Driving Charlotte to Nashville: 3 Great Stops Along the Way

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Broadway In Nashville, Tennessee.
Take a stroll down Broadway, the main thoroughfare in downtown Nashville, to find honky-tonks, restaurants, and shopping. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

At just over 400 miles, the drive to Music City is a long haul if you do it in one shot. Break it up with a few stops along the way and pick some apples, ride a carousel, and satisfy your sweet tooth. If you have an extra night or two to spare, stop in Pigeon Forge to ride coasters and celebrate the patron saint of Tennessee, Dolly Parton. Then put on your cowboy boots, get yourself some Nashville hot chicken, and follow the sound of live music to the nearest concert hall, honky-tonk, or dive bar. 

Stop 1: Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard
170 Stepp Orchard Drive, Hendersonville
DISTANCE: Two hours

Hendersonville, also known as North Carolina’s Apple Alley, is an essential stop during apple-picking season. Head to Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard, just outside historic Hendersonville, and pick more than 20 varieties of apples. The 70-acre working farm also has a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and an on-site farm market that sells local honey, bagged apples, and homemade apple cider donuts. On fall weekends you can find a jump pad, apple cannon, and wagon rides. Pack a lunch and visit the covered picnic area, and bring your camera to snap a few pictures of the kids if the sunflowers are in bloom.

Wildwood Grove Environmentals

Dollywood’s theme park includes rides like the Black Bear Trail in Wildwood Grove. Photo courtesy of Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood.

Stop 2: Dollywood
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
DISTANCE: 3 hours and 40 minutes

You can get a day pass to the theme park and ride as many roller coasters, carousels, and twisty teacups as time allows. But one day isn’t enough for the full Dollywood experience. Book a room at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa and get complimentary TimeSaver passes (which let you skip the lines), early entry to the park on Saturdays, and access to a free shuttle to and from Dollywood. True Dolly fans must visit the Chasing Rainbows Museum to see costumes, awards, and other keepsakes from the Iron Butterfly’s life and career. If you come between May and September, check out Dollywood’s Splash Country, the site’s 35-acre water park.

Apple Fritters At Ralph's Donut Shop In Cookeville, Tennessee.

Apple fritters are a local favorite at Ralph’s Donut Shop in Cookeville, Tennessee. Photo courtesy Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Stop 3: Ralph’s Donut Shop