Experience ‘Slow Travel’ Just a Day Trip Away from the Urban Bustle of Nashville

Christine Tibbetts Avatar
Nashville offers great sceneries to marvel at during day trips.

The writer was hosted.

Nashville, Tennessee, is a grand destination. But holidays just a day trip away from Nashville have become interesting too.

Consider 12 small communities south of the Music City. They’re connected by the Natchez Trace as a big backyard. Local folks celebrate their neighbor Nashville – and showcase plenty of music in their own venues – while offering a different-paced kind of vacation.

Slow travel, not urban bustle. Expect friendly chats, and surprising skills. Encounter as many people who moved here discovering new joy as people who already had happiness as natives. They seem to mingle.

Yes, you could reach many of them on a day trip from Nashville. But that seems to defeat the purpose of an area that knows the value of slow travel. Instead, think of spending the night — or several nights — in the area of Tennessee that is branding itself as Nashville’s Big Back Yard. Then drill down to choose a holiday in a couple of the individual towns:

  • Natchez Trace
  • Americana Music Triangle
  • Muscle Shoals/Nashville bookends
  • Three rivers and a natural watershed
  • BikeTN.com
  • Motorcycle curves and no crossroads

Read More: Best Places to Visit in Tennessee for Music, History and Adventure

Enjoy the outdoor serenity of the Big Backyard in Nashville.
These chairs face toward the Natchez Trace, which is equally calm and peaceful. They’re typical of the Big Backyard’s devotion to friendly encounters. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts.

Natchez Trace Heading South from Nashville

If you travel the full 444 miles of this linear national park, it’s much more than a day trip from Nashville. And you should visit as much of it as you can. But only 100 of them wind through Nashville’s Big BackYard.

This trip, turn around in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to head back up through the Big BackYard.

Here’s what’s so special about the Natchez Trace: no billboards and max speed of 50 miles per hour. Calm, with trailheads and even places to park the car and ride a horse!

The Park Service maintains restrooms, maps, brochures and campgrounds in the Tennessee portion too.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Interstates 40 and 65 flow south of Nashville too but selecting the Natchez Trace provides eons of history since this was an ancient walking trail. Today it’s a designated National Scenic Byway and an All American Road. Feels right to choose the Trace as part of a big backyard experience.

Help yourself to a guitar in your day trips to Nashville.
Maps are also art! Help yourself to a guitar to play while contemplating the Americana Music Triangle in Patina Home & Garden shop in Leiper’s Fork. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Americana Music Triangle

A good point of reference in Nashville and its Big Back Yard is thinking about all the music genres birthed here, and nearby. Nine of them!

There’s actually a Gold Record Road connecting Nashville, New Orleans and Memphis and all kinds of small towns, juke joints and honky tonks in between.

The Americana Music Triangle website is a good place to find events, history and trip info about the blues, jazz, country, rock & roll, R & B/soul, gospel and Southern gospel, Cajun/zydeco and bluegrass.

Big BackYard towns belong in the Americana Music Triangle too.

Muscle shoals of Nashville.
Impossible to think any one song or singer could capture the essence of Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Lots of them do! Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts.

Nashville North, Muscle Shoals South

The Shoals, many say, talking about the vibrant recording studios and music history in Alabama, just south of Tennessee, is a Big Back Yard bookend. Think Fame Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and greats like W. C. Handy, Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones and oh so many more.

Read More: Things to do in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Three Rivers

Lots of places feature great outdoor activities. Three rivers in Nashville’s Big Back Yard make that oh-so-true.

Expect water sports in the Tennessee, Duck and Buffalo rivers and on their banks. Picnics and fancy plated dinners paired with wines happen too.

In an era when water shortages plague parts of America (and the world), the fact this is a natural watershed region matters. And it means more than the water!

Watersheds allow all sorts of life to thrive. Interconnected rivers and streams, wetlands and reservoirs, bays and creeks make that possible. Deep aquifers matter too.

SheBuysTravel Tip: When you get to Leiper’s Fork, ask what the “fork” is. The answer will send you to the creek, as it was called when the early settlers named Leiper lived by the water.

Bicycles in Tennessee

The Tennessee Tourism Office makes it easy to figure out where to ride your bike long distances with a devoted website called BikeTN. In the Big BackYard, that includes 40 miles on the Natchez Trace called the Parkway Loop.

