Take a Trip from Nashville to Pigeon Forge

Published Nov 19, 2020

Many folks heading to Pigeon Forge on vacation come from the Nashville area. Make the road trip fun with sightseeing along the way.

This road trip uses Interstate 40 heading east. If you took I-40 straight to Pigeon Forge nonstop, your travel would last about three and a half hours, but plan on taking more time than that—you’ve got Tennessee to explore. Hop in the car and leave Nashville in the rear view mirror.

Exit 268: Buffalo Valley

Stretch your legs by spending an hour (or several) at Edgar Evins State Park, close to Buffalo Valley. Walking trails both short and long let you choose how far to trek as you admire the diverse wildflowers, butterflies and forests.

There’s a special delight for kids here, too: The Storybook Trail, an easy walk for young children, featuring an outdoor storybook mounted on signs at child height along the trail. Read along with the kids as you all stroll through nature.

Exit 286: Cookeville

With a historic downtown full of shops and eateries, Cookeville, just north of I-40, is worth your time. See the beautiful old red-brick train depot, now the Cookeville Depot Museum. Bring a picnic and eat at the tables outside while you look over two classic cabooses and the classic 1912 steam engine on display.

Grab a famous local treat on the drive back to the highway. Ralph’s Donut Shop is beloved for its fresh donuts and pastries and is a true taste of what locals love.

Cookeville is also where you’ll find the stunning cascades of Burgess Falls State Park, located on the south side of I-40. Four waterfalls tumble 250 feet into the gorge. This rich landscape attracted Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw as well as early European settlers.

Exit 317: Crossville

History buffs, stop at the Military Memorial Museum. The fascinating uniforms, weapons, flags, insignia, models, and photos weave the story of military members’ experiences across the years. This free museum is an ideal road trip stop, packed with exhibits yet small enough to enjoy with just a brief detour.

If you’ve got more time—or you’ve got train lovers or kids with you—drop by the Crossville Model Railroad Club’s incredible model train exhibit, a 4,500-square-foot layout with multiple trains chugging through detailed, often amusing tiny towns. Look for the IRS building that’s on fire, with firefighters only reluctantly putting out the flames! You’ll find the exhibit in the Crossville Outlet Mall.

As a roughly halfway point between Nashville and Pigeon Forge, Crossville makes a good stop for a meal. Try Gondola Pizza & Steak House, a 40-year, family-owned tradition with Italian and Greek food, or Forte’s On the Square, offering American fare including sandwiches, pastas and hearty entrée salads.

Exit 350: Harriman

Does exploring unique shops for unusual gifts sound like vacation fun? Plan to stop in Harriman. The Tattered Peacocksells vintage and new items and you’ll find seasonal shirts, jewelry, ornaments, lotions and soaps, blankets and scarves, “repurposed, repainted and reclaimed” furniture and decorative items, and more.

At Red Door Antiques, browse everything from handmade birdhouses, retro advertising signs, and antique furniture to toys and collectibles. The goods change constantly so you never know what treasure might turn up. You’ll find plenty of other shops to tempt you in Harriman’s downtown, too.

Exit 352: Kingston

Just down the highway from Harriman is the waterside city of Kingston, with parks and activities stretched along the shore of Watts Bar Lake, one of the largest lakes in the South. If you’ve got restless youngsters in tow, the two playgrounds at City Park will be a welcome sight.

A longer side trip, about 20 miles each way from Kingston, is a visit to Oak Ridge, the city built during World War II to help create the nuclear bomb. The American Museum of Science and Energy focuses on the area’s history and ongoing contributions to research.

Kingston is also where you’ll leave the interstate if you want to avoid traffic around Knoxville. Turn off I-40 at exit 364 and take Highway 321 toward Maryville.

Highway 321: Maryville

You’re close to Pigeon Forge now, but take time at Maryville to walk to Look Rock Tower and take in the great mountain views from this rock outcrop. The path is paved and easy and your visit is free.

Maryville is also home to the Cades Cove Museum. This log cabin is full of echoes of the past—artifacts evoking the daily lives of local homesteaders whose nearby town, Cades Cove, was absorbed into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cades Cove itself is now a historic site within the park, worth a visit later in your trip.

From Maryville, it’s a quick run to your vacation destination. Head for your Pigeon Forge rental cabin to rest after your day on the road.

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