Love this Graceland to Pigeon Forge Road Trip
In this article we’re going to describe a Graceland to Pigeon Forge road trip that will let you visit some of the best sights in the state of Tennessee.
This road trip starts at the lowest point in Tennessee, in the southeast corner of the state, standing next to the mighty Mississippi River, with an elevation of about 178 feet above sea level. From there, you’ll drive east across the state to a mountain observatory “Clingmans Dome”, which is the highest point in the state at 6,643 feet above sea level, where you’ll enjoy views of the beautiful Smoky Mountains.
Along the way, you’ll experience the best of Tennessee, starting in Memphis, a couple of cool stops along Interstate 40, a visit to the state capital Nashville, and ending up in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, two unique mountain resort towns. It’s about 430 miles from Memphis to Pigeon Forge, so we’d better get going!
Where is Tennessee?
Tennessee is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by eight states, with Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the west, and Missouri to the northwest.
This road trip starts in the southeast corner of the state in the city of Memphis, where we’re going to honor a king, enjoy some old time rock and roll music, walk across the mighty Mississippi, and experience some pyramid power! We also suggest a visit to the birthplace of rock and roll, and to the site of the tragic death of civil rights icon.
Graceland – Home of Elvis Presley
Let’s start with a visit to Graceland, where you will honor a king, Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll. Graceland was originally Elvis’ home, and the home reflects his personal style. Of course, Elvis died tragically at a young age, and so Graceland mansion was converted into a museum to honor the fallen king. Inside, the home looks much like it did when Elvis lived here, decorated in a modern (for the 1970s) style. Most visitors to Graceland these days will take a tour inside the mansion, then a visit to the Meditation Garden.
Over the years, the Presley estate has added new attractions to the mansion, and these are all open to the public. You can take a self-guided tour of Elvis’ jet airplanes, visit the Presley Motors Automobile Museum, tour the Elvis Entertainer Career Museum and Discovery Exhibits, or participate in interactive experiences with the king himself!
Ticket prices range from $43 to $198 depending on how many experiences you want to try.
For more information, visit the official Graceland website.
Beale Street is the place to go to experience some good old fashioned soul, blues, or rock and roll music. Located in downtown Memphis, Beale Street is lined with bars and restaurants, many of them featuring live music. Some of the most famous places are B.B. King’s Blues Club, Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe and Honky Tonk, and a Hard Rock Cafe.
Check out the official Beale Street website to see when and where to see some live music.
And if you can’t make it to Beale Street, Memphis has many other places to hear some live music, check out the official “Memphis Travel – Live Music” website here.
Big River Crossing
Are you ready to walk on water? Well, not quite, but how about walking across the mighty Mississippi River? Yes, you can now walk (or ride your bicycle) across a railway bridge which spans the mighty river. Don’t worry, there is a safe, separate passageway to walk or pedal, so you don’t need to worry about the trains crossing. It’s about a mile to walk across and you’ll actually enter the state of Arkansas at the midway point. The Big River Crossing is free, and is open every day from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. There is a “TTA Big River” parking lot next to the bridge on the Memphis side.
For more information, visit the official Big River Crossing website.
There is also a light show that you can enjoy, the “Mighty Lights” show, that lights up the evening sky every night. The show starts at sundown and runs continuously until the grand finale at 10:30pm. There are lights on two bridges: the Big River Crossing bridge and the Hernando de Soto bridge are both part of the light show. You can watch the show from anywhere on the riverside between the two bridges.
To see the schedule, visit the official “Mighty Lights” website.
Big Cypress Lodge and Bass Pro Shops
It’s time to experience some Pyramid Power! In this case, it’s a 320 foot tall, glass pyramid right in the middle of Memphis. Originally constructed as an arena, it now houses an upscale, rural themed hotel called “Big Cypress Lodge” and a “Bass Pro Shops” retail store. There is an observation deck and restaurant near the top, with great views of the city and the Mississippi River.
Check out the hotel, restaurants, and other things to do at Big Cypress Lodge official website.
Who doesn’t enjoy a trip to Bass Pro Shops? Here’s a link to the shop inside the Big Cypress Lodge.
Our next destination is often called the birthplace of rock and roll, the tiny recording studio called “Sun Studio”. Starting in the 1950’s, this little studio was the setting for many stars to record their hit songs. The list includes B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others. If you visit, you’ll enjoy a guided tour of the studio and you will stand in the very same spot that Elvis first recorded. How great is that?
To reserve your guided tour, visit the official Sun Studio website. Do it now!