The other option in this region is the Leiper’s Fork Challenge of 44 miles, 13 of them on the Trace.

Motorcycles

Hoteliers throughout the Big BackYard talk of their motorcycle overnighters—happy with the pleasure of riding backcountry roads, or the Natchez Trace with no red lights and no crossroad intersections.

Visit the Keg Springs Winery in Hampshire, Nashville.
Restaurants, wineries, downtowns in the Big BackYard provide outdoor spaces to simply gaze. This is Keg Springs Winery in Hampshire. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

The Towns of Nashville’s Big BackYard

With 12 communities, all under 5,000 population and some of them way under,  doing a deep dive to everything special calls for some choices.

Firsthand knowledge I have of four:

  • Leiper’s Fork
  • Linden
  • Hohenwald
  • Hampshire

And a little tidbit about two more:

  • Centerville
  • Clifton

If they’re representative of the other six, this whole region is fun and interesting.

Count on special experiences in routine activities in Nashville.
Great encounters in casual places—one of the charms of Nashville’s Big Back Yard: Hank Williams and some precious guitars fit right in with water for sale at the Leiper’s Fork Market. Don’t be surprised; count on special experiences in routine activities. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Leiper’s Fork

Go to Leiper’s Fork first — or maybe last as a grand finale returning to Nashville. Village population is 650, but don’t translate that to mean nothing to do.

Leiper’s Fork is sort of a cultural island—land trust preserving big swaths of nature on two sides, the Natchez Trace on a third and the creek with its flood plain on the fourth side.

Two stunning art galleries, overflow crowds at Fox & Locke which is a live music restaurant venue, the sophisticated Patina Home & Garden, a large shop created and beloved by its owner Brooke Gianetti (might check out her blog, Velvet & Linen) are just the beginning.

A spacious wooden cabin filled with art by David Arms reflecting his delight in life’s surprises anchors one end of the main street. Reading the Arms bio on the shop’s web page before going will enrich the experience.

A tiny log cabin filled with turquoise jewelry fashioned by Indigenous artisans and just the right size for four shoppers and no more, is tucked in next to the Leiper’s Creek Gallery.

Visit the Leiper’s Creek Gallery in Nashville during your day trips.
Comfort in an art gallery! That’s the purpose and the style of the Leiper’s Creek Gallery. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

The contrast’s fun, because the gallery is large, with 15-foot ceilings and immense windows opening to its own Big BackYard with the Lawnchair Theatre. Artist/owner Lisa Fox is quite comfortable when visitors relax on the furniture, and bring the pups and the kids along too.

Stay a night or two to immerse in each of these. A multitude of well-appointed rental cottages in friendly neighborhoods make that walkable, and pleasant. Fork and Field is the group name of the three-bedroom cottage I experienced.

Rent overnight cottages in Nashville for when you need to stop and continue with your trips during the night.
Fine furnishings distinguish overnight stays in cottages that are part of neighborhoods—the kind with friendly people on their front porches interested in chatting. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Anticipate boundless creativity in Lieper’s Fork. Sometimes it’s high-end, like the four-course dinner served creekside with wine pairings and Chef Braiden Mallon of Bam Foods Catering explaining every course. Fireflies light the trees along the creek.

Chef and his wife Annie also serve sumptuous summer dinners now and then in the creek! Tables and chairs, only wet feet and ankles.

Dine outdoor in Nashville
The creek flows at the edge of the lawn, and the fancy table stretches to give everyone a view for a four-course, wine-paired dinner. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

SheBuysTravel Tip: “Charming places to linger” has big meaning in Little Leiper’s Fork. Really. Unspoken invitations to rock or swing or chat, to gaze at beautiful scenery – appear all the time. Sometimes the makings for S’mores are there too, at firepits.

See barrels that are also distinctive functional art at the Leiper’s Fork Distillery in Nashville
Yes there are barrels to see but this is also distinctive functional art at the Leiper’s Fork Distillery. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Drinking bourbon seems like the right thing to do on a Tennessee vacation. One of many places is the Leiper’s Fork Distillery, which actually has a Franklin, Tennessee address.

