This 9-day road trip takes you on an active adventure to Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. You’ll spend the majority of your time enjoying the great outdoors and avoiding the crowds. Although this version starts and ends in Atlanta, the route is easily adjusted for a starting point from any city in these three states. Hike, bike, and drive your way across some of the highlights of the Southeast!


  • Take a walking food tour through East Nashville
  • Hike in numerous national parks across three states
  • Drive the famous Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Paddleboard the Tennessee River at sunset
  • Sample moonshine in the heart of Appalachia

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 From Atlanta to Asheville: The Scenic Route Asheville, NC
Day 2 Explore Asheville & Forage for Dinner Asheville, NC
Day 3 Hiking in Smoky Mountains National Park & Moonshine Tasting Gatlinburg, TN
Day 4 Gatlinburg to Knoxville via Cades Cove Loop Road Knoxville, TN
Day 5 Explore Knoxville's Swimming Holes & Downtown Area Knoxville, TN
Day 6 Chasing Waterfalls from Knoxville to Nashville & Walking Food Tour Nashville, TN
Day 7 Explore Nashville Nashville, TN
Day 8 From Nashville to Chattanooga & Sunset Paddleboard Chattanooga, TN
Day 9 Explore Chattanooga & Cloudland Canyon State Park, Back to Atlanta Atlanta, GA

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: From Atlanta to Asheville - The Scenic Route

Stop at Tallulah Gorge along the way
Stop at Tallulah Gorge along the way

Today, you’ll make the drive from Atlanta to Asheville, stopping along the way at various trailheads and lookout points. The listed suggestions vary in distance and difficulty, so choose the one that best suits your time and ability. 

You’ll head north out of Atlanta on I-985 towards Gainsville. 1.5 hours into the drive, you’ll approach Tallula Gorge State Park. The park has several rim overlooks and a beautiful suspension bridge. Park near the Visitor's Center and it's only a 5-10 minute walk to great views of some of the park's waterfalls.

Afterward, continue north to Clayton, where you’ll stop for lunch at Fortify Kitchen and Bar. Walk around the quaint downtown area before continuing on your way. Just 3 miles north of Clayton is Black Rock Mountain State Park, where you’ll find even more stunning views. Roadside overlooks here provide vistas for up to 80 miles over the Southern Appalachians.

Once in North Carolina, you'll join the Blue Ridge Parkway, an incredibly scenic route along which there are numerous stunning lookout points and trailheads. Head to the southern terminus of the Parkway near Cherokee and drive toward Asheville from there. 

At Milepost 451.2, you’ll turn off the Parkway and come to Browning Knob Overlook. If you're in the mood for a hike, Waterrock Knob is a 1.2-mile round-trip hike to the summit, where you'll find a panoramic view of several mountain ranges from the highest pedestrian point on the Parkway. It is a steep climb, but the views are well worth it! 

Next up is the Richland Balsam Overlook (Milepost 431). Richland Balsam Mountain rises to 6,410 feet and is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Park at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook for the 1.5-mile loop hike that leads you to the top. This route climbs approximately 700 vertical feet, but it's not overly strenuous. 

Further along, you'll come to Devil's Courthouse at Milepost 422.4. Here you'll find a short but strenuous 0.5-mile trail that climbs to the peak. Within the mountain is a cave where (legend says) the devil holds court. The panoramic views here look out over North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.

At Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8), you can take a short hike to a beautiful waterfall. If you’re up for it, there is a longer 3.5-mile loop through a meadow to another waterfall. You’ll even find wild blueberries along this route if you visit in August! From Graveyard Fields, it's approximately a one-hour drive northeast to Asheville. 

Asheville is known for its vibrant culinary scene, so you can’t really go wrong in terms of dinner choice. Take a short stroll around Asheville's downtown area before walking over to dine in a 1930s roller rink at Buxton Hall or sample tapas at Cúrate

Total driving time: approx. 4.5 hours

Day 2: Explore Asheville & Forage for Dinner

Courtesy of No Taste Like Home
Courtesy of No Taste Like Home

Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains at the junction of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers, Asheville is known for its artsy, eccentric vibe and culinary scene. The city’s downtown area is small enough to be explored on foot, which is how you will spend your morning.

