An Atlanta to Nashville road trip through the Appalachian Mountains can be as short or as long a trip as you want to make it. The drive through these forested mountains places you close to many localities and attractions that you won't want to miss, like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park, and Red Top Mountain. Nature, history, and recreational activities are demanding you park your vehicle and experience all the outdoor adventure and classic Americana that this area has to offer.
Along with the fact that your road trip from Atlanta to Nashville takes you through beautiful woods and mountains, you are also lucky enough to be fairly close to two famous national parks: Mammoth Cave National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is definitely worthwhile to take a side trip for a couple of days to either or both of these national treasures.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is located in Kentucky and is about an hour and a half from Nashville. The park encompasses part of the Green River, Mammoth Cave, and the surrounding forested areas. The Mammoth Cave-Flint Ridge Cave System is the longest known cave system in the world with over 400 miles of surveyed passageways, and people have been enjoying tours of the caves since 1816. Mammoth Cave National Park was created in 1941, became a World Heritage Site in 1981, and was named a Biosphere Reserve in 1990.
Visitors can take various lighted tours of the cave that features formations like Grand Avenue, Frozen Niagara, and Fat Man's Misery. There are also non-lighted tours where the guests have their own lights. Besides touring the caves, visitors can camp at developed campgrounds or backcountry camps, hike, fish, kayak, and ride horses. An interesting fact about the caves is that it is always 54 degrees Fahrenheit inside no matter the temperatures outside.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of the most visited national parks in the U.S., Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits across the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is approximately three hours from Nashville. The Smoky Mountains range is famous for its diverse plant and animal life and the remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the park up close and personal, and you can choose from 150 trails that encompass over 800 miles of untamed habitats. Along these paths, you will see waterfalls, woods, glades, valleys, and plenty of wildlife.
There are three entrances to the park, and all are near Gatlinburg, TN. All entrances are approached via the Newfound Gap Road, where you can visit Sugarlands Visitor Center, Ocanaluftee Valley, Clingman’s Dome Road, Newfound Gap, and Mingus Mill. Some of the more interesting stops through the park include driving along Greenbrier Road, which features spectacular wildflowers, viewing Porter's Creek, and hiking along Ramsey Cascades. Any season is the right season to visit this beautiful preserve.
Both Georgia and Tennessee have many excellent state parks that are present all along the route between Atlanta and Nashville. These parks often contain a variety of natural and historical activities, and you will enjoy stopping at any one of them along the way.
Red Top Mountain
Red Top Mountain is located on popular Lake Allatoona, right above Atlanta, and is named for the rich red dirt that is present. Visitors enjoy coming to Lake Allatoona to swim, fish, and take part in various boating activities. There is a sandy swimming beach that is shaded by trees, and you can either bring your own boat or rent one from nearby marinas. The campground has several cottages and a large campground. While in the 12,000-acre park, you can hike along 15 miles of trails. These trails vary in difficulty, with a short wheelchair-accessible trail behind the park office, a gravel 4-mile lakeside trail for hiking and biking, and many longer and more strenuous trails throughout the park.
Old Stone Fort Archaeological Park
Old Stone Fort Archaeological Park is an archaeologically significant structure in Manchester, Tennessee, that originates from around 1,500 - 2,000 years ago. Native Americans used the area over many years but eventually abandoned it. European explorers were unsure of the nature of the buildings and their use and misnamed the structure as a fort. Today, the park is over 400 acres and includes the former Chumbley estate and the Old Stone Fort. The main hiking trail follows the wall of the fort and travels through intriguing areas and to the fort entrance, which faces the direction of the summer solstice. There are waterfalls to view and informative panels to read. The resident museum contains prehistoric Native American replicas, dioramas, and photographs.