This is pre-Prohibition style, not mass production. Get up close to the process, and the history — and the flavors.

Then there’s the state Whiskey Trail passport with 28 stops outlined and mapped. Country music has a Tennessee passport to follow too.

Linden

Consider curating a visit to Linden in the Nashville Big BackYard by partnering with Michael and Kathy Dumont, in Linden by choice, leaving their native Rhode Island. Their enthusiasm for this place is infectious, and they know how to access indoor and outdoor fun with ease.

Their beautifully renovated 1939 hotel – The Commodore Hotel and Music Café –is so popular that 11 rooms weren’t enough so they also preserved the space next door to offer nine more guestrooms. Every room has a private (sometimes tiny) bathroom.

The 1948 Dodge in front of the 1939 Commodore Hotel in Linden, Nashville.
The 1948 Dodge in front of the 1939 Commodore Hotel in Linden suggests a stay here includes lots of handsome history. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Next door is called Miss Berdie’s Boarding House. Plenty of space for travelers in both locations to enjoy the Commodore’s Speakeasy Lounge with vintage cocktails as well as traditional libations.

Climbing stairs is necessary; there are no ground floor guest rooms and no elevator.

Wifi is free; there’s often music in the café and the Speakeasy. Singer-songwriters so close to Nashville performing in intimate historic spaces—-that’s a Linden trait.

Kayak in the Buffalo river in Nashville.
Day and after-dark kayaking on the Buffalo River can be arranged through the Commodore Hotel. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

So is flowing water with the Buffalo River, and also the Tennessee just west of Linden, to float and fish and Lady’s Bluff Trail to hike. Expect lots of wildflowers in spring and summer.

The Dumonts can be your outfitter and their kayak landing is just a couple of minutes drive from the hotel.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Think about in-the-dark guided kayaking because Michael and Kathy can facilitate that too!

Head to Mousetail Landing State Park with 1,249 acres for a whole day’s worth of outdoor activity.

Enjoy a good night's sleep at the Commodore Hotel in Nashville.
Anticipate a good night’s sleep at the Commodore Hotel. Room configurations include one big bed or a double set like this. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Shopping’s possible in downtown Linden, and admiring clever people is too. The Buffalo River Artisans Cooperative evolves as participating artists share new works. I saw weaving, pottery, felting, painting, jewelry and blown glass for starters.

Two doors down is a fine jeweler, whose shop feels like time travel. Terry Klein and his wife Marianne, the artist at the Co-op when I visited, chose Linden 12 years ago.

Big change from a lifetime in western New York, and they’re delighted with life in the Big BackYard. . . so much so their son relocated too. He’s a jeweler too, who also raises alpacas.

Why time travel? Because Terry created rings and jewelry for gemstones for decades, in traditional ways.

In Linden he’s joyous about 3-D printing, using technology to turn his artistry into reality. Quite interesting to see traditional jewelry store glass cases, and then peer to the back of his shop to see the new techniques.

Meet amazing people with amazing stories of their relocation to Nashville.
A trip throughout Nashville’s Big BackYard turns up interesting people ready to tell their stories of relocating to enjoy life in these dozen small towns. Jeweler Terry Klein in Linden is one of them. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Hohenwald

Expect elephants in this part of the Big BackYard. Can’t touch because their 3,000 acre sanctuary is private, devoted to calm retirements for the dozen elephants there now.

Can explore the downtown Elephant Discovery Center which is highly interactive: movie screen live cam images and hands-on sound tubes to hear elephants greeting one another, grieving when one dies, bonding with affection, and more.

Discovery staff show passion explaining how critical free choice is to elephant well-being. That’s a key reason the sanctuary itself is elephants only – their first time ever not taking directions from humans.

Real elephants roam in Asian and African habitats outside downtown Hohenwald, Nashville.
Real elephants roam in Asian and African habitats outside downtown Hohenwald. The Discovery Center provides interactive experiences of a different kind. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Elephant-size sculpture in the BackYard, big murals of elephants walking together and large graphics of elephant locations around the world make the Discovery Center a 24/7 opportunity.

Since opening in 1995, the sanctuary three miles outside of Hohenwald has cared for 32 elephants in African and Asian habitats.

