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Backstage to backroads on Nashville’s Trace Trail

By Amanda Stravinsky

This road trip travels through charming Tennessee towns linked together by the unspoiled beauty and stories of the Natchez Trace.

Downtown Franklin (Credit: Brandon Jean on Unsplash)

The Nashville’s Trace Trail begins in Nashville and meanders its way through the southern portion of Middle Tennessee. Enjoy the scenic beauty around every turn, but locals will warn you cell phone coverage is sporadic, so roll those windows down and enjoy a relaxing ride down the Tennessee portion of The Natchez Trace Parkway where the roadside stops are legendary, delicious and always scenic.


You could easily spend a week exploring Nashville, but if you only have a short time a few of the must-see stops include The Ryman Auditorium, Broadway Honky Tonk Highway and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Music fan or not, one just cannot visit Music City and not pay a visit to the Mother Church of Country Music. Take the tour and have your moment standing inside “the circle” on stage, which is a legendary segment of wood from the original Ryman stage. From there take a stroll down the “Ryman Alley” and onto Broadway, home to the honky tonks. Stages inside these legendary watering holes are frequented by the biggest of stars after a night on the Ryman stage and home to performers looking for their big break with dreams of reaching that same iconic stage.

A walk through the Country Music Hall of Fame will take you through country music’s storied history. Make a stop by Hatch Show Print that has been hand printing iconic posters for more than 125 years.

All that walking around the city works up an appetite, so be sure to grab a classic “meat and three” at Arnold’s Country Kitchen or fill up on world famous biscuits at the Loveless Cafe. Needing to quench a thirst? Grab lunch at the Capitol Grill and sip on a Tennessee whiskey at the Oak Bar inside the Hermitage Hotel. (Insider tip: Make sure to visit the Oak Bar men’s room. The marble-clad lavatory is world famous and considered one of the best in the world, but ladies, knock first, please!)

Birdsong Hollow

Head down the trail via The Natchez Trace Parkway but be prepared to stop in just a few miles. When you reach Birdsong Hollow and the double arch bridge that spans Hwy 96, you’re going to feel the urge to get out and take pictures. The views from below the bridge are equally as spectacular, so be sure to ride down to the bottom too. 

Leiper’s Fork

Lose the suit and show up in boots. That’s the mantra of this unique village generously described as a “wide spot in the road” by locals. But don’t let the quaint size fool you. In Leiper’s Fork, you will find restaurants like Country Boy and Puckett’s Restaurant and Grocery, which fill you with music and history just as well as they satisfy your appetite with biscuits and barbecue. Music fans, do not leave Leiper’s Fork until you step inside Serenite Maison. Their famed pickin’ corner sports jewels like a 1944 D-28 Martin guitar, an 1863 Everly Brothers guitar, a 1934 A-4 Gibson Mandolin, and many more just waiting for you to pick them up and strum. Leave your wallet in the car though as they aren’t for sale, rather there for any and all to enjoy.

Downtown Franklin

The only designated Great American Main Street in the state runs through the heart of historic downtown Franklin. Park the car and step back into a simpler time with a stroll through the locally owned shops and restaurants that line the iconic thoroughfare. Be sure to savor your moment as a star standing under the lights at the 1930s era Franklin Theatre, or grab a bite at Gray’s On Main which spent its first 70 years as the local pharmacy.

You can’t leave Franklin without a visit to the Civil War sites that witnessed The Battle of Franklin. Stops at Carnton Plantation, Carter House, and Lotz House, will walk you through the events of that Nov. 30, 1864, night, from the perspective of three different families and the effects it had on them and the city for many years that followed.


The town is widely known for its annual Mule Day each spring, which has been an important community event since the 1840s. At that time Columbia was home to the world’s largest mule market. Columbia was also home to the United States 11th President, James K. Polk. Throughout the town, you’ll find important sites from the president’s life, including the location of his boyhood home. 


Tucked away in Hohenwald is the Elephant Sanctuary, an incredible refuge where elephants who’ve spent most of their lives on display or performing can live out their lives in a 2,700-acre natural habitat and return to a herd as if in the wild. As a true sanctuary, it is not open for visitors, but you can visit the Elephant Discovery Center in downtown Hohenwald and watch them via the “EleCam.” While downtown, you can’t leave without sliding into a booth at Junkyard Dog Steakhouse. Don’t let the name or scrap decor fool you; this will be one of the best steaks you’ve ever tried.


 If you pull into Centerville the first weekend of October, you’ll find yourself immersed in a Banana Pudding wonderland. Home to the National Banana Pudding Festival, Centerville fills itself with banana pudding contests (both making and eating!), entertainment and everything you need to know about one of the world’s best sweet treats. Just outside downtown, have a sip of wine at the Grinder’s Switch Winery. As you peruse the 100-acre oasis, be careful about cracking jokes about the tiny community made famous as Grand Ole Opry legendary comedian Minnie Pearl’s hometown. Many of her jokes were based on the family and friends she knew growing up!

“The Farm”

Down the road in Summertown, you’ll find “The Farm,” which was established in 1971 by Stephen Gaskin and 200 other “flower children” after traveling the country in a caravan of school buses. Now, more than 40 years later, it’s no longer an actual commune but is open to visitors and known for its business and organizations that provide workshops and education.


“Davy, Davy Crockett…King of the Wild Frontier.” While it’s not required to sing the famous “Ballad of Davy Crockett” when entering his hometown, you will see numerous places devoted to the legendary Tennessean. A statue of David Crockett stands downtown, while you can also visit the Davy Crockett Cabin & Museum, or spend time hiking, biking, or just relaxing by the lake at David Crockett State Park


You wouldn’t think incredible, traditional southern food and a world-class fitness spa could reside together, but they sure do in Waynesboro. Around the historic town square you’ll find jewels like Emeralds—try the pizza, trust me. If you’ve had a few too many trips to the diner, join guests from across the world at the Tennessee Fitness Spa. The property includes a rare double-span natural rock bridge and an ice cave, to make those hikes even more enjoyable as you’re jump starting a healthier lifestyle! 


When you pull into Collinwood, make your first stop the Wayne County Welcome Center. In the spirit of true southern hospitality, the all-volunteer staff is known to have freshly baked goods waiting for their guests. Nothing says “welcome to town” like warm cookies, but if you’re a bit more health conscious ride over to the Tomato House. There, you will find a vast assortment of locally-grown fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, jams, peanuts, honey and more.