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
Our final suggestion is a visit to the site of the tragic death of civil rights icon. In 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. The site has been largely kept intact to preserve his legacy, and the National Civil Rights Museum was founded there. The Museum chronicles the American Civil Rights Movement, and visitors will learn a great deal about this important subject.
For more information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, visit their official website.
If you’re interested in the many other places to go and things to do in Memphis, check out the official Memphis Travel website.
It’s time to say goodbye to Memphis and hit the road! Drive east on Interstate 40 to reach our next stop, the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, or as most people call it, the Tina Turner museum.
The world famous singer Tina Turner was born and raised in a small town called Nutbush. Born as Anna Mae Bullock, she grew up in poverty and was educated in a tiny 1-room schoolhouse there, but went on to become a super star recording artist. To commemorate this feat, and to celebrate the history of this region, the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center was founded in Brownsville. You’ll see the last home of Blues musician “Sleepy” John Estes and Flagg Grove School, the childhood school of Tina Turner.
For more information, visit the official website of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center.
Keep driving east on Interstate 40 and you’ll soon be in Tennessee’s capital city of Nashville. Just like Memphis, Nashville is famous for music, but the musical style here leans toward country music.
Grand Ole Opry
The most popular attraction here is the Grand Ole Opry, a music theatre where country music artists perform to live and radio audiences. You can see a concert here, or get a guided tour backstage.
To check the schedule or purchase tickets, click here for the Grand Ole Opry official website.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Hatch Show Print
Also popular with fans of country music fans is the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame celebrates country’s biggest stars, and the museum houses a vast collection of memorabilia.
Here’s a link to the Country Music Hall of Fame official website.
Located right next door to the Country Music Hall fame, you’ll find a unique piece of the music industry called Hatch Show Print. This place prints posters mainly for the music business, using an old fashioned wood block technology.
To purchase tickets or to order online, visit the Hatch Show Print website here.
Johnny Cash Museum and Patsy Cline Museum
Nashville has museums dedicated to two country music superstars, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. Both museums display memorabilia, clothing, and a lot of gold records! Both museums are in the same building so you can easily tour both.
Our last stop in Nashville is really just a photo opportunity, it’s a brief stop to see Nashville’s replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It’s a full scale replica of the original, built in 1897, and makes for a nice picture of your holiday. It’s located just a few blocks west of downtown.
To plan your trip to Nashville, check out the official “Music City” website here.
Our next stop may not be for everybody………it’s a former maximum security prison, the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, that has been turned into a tourist attraction. It’s located just a few miles north of Interstate 40 as you drive east from Nashville so it’s an easy and quick detour.
Sometimes called the “Alcatraz of the South”, Brushy Mountain State Penitentiarywas the last place you wanted to be! Situated in the middle of Tennessee’s first maximum-security prison, and holding the state’s most violent murderers, robbers and criminals, it must have been a scary place. With prison sentences of 200 years or more, most of the men who walked through its gates would never be walking out.
The prison was decommissioned long ago, so today it serves as a tourist attraction where you can take a tour to see what life was like for prisoners, enjoy a concert, or visit a distillery. A tour of the prison will cost you $16, and you can dine at the “Warden’s Table” restaurant, or enjoy a tour and a sample at the moonshine distillery.
Plan your own visit by clicking on the official “Tour Brushy” website here.
Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg
Here we are, the final stop on our road trip, the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The two towns are side by side, sitting just south of Interstate 40, and connected by a single road. That single road is known as Highway 66, Highway 441, or Highway 321, depending on which town you are in.
The road is lined with hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions all the way from Interstate 40 to Pigeon Forge, so you may want to stay in that area if you like the “buzz” of busy tourist areas. From Pigeon Forge, the road winds up into the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains and into the mountain village of Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is also a busy tourist town, with more hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions to choose from, so if you prefer the mountain environment, you may prefer to stay in Gatlinburg.
Both towns are jam packed with tourist attractions: zip lines, mini golf, petting zoos, dinner theatre shows and the like, so you will have plenty of activities to choose from no matter where you stay. For this article, we are going to focus on the “Top 10” attractions which are the big draws for tourists.
“Top 10” Attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- The Island at Pigeon Forge
- Parrot Mountain
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
- Visit a “Moonshine” distillery
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
- Ober Gatlinburg
- Dolly Parton’s Stampede
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Island at Pigeon Forge
Let’s start this Top 10 list with a place that will get you in the right frame of mind for the rest of your visit: “The Island” in Pigeon Forge. The Island offers shopping, dining, and entertainment for all ages and tastes. It’s open day and night, and admission and parking are free. Highlights include the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-foot-high Ferris wheel, and a multi-million dollar fountain. There are lots of places to eat and drink as well.