Walk on over to Biscuit Head’s downtown location for a filling breakfast before exploring the vibrant city center. Visit the 30 public sculptures along the 1.7-mile Asheville Urban Trail that tell the cultural and architectural history of Asheville. Book lovers rejoice - Asheville is home to a growing literary scene, and there are a number of independent bookstores that are definitely worth a visit. Pop into Malaprop’s or the Battery Park Book Exchange to check out their titles. 

If you’d prefer to explore the city's waterfront, you can spend the morning paddleboarding, kayaking or tubing on the French Broad River, which runs through the center of the city. You can also take a 30-minute stroll along the riverbank from Carrier Park to French Broad River Park.

For lunch, head over to White Duck Taco Shop and sample the many tacos on an ever-changing menu. 

This afternoon, you’ll venture into the forest with an expert guide and hunt for wild mushrooms, edible greens, berries, and more. You'll sample some finds right on the trail, and take your spoils to one of four award-winning city restaurants (like The Market Place) where the chef will prepare your finds as star ingredients in your dinner.

Day 3: Hiking in Smoky Mountains National Park & Moonshine Tasting

Newfound Gap Viewpoint
Newfound Gap Viewpoint

After a tasty breakfast at Tupelo Honey, you'll leave North Carolina behind and head into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to stop at The Fresh Market on your way out of town to pick up some snacks and food for your picnic, as you'll spend most of the day in the park. 

1.5 hours drive west of Asheville brings you to the center of the park and to Newfound Gap Road. Newfound Gap (elevation 5,048 ft.) is a mountain pass situated along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and has many hiking trails, each with stunning views. 

The first hiking option is Charlies Bunion (8 miles, 4-5 hours). The trail begins from the large parking area at Newfound Gap, and parts of the route overlap the Appalachian Trail. This is a strenuous, 8.1-mile out-and-back route along which hikers will enjoy grand, panoramic views of the mountains. At the end, you can climb out onto the cliffs to the left for an amazing view, or follow the small trails to the right up the mountain face for more winding trails and stunning viewpoints. This route takes a bit of actual climbing to get there, but it's worth it as this area is less crowded than the cliffs below. 

Once back on Newfound Gap Road, pull over at Campbell Overlook for the perfect view of Mount LeConte.

For a versatile hike, the trail to Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave is a great option. For families with young children, the short hike to Arch Rock (2.8 miles) on this trail is super approachable. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic by the water before heading back to the car. Continuing to Alum Cave before turning around makes for a moderate hike and is the most popular variation (4.6 miles).  Keep in mind that the trail and parking at the trailhead tend to be crowded. 

Walking the full trail to Mt. LeConte and back in a day is for experienced hikers (11 miles). As the highest mountain on the Tennessee side of the park, the views from the cliffs at the top are some of the best you can find in the Smokies. Stop in at the lodge for a coffee, but don’t miss the last .2 miles of the trail which takes you to the cliffs.

Once in Gatlinburg, head to Sugarlands Distilling Company for a moonshine tasting. Learn about the local legends and storied history of this recently legalized (in 2009!) alcoholic beverage. For dinner, dine at The Peddler Steakhouse.

Total driving time: approx. 2 hours, depending on traffic

Day 4: Gatlinburg to Knoxville via Cades Cove Loop Road

Abrams Falls, courtesy of
Abrams Falls, courtesy of

Pick up a picnic lunch from Parton's Deli (cash-only) and pastries for breakfast from the Donut Friar before starting today's drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Knoxville. 

You'll drive just over an hour southwest back into the national park to reach Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile, one-way ring road with picturesque views of the Smokies. The route provides a great chance to see black bears and lots of other wildlife up-close from the safety of your car. It's important to note, however, that people drive extremely slowly to take in the views, and the only opportunity to shorten the loop comes halfway through the drive. So be prepared to take it slow and see what wildlife you can spot! 

Along the loop, there are many hiking opportunities. The trail to Abrams Falls is a moderate 5.2-mile hike - it's a bit longer than some of the other options, but there is very little elevation change which makes it an easy, family-friendly route.  To reach the trailhead, drive 4.8 miles along the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. Although the deep pool beneath the falls is not safe for swimming, you can take in its beauty from the 'beach' along the edge. 