Hohenwald is the dead center of the Nashville Big BackYard, and seven miles from the Natchez Trace. Mileposts 391 and 386 lead to B&B, guesthouse and farm lodging.

Swiss Germans settled here, liking the name meaning “high forest.” Elevation is 978.

The town of 4,000 also pays homage to trailblazer Meriwether Lewis who is buried here. The Lewis County Museum of Natural History claims one of the nation’s largest collections of animal mounts.

Good chance of finding music at the Strand Theatre which was restored in 2024 to its 1938 original style. Performance schedules are shaping up, co-working spaces and the Chamber of Commerce office adding daily energies and a coffee shop pulling in local folks and visitors.

Enjoy burger that means more than beef in Hohenwald’s Junkyard Dog Steakhouse, in Nashville.
Burger means more than beef in Hohenwald’s Junkyard Dog Steakhouse. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

I wouldn’t have thought Hawaian would be the name of a delectable burger in a restaurant named Junkyard Dog Steakhouse, but that’s Hohenwald. Pineapple slice, teriyaki glaze, grilled ham and Jack cheese all on top of my beef!

Also saw generous servings of steak on salads, and platters of Caribbean cole slaw with chili lime fried tilapia in a very busy downtown restaurant.

Might have been my first visit to Hohenwald but I clearly was not a first discoverer, like Meriwether Lewis.

Hampshire

Hampshire is the town to savor Amber Falls Winery.

First find out what the Zaunbrecher family creates from grapes with a visit to their tasting room in the cellar. No artificial flavors, and no filtering of the red wines.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Plan to feel calm and joyful. There is a waterfall, bathed sometimes in amber light. There are also porches and decks on the edge of a forest, chairs and tables, and weekends live music.  Nothing happening is OK too because the views are so fine, and so calming. Don’t plan so tight a schedule as to miss just sitting.

Rest overnight in the cottage at Amber Falls Winery sits next to the vineyards, just a short walk to the tasting room in Nashville.
The cottage overnight at Amber Falls Winery sits next to the vineyards, just a short walk to the tasting room. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Tim and Judy Zaunbrecher and grown son Gabe devote their operation to sustainability and regenerative farming, saying “The old techniques are like new now, working so well. What we have we are going to leave better than we found it,” says Judy.

Even those Hohenwald elephants benefit. Turns out they enjoy the trimmed grape vines!

Spend the night in Hampshire. A one-bedroom cottage at Amber Falls Winery is $175, in sight of the vineyard. Fresh fruit and pastries are for breakfast.

Keg Springs Winery in Hampshire tells an interesting story of cooperation—including their mobile van to help new wineries through the first challenging years of production.

Take pictures with Minnie Pearl in her home town of Centerville, Nashville.
An afternoon chat with Minnie Pearl in her home town of Centerville demands resisting the temptation to remove the dangling price tag on her hat. Photo credit: Cindy Dupree Holloway.

Centerville is a Big Back Yard town where Minnie Pearl’s lifesize sculpture invites selfies— sitting on a bench on the courthouse square.

Clifton is another, getting closer to the southern end near The Shoals. Here is the five-bedroom Commodore Inn, cousin to Linden’s hotel, and renovated by the same family. The Tennessee River is just steps away.

Listen to the stories of Johnny Cash and his famous friends are abundant in the home, open to visitors, in Bon Aqua., Nashvillle
Stories of Johnny Cash and his famous friends are abundant in the home, open to visitors, in Bon Aqua. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts.

Johnny Cash Hideaway Farm

Slip outside the edge of Nashville’s Big Back Yard to soak up some Johnny Cash memories and memorabilia in a town called Bon Aqua.

He stayed there often for 30 years, quoted as feeling ”This is the center of my universe, where gravity starts.”  

Private owners, not Cash family, live there now, dedicated to sharing the memories and the land, plus the Storytellers gathering place nearby for special events. Both are mini museums, and visitors are welcomed.

Christine Tibbetts believes family travel is shared discovery — almost like having a secret among generations who travel together. The matriarch of a big blended clan with many adventuresome traveling members, she is a classically-trained journalist. Christine handled PR and marketing accounts for four decades, specializing in tourism, the arts, education, politics and community development.  She builds travel features with depth interviews and abundant musing to uncover the soul of each place.
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