Make your plans to visit the Island at Pigeon Forge by clicking on the official website here.
Coming in at number 9 is Parrot Mountain and Garden of Eden. This is a combination of an aviary (a zoo for birds) and a botanical gardens. They have a fantastic collection of birds that you can see, and you can touch and feed some of the birds as well. The Garden of Eden is filled with beautiful flowers to enhance your walk. Entrance costs about $22 for adults.
Check out the hours of operation at the Parrot Mountain official website.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Number 8 on our Top 10 list is a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR). GSMR offers a number of railroad adventures from their station in Bryson City, North Carolina. This requires some driving, as Bryson City is a 90 minute drive south from Gatlinburg, so make sure you plan ahead and make a reservation!
GSMR operates both diesel and steam railroads, and offer a number of different itineraries, including some that include river rafting or hiking. Prices range from about $40 to $125.
Reserve your ticket today at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad website.
Number 7 on our list is a mountain themed amusement park called “Anakeesta”. A visit here starts with a ride up to the top of the mountain, and you can choose to get there by riding an open air, 4-seat chair lift, or by an enclosed 6-person gondola, or by the “Ridge Rambler” truck.
Up top, you’ll find all sorts of activities and rides, including zip lines, rock climbing, gem mining, and the “Anavista” observation tower. If you prefer a more exciting ride down the mountain, there is a mountain coaster – you can zip down the mountain on this single rail track with 1,600 feet of downhill twists and turns at speeds of up to 25 mph!
Check out all the rides and activities at the official Anakeesta website.
Visit a “Moonshine” Distillery
Our #6 recommendation is to visit a “Moonshine” distillery. In this part of America, it was popular for people to illicitly produce their own liquor without government authorization. The name “moonshine” was derived from a tradition of creating the alcohol during the nighttime to avoid detection by those authorities. This practice is still illegal in Tennessee, but now there are authorized distilleries that produce and sell moonshine to tourists, just like a public winery.
There are quite a few of them in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, each offering a unique visitor experience and a range of products. We’ll list a couple of them and let you decide which one to visit!
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Coming in at #5 is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg. Ripley’s operates a chain of aquariums around the world and they always deliver a great experience. This location offers some unique experiences……..you can even “paint with a penguin”!
Plan your visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies by visiting the official website here.
Number 4 on our “Top 10” list is a theme park called “Ober Gatlinburg”, which is German for “Over Gatlinburg”. Located in the hills just north of Gatlinburg, they offer a wide range of mountain-themed rides and activities. The “star” attraction is their aerial tramway which whisks visitors along a 2 mile track and an aerial climb of 1500 feet to the top of the hill where you can enjoy views of the Smoky Mountains. You can also enjoy mountain coasters, summer tubing, mini golf, and lots more.
Here’s the official website for Ober Gatlinburg.
Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Number 3 on our “Top 10” list is a dinner theatre show called “Dolly Parton’s Stampede”, which includes dinner and a country-themed show inside a large arena.
You should start with a visit to the “Horse Walk” to get a close up look at the stars of the show, our beautiful variety of horse breeds. Inside the theatre, you’ll be treated to a generous 4 course meal. Then the show begins, filled with friendly North versus South competition, thrilling horse riding stunts, spectacular special effects, phenomenal musical productions, and of course some comedy.
Check out the schedule for Dolly Parton’s Stampede here.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Number 2 on our list is the most visited national park in the United States: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can enter the park at the main entrance just south of Gatlinburg. You may want to visit the Sugarlands visitor center which is just inside the park, to get the latest updates or collect a map.
Inside the park, there are many places to go and things to do, including hiking trails and waterfalls. Two of the more popular spots are Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome. Cades Cove is an 11 mile loop that is very scenic with a lot of local wildlife to observe. Clingman’s Dome is an observation tower at the highest park of the park, providing expansive views of the area.
Get the latest updates and plan your trip by visiting the official National Parks “Great Smoky Mountains National Park” website here.
Number 1 on our list has to be the theme park “Dollywood”. Located in Pigeon Forge, this is a huge theme park, with many rides to entertain everybody in the family. There are shows throughout the park, and lots of food and drink to enjoy. There is a separate water park called “Splash Country”, and a resort area with hotels and cabins if you prefer to stay on the property.
Check out all the things to do at Dollywood by clicking on the official website here.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this Graceland to Pigeon Forge road trip.
If you’d like to see all that Tennessee has to offer, click on the official “Tennessee Vacation” website here.
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