From here, continue one hour north to Knoxville. We recommend taking US Route 441 to enter Knoxville from the south, as it is by far the most scenic option. Once you've made it to your destination, take a walk along the riverfront to catch the sunset from the banks of the Tennessee River. For dinner, try Landing House, a restaurant serving Chinese and Cambodian dishes in a renovated house near Suttree Landing Park. Here you'll find a laidback atmosphere and a great outdoor space along with a selection of craft beers. 

After dinner, drive to North Knoxville via Gay Street, then turn onto Central which will take you through Old City. In North Knoxville, you'll find the highest concentration of local breweries in the city. If you want to go to one spot where you can taste all of them, Hops and Hollers is a cozy beer bar with an extensive wall of taps. They don't serve food, but there's almost always a food truck parked out front.

Day 5: Explore Knoxville's Swimming Holes & Downtown Area

Float in the waters at Meads Quarry
Float in the waters at Meads Quarry

A favorite local summer pastime is swimming in one of several old marble quarries in the Knoxville area that have been turned into public swimming holes. After breakfast in the Old City at locally-owned OliBea, head to the Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville and home to Mead's Quarry. This swimming hole is well-developed, with food trucks selling beer and snacks, a spot to rent kayaks and paddleboards, and a designated swimming area. Though you may see people cliff-jumping, it's actually very dangerous and therefore, illegal. 

In addition to numerous nice nature trails around the quarry, there are almost 10 miles of mountain biking trails available, ranging from easy to moderate. The paved Will Skelton Greenway cuts through the park and is a great way to explore the park on two wheels. If you want to explore new heights, head to the Ijams Crag and try your hand at outdoor rock climbing. 

You can easily spend an entire day at the quarry, but head back to town by the late afternoon to explore downtown Knoxville. 

The historic Old City is easily the most picturesque part of town. A stroll along Central and Jackson Avenues takes you along Knoxville’s 'Creative Corridor.' In the heart of downtown Knoxville is the Historic Market Square, home to numerous events and the farmers' market every weekend in the summer. Even if you visit when there is no event planned, the restaurants and shops along the square make it a lively spot for people watching. 

Stock and Barrel 
has the best burgers in town and should not be missed. For authentic Italian in an upscale atmosphere, Emilia's is another locally owned favorite. After dinner, head over to the lively Gay Street. For an after-dinner drink and games, visit the local favorite Harrogate’s Lounge at Suttree’s. An upscale bowling alley with plush couches and fantastic food, Maple Hall is always busy but worth a visit.

Day 6: Chasing Waterfalls from Knoxville to Nashville & Walking Food Tour

Ozone Falls
Ozone Falls

Grab a coffee and a pastry from Wild Love Bakehouse and pick up a picnic lunch from Three Rivers Market before starting the trip to Nashville.  On this route from Knoxville to Nashville, you’ll stop at two waterfalls and swimming holes along the way to cool off and break up the drive. 

One hour west of Knoxville and a short detour from I-40 is Ozone Falls. This waterfall plunges 110 feet over a sandstone cap rock into a small swimming hole at the bottom.  The sheer height is pretty incredible and worth the short hike down from the parking area. If you visit on a weekday, you're likely to have the swimming hole mostly to yourself!

One hour further west brings you to Cummins Falls State Park. Enjoy your picnic at the designated area overlooking the falls. Head to the nearby overlook. If you're feeling adventurous and have the necessary permit (permits cost $6 and are required to limit visitors per day), you can hike down to the base and wade across the river to reach the swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. 

Another hour on I-40 brings you to Nashville.  Across the Cumberland River from downtown is East Nashville, known best for its culinary scene. Mas Tacos Por Favor has tacos so good that they were featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives! Ensure you bring some banknotes, because this joint is cash-only. If this isn't enough to whet your appetite, you can take a guided walking food tour through this area of Nashville. 

Total driving time: approx. 3.5 hours, depending on traffic 

Day 7: Explore Nashville

Courtesy of Visit Nashville
Courtesy of Visit Nashville

Have brunch at the Pancake Pantry in Hillsboro Village. The menu is nothing but no-frills American style breakfast staples, but done so well that you’ll understand why people are willing to wait for hours to get in. It’s located on 21st Avenue, a shopping street with tons of quirky boutiques and a few vintage shops which are perfect for post-brunch shopping. Lots of colorful murals have been painted on the old-fashioned buildings which are great photo ops as well. From here, walk through the campus of Belmont University to see the Belmont Mansion and the rest of the grounds on a leisurely stroll towards the 12South neighborhood. 

