I recently spent the weekend in the small town in central Tennessee called McMinnville. This part of the state is often overlooked by travelers – but it shouldn’t be. The town itself has a quaint cuteness and looks as though it could have been the inspiration for one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, but the natural beauty of the nearby state parks is the cherry on top.
Here’s my list of 3 super unique things you can do in central Tennessee:
1. Live on the edge.
About 30 minutes from McMinnville in Palmer, Tennessee you’ll find Savage Gulf State Nature Area, which is part of South Cumberland State Park. Prior to my trip I couldn’t find too much on the internet about this particular portion of the park, but what I did read told me that I’d probably find myself pretty impressed. I’ve traveled to Tennessee many times before, but other than driving through the Smokey Mountains, I haven’t spent much time in the state’s beautiful parks.
After the weekend I spent exploring Savage Gulf I can absolutely say that the reviews I read were spot on – the park is stunning! It’s filled with waterfalls and dramatic bluffs. I was surprised that this small piece of paradise is just a few hours from my home in Atlanta, yet before this trip I had never even heard of it.
If you’re a risk taker make sure that you inch out onto the overlook near the Stone Door where you’ll feel the wind in your hair and see red-tailed hawks soar above the treetops. I’d recommend that you continue your hike and make sure to explore the Stone Door too (pictured above).
To hike here: Take the Stone Door Trail.
2. Have a waterfall all to yourself.
One of the things I loved about Savage Gulf was that the park wasn’t packed with people – even though I visited on a weekend in late September when the weather was perfect for an early fall hike.
I couldn’t believe that I had Laurel Falls all to myself!
We did see quite a few other hikers during our weekend adventure (especially closer to the Stone Door), but I’m willing to bet that with a little bit of luck and planning you can have this same experience. I’d recommend that you time your hike to the waterfalls early in the morning after sunrise or later in the day just before sunset.
To hike here: Take the Laurel Falls Loop Trail.
We also hiked to the more popular Greeter Falls right before sunset and were the only ones at the waterfall aside from one other couple who was also enjoying the fall’s turquoise pool (which makes a great swimming spot if you pack your swimsuit).
To hike here: Take the Greeter Falls Loop Trail.
3. See a concert in a cave.
I’m a huge live music fan so I couldn’t help but get super excited when the Tennessee Tourism Bureau invited me to the Third Man Records underground concert. And when I say underground, I literally mean underground… the concert was 333 feet below the ground in a cave.
Third Man Records is Jack White’s record label and all of his artists were A-MAZING. The show opened with a handful of songs performed by the funky Craig Brown Band, before country purist Joshua Hedley’s set. Bluegrass artist and fiddler Lillie Mae played a high energy set before the ultra-talented Margo Price played tracks off her soon to be released new album. As an added bonus, Jack White hosted the concert!
The concert venue, Cumberland Caverns, is just a few miles outside McMinnville and had stellar acoustics. You should definitely check out one of the cavern’s Bluegrass Underground shows and experience a cave concert for yourself.
Planning your trip to McMinnville/Central Tennessee:
Where to Stay
The lodging in the area is very reasonably priced. I’d recommend the Best Western ($) in McMinnville, or the more luxurious Sewanee Inn ($$) located in nearby Sewanee, Tennessee. If you’d prefer staying in a cabin check out Piney Creek Cabins or Cozy Cabins.
Where to Eat
My favorite restaurant in McMinnville was Collins River BBQ and Cafe – in fact, I liked it so much I ate there twice! I loved the eclectic vibe, fall-off-the-bone ribs and selection of local craft brews. I’d also recommend that you hit up Nana’s Kountry Kupboard, J’s Restaurant and Stacked Bistro.
Where to Shop
Stroll the Main Street shops and pop into The Vintage Market and The Trendy Trunk for some unique finds. When in Tennessee, you’ll want to sport your Vols orange, so make sure to do some online shopping at Orange You Chic before your trip. (Vest and scarf pictured above from Orange You Chic).
How to Get There
McMinnville is about an hour drive from from two airports – Chattanooga and Nashville, which means you can easily add a couple days onto your itinerary to explore one or both of these cities.
Have you traveled to Tennessee? Would you like to visit the state of Tennessee?
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I was invited to Tennessee by TN Vacations and some of the above links may be partner or affiliate links. See FWTG’s full disclosure policy for more information.