Traveling to Memphis to Gatlinburg?
Many vacationers in Memphis choose to escape to the Great Smoky Mountains – and it’s no surprise why. The cool mountain air provides a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the Home of the Blues on the Mississippi. While in the same state, Memphis and Gatlinburg offer two completely different environments. As you travel eastward, the marshy lowlands of West TN transform into the rolling hills of Appalachia, offering a full display of the natural beauty that exists within Tennessee.
How Far is Gatlinburg from Memphis TN?
At 431.7 miles, the drive from Memphis to Gatlinburg clocks in at about 7 hours and spans the whole length of the state. You’ll be on I-40 the entire time, which makes navigating the journey quite easy. Along the journey, there are plenty of places to stop for a day trip or to spend the night to extend your vacation.
Memphis to Gatlinburg Guide
This guide offers a glimpse of what to do in Nashville, Knoxville, and some interesting spots in between. From culinary highlights to wacky roadside attractions, there’s plenty to do on your way to Gatlinburg from Memphis.
Memphis to Gatlinburg: Nashville Highlights
Music City offers guests a chance to enjoy one of the fastest growing cities in America. While a trip to the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium, and Broadway are obvious additions to your itinerary, there are plenty of other must-see and do items to add to a stop in Nashville.
A stop in Centennial Park not only offers a beautiful green space to walk around but houses The Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the Athenian Parthenon. Another tourist attraction to add to your trip is the Country Music Hall of Fame, where you can see exhibits featuring your favorite country music stars
Nashville also has a thriving food and drink scene. One cannot talk about Nashville without mentioning hot chicken and while there are several places around town to enjoy this area staple, Prince’s is the original and arguably the best (though be warned that the spice levels are not for the faint of heart). While by no means an extensive list here are some other Nashville culinary highlights:
- Butcher & Bee – Unique gourmet food using local ingredients
- Peg Leg Porker –This Nashville spot offers up Memphis style BBQ in case you have a hankering on vacation
- The Pharmacy – Delicious burgers and shakes with an extensive patio area
- City House – Lively Italian restaurant serving pizza, pasta, and homemade sausage.
Nashville also boasts plenty of craft breweries and bars for delicious and unique brews on your vacation. Here are just few highlights:
- Attaboy – A speakeasy style bar serving unique cocktails
- Bearded Iris – Brewery serving old-world style beers with a Southern twist
- Southern Grist – Local brewery with a wide variety of beers
- Von Elrod’s – A large beer garden serving homemade sausage in an industrial building
- Robert’s Western World – Get the authentic honky-tonk experience with beer, live music, and fried bologna at this Broadway bar.
Nashville is lively city filled with music, great food and beer, and an electric energy you won’t want to miss.
Memphis to Gatlinburg: Knoxville Highlights
The Scruffy City offers guests visitors a chance to enjoy great food, a fantastic Downtown area, scenic green spaces, and much more. At a little under 6 hours into the trip, Knoxville provides a great place to stop for a meal or a place to rest for a night before you head to the Great Smoky Mountains and exciting Gatlinburg.
As you approach Downtown, you’ll see the iconic Sunsphere, which was created for the 1982 World’s Fair. You can head to the 4th floor observation deck to look out onto Knoxville and catch glimpses of the mountains in the distance. World’s Fair Park also provides an excellent green space for a picnic before you make the final trip to the mountains.
If you have a little more time to spend in Knoxville and want to enjoy some beautiful green space, you can visit Ijams, a nature center with trails that make their way around the Tennessee River as well as several water sports options at Mead’s Quarry. There are also several biking trails within the park that allow you to take out your mountain bikes and enjoy an off-road adventure.
Downtown, you’ll find a lively city center that offers great dining options, tons of craft breweries, and unique shopping. Whether you want dine on delicious Southern grub at Tupelo Honey Café or enjoy delicious Asian cuisine at Kaizen, there is something for everyone to love in this truly foodie city. Here are some more highlights in Knoxville:
- The Lonesome Dove – Unique Western-Inspired Fine Dining
- Stock and Barrel – Delicious and innovative burgers
- The French Market Creperie – French style crepes and street food
- Downtown Grill and Brewery – Classic American dining in a unique historic building
- OliBea – Delicious twists on Southern classics
Knoxville also has several craft breweries that offer unique beers for the weary traveler. Crafty Bastard Brewery offers guests a chance to enjoy unique small batch brews and hoppy homemade IPAs.
Knoxville offers travelers plenty to do on a break from traveling to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains and definitely warrants a stop on your journey from Memphis to Gatlinburg.
Memphis to Gatlinburg: Weird Roadside Attractions
What’s a road trip without a wacky roadside attraction? From Memphis to Gatlinburg, there are plenty of oddities along I-40 on this road trip. From doomed train engineers to towering treehouses, prisons to pink elephants. Here are some of the highlights you’ll find along the way.
In Jackson, TN, you’ll find several kooky attractions. From a replica of the Statue of Liberty carved from a tree trunk to a charming fairy house crafted from a still rooted-tree, there are plenty of oddities in this town just an hour outside of Memphis.
Perhaps the most famous roadside attraction in this town deals with an ill-fated railroad engineer, Casey Jones. In the Casey Jones Village, you can visit Casey’s historic home as well as the Railroad Museum with exhibitions dedicated to Casey and his famous last ride. There is also a permanent exhibition that highlights the history of railroads and the Civil War in Tennessee.
While it adds about an hour to the trip, the 840 loop offers some interesting oddities to enjoy on your road trip from Memphis to Gatlinburg.
In Franklin, stop by The Factory where you can enjoy shopping at local art galleries, interesting shopping, and entertainment in a former factory. You’ll also find a unique statue made from the remaining pieces of scrap from the factory.
If you happen to be traveling in May, you can swing by the Renaissance Lover’s Castle in Arrington, Tennessee to tour the castle and enjoy during the annual Renaissance Faire.
In Smyrna, you can stop for a photo with the Wayward Pizza Man, an abandoned Little Ceasar’s pizza mascot that now guards the parking lot of a car repair shop.
While permanently closed to the public, this gigantic treehouse still attracts many adventurous explorers. In 1993, Minister Horace Burgess received a vision from God that, if he were to build a tree house, he would never run out of material. Inspired by his vision, he set out to build the largest treehouse in world. The 97-foot-tall treehouse is anchored by an 80-foot-tall white oak tree.
Kids of all ages will love taking their picture with Ellie the Elephant, a pink elephant in Cookeville. Often sporting sunglasses and sometimes a stylish bikini, Ellie offers a fun photo opt for travelers.
Take a small detour from I-40 to see the infamous former penitentiary, Brushy Mountain. Tours are self-guided with former inmates and prison guards present on site to answer any questions visitors may have. There is a restaurant on site as well as a gift shop so you can bring home a t-shirt or moonshine made on site at the prison.
Memphis to Gatlinburg, TN: Arriving at your Gatlinburg Cabin Rental
After a 7 hour drive, you’ll be ready to relax in your cabin home away from home. Out Gatlinburg cabins offer everything from fantastic views of the stunning Great Smoky Mountains to great cabin amenities such as hot tubs, game rooms, theater rooms, and even indoor pools. Come see why so many make the journey from Memphis to Gatlinburg year after year.
Written by Brittany Tipton