12South is a half-mile stretch along 12th Avenue South, a stylish area lined with restaurants and cafes. Pop into just about any of them and it’s hard to go wrong. The Flipside has a classic diner atmosphere serving milkshakes, hot chicken (a local favorite), and burgers. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is easily Nashville’s most famous ice cream parlor and is located at the end of the street. Most Southern cities are all about college or NFL football, but Nashville is all about their hockey team, the Predators. If you want to experience the local love of hockey without paying for overpriced tickets or dealing with the crowds, just about any of the restaurants along this street are likely to have the game on with packed tables full of invested fans.

This afternoon, take an e-bike tour of Nashville to explore downtown, Music Row, and other areas of the city. If your tour ends in The Gulch and you're ready for an afternoon pick-me-up, stop at Barista Parlor, a coffee shop with a great menu and plenty of seating. 

For dinner, bartaco is a must for fusion tacos and a great outdoor space.

Day 8: From Nashville to Chattanooga & Sunset Paddleboard

Rutledge Falls, courtesy of Tennessee Vacation
Rutledge Falls, courtesy of Tennessee Vacation

Have an early breakfast at Loveless Cafe to beat the morning rush before starting the drive south to Chattanooga. 

An hour's drive down I-24 will bring you to Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. The park is home to a Native American hilltop ceremonial enclosure dating back over 2,000 years. The main Enclosure Trail is a 1.4-mile loop that follows the perimeter of the fort, which was used by the Native Americans as a ceremonial gathering place, along deep gorges on either side. You'll find interpretive signs along the route to help explain the site along the way, as well as scenic waterfall overlooks and the remnants of an old paper mill foundation.

If you drive 15 minutes further south, you'll come to the swimming hole at Rutledge Falls. Although the swimming hole is located on private property, the owners welcome visitors who clean up after themselves and leave the area better than they found it. 

From here, head an hour south along I-24 to the Nickajack Reservoir. Here you'll find the Little Cedar Mountain Trail: a moderate, 3-mile loop trail with easy access off of I-24 at Exit 158. Take this hike to stretch your legs for an hour and you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Tennessee River Gorge. 

From the trailhead parking lot, it's about an hour's drive east to Chattanooga. 

At the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga mixes outdoor adventure with laidback charm on the banks of the Tennessee River

Explore downtown's favorite sights via paddleboard before finishing your 90-minute float with a serene sunset from the Tennessee River. 

For fabulous food and cocktails, stop in at the industrial-style Flying Squirrel in downtown Chattanooga. Try to secure outdoor seating on their pet-friendly patio and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. 

Total driving time: approx. 2.5 hours, depending on traffic 

Day 9: Explore Chattanooga & Cloudland Canyon State Park, Back to Atlanta

Courtesy of Bluff View Art District Chattanooga
Courtesy of Bluff View Art District Chattanooga

Spend this morning in the Bluff View Art District, which stretches over 1.5 city blocks and is set high atop stone cliffs overlooking the Tennessee River below. Start with breakfast at Rembrandt's Coffee House and sit in their open courtyard. Peruse the open-air art pieces on your walk through the District towards Walnut Street Bridge, a historic pedestrian bridge that connects downtown with north Chattanooga.

Walk over the bridge (stopping for pictures along the way) to the North Shore, where you can visit art galleries, handmade jewelry stores, and gift shops. Stop and take in the view over the Tennessee River from either Renaissance Park or Coolidge Park, located on either side of the Walnut Street Bridge on the North Shore. 

Head to Taco Mamacita for lunch before starting the drive back down south to Atlanta. 

About 30 minutes southwest of Chattanooga, make a detour to Cloudland Canyon State Park. If you have the time, hike the moderate West Rim Loop Trail (5 miles) for several scenic viewpoints and stellar views over the canyon. For a shorter hike, try the Overlook Trail (1 mile), an out-and-back route offering impressive views of the park's canyons. For a short but strenuous hike, take the Waterfalls Trail (2 miles) down 600 stairs to two towering waterfalls deep in the gorge. The hike back to the rim is what makes this a strenuous workout. 

From here, it's a 2-hour drive to Atlanta. 

Total driving time: approx. 2.5 hours, depending on traffic