trails, and plenty of natural beauty.
14. Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood, which is an entertainment complex and theme park made by Dolly Parton. There are rides, shows, and a rich history to entertain anyone, even if they aren’t a fan of the singer. If you want to stick with celebrities for your whole trip, you also have to check out Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen one night.
There are many other places to keep you entertained throughout the town as well, including a museum about the Titanic and an interactive science museum for kids and adults. There are also theaters and dinner shows if you enjoy a good performance.
Of course, with the town being located close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can also spend all your time out in the wilderness. There are enough options in Pigeon Ford that you can do anything you want
Shiloh doesn’t just have a few museums. It claims that it is, in itself, a living history museum. Shiloh was home to a battlefield where almost 110,000 American troops fought. Not only that but there are places where you can see how Native Americans in the area lived. There’s even a haunted catfish hotel to stay at if you’re feeling brave.
For those looking to retire, it’s also an official retirement destination. Based on the cost of living and the laid-back atmosphere as well as places that provide amenities that the elderly might need, it’s a great destination to relax and make a new home.
There’s also enough greenery to let you feel like you aren’t in a packed city. There are state parks, street parks, military parks, and even a veterans park. Even if you decide to make Shiloh your home, you aren’t likely to see all there is to see nearby anytime soon.
Do you like water sports and adventures? Then Hartford is the place for you. It’s off the beaten path, unlike some other whitewater rafting destinations in Tennessee like the Ocoee, but it still offers a great adventure and an exciting time on the water.
There are also many hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail, just a little bit of a drive away. Waterfalls, trails full of beautiful wildflowers, and natural wilderness await you just a few minutes outside the town in any direction.
It’s an incredibly small town. It also doesn’t cater much to tourists, so there isn’t as much to see and do in the down specifically. However, Hartford a great option for anyone who wants to be outdoors. There is a distillery, known as Bootleggers Distillery, that is family-owned and has high-quality drinks. Some of the family are 16th-generation distillers, so you know the practice has been handed down from generation to generation.
Summary of the Best Small Towns to Visit in Tennessee