Radnor Lake State Park
Radnor Lake State Park is a large park that is 1,368 acres and contains Radnor Lake. It is close to Nashville and offers plenty of outside natural recreation opportunities to both local urbanites and visitors from farther afield. The park is day-use only and has around 8 miles of trails, most of which are strictly for hiking. Visitors can bike, jog, and walk their pets on the Otter Creek Road section of trail. The Lake Trail is all-terrain and wheelchair-accessible. You will often be able to see owls, waterfowl, herons, amphibians, and reptiles, and there are also mink and otter in the park. Ranger-led programs include canoe floats, astronomy night hikes, and other events.
The Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center contains various birds of prey that range from great horned owls to bald eagles. The boardwalk is 550 feet and has an aviary complex that offers visitors a close-up encounter with these large raptors. There are also new interpretive trails recently constructed in the park.
Your Atlanta to Nashville road trip will take you through many areas of exciting opportunities to see and visit both natural and historical attractions.
You can visit one of the largest aquariums in the U.S. when you begin your trip in Atlanta. The Atlanta Aquarium houses tens of thousands of animals that represent over 500 species from around the world inside more than 60 habitats. The exhibits include Cold Water Quest, River Scout, Ocean Voyager, Tropical River, Aquanaut Adventure, and more. The largest exhibit holds 6.3 million gallons of water and is 284 feet long and 30 feet deep and is home to four manta rays, four whale sharks, and many other water denizens. Another exhibit contains 800,000 gallons of water and is home to six beluga whales as of 2020.
Ruby Falls is the tallest waterfall underground in the U.S. that is viewable by the public. The waterfalls were discovered in 1928 within Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga and were opened to the public in 1929. Visitors can descend an elevator and tour the spectacular cavern with its amazing natural formations and beautiful waterfall.
Rock City is located at the top of Lookout Mountain in Georgia. Visitors can hike along the 4,100-foot Enchanted Trail and stand on Lover's Leap, a rocky ledge on the side of the mountain that is named after the legendary lovers Sautee and Nacoochee. From here, you can see breathtaking views of the valley, view High Falls, and try out the climbing wall. Along this same trail, you can stop at the See Seven States sightline and view seven different states at the same time. You can tour Fairyland Caverns, an homage to the love of all things fairy tale of Frieda Utermoehlen Carter, a founder of the Rock City attraction. The Swing-a-Long Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans 180 feet that offers a great view of the Chattanooga Valley below and is a popular place to take photos.
While this road trip winds through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Southern Appalachians, you will also be passing through many cities that have their own unique amenities and fun attractions. Each of these cities has nearby campgrounds and dump stations for your convenience.
The city of Dalton is located in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is a popular destination for many outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy hiking and biking along the many nature trails in the area, play golf at either of the two public golf courses, visit historic sites, and shop or dine in the city. The Allatoona Landing Marine Resort is located between Atlanta and the city of Dalton, near Cartersville, GA. You can find many Atlanta-area dump stations near Lake Allatoona.
Chattanooga is a large urban city that offers a staggering number of fun attractions. Nestled in the Tennessee Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is located on the Tennessee River, and visitors will enjoy the scenic 13-mile paved Riverwalk that is home to parks, restaurants, attractions, and riverboats. While in Chattanooga, you can take a riverboat cruise, shop and dine out, tour historic sites, and ride the Incline Railway up to Lookout Mountain. Raccoon Mountain Caverns & Campground is conveniently located near the main attractions on Lookout Mountain and has a dump station.
Murfreesboro is located south of Nashville and is a city known for its historical importance for events taking place during the Civil War. The Battle of Stones River, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, took place here. There are trails you can tour that feature informative areas on the battle and the armies involved. Besides the battlefield site, you can tour a number of historical buildings and shop and dine at multiple unique stores and eateries. There are plenty of dump stations near Nashville and surrounding areas. Nashville I-24 Campground is ideally located in Murfreesboro and is right off Interstate 24.
A road trip worth taking is one that is well-planned. You may only be in these areas once in your lifetime, and you should plan on visiting the places that you really will enjoy. Traveling in your own or a rental RV from RVshare is the ideal way to fit in all your must-sees on your road trip itinerary from Atlanta to Nashville and will allow you to stay for several days at any one of these locations. So, pull out the maps, plan your stops, and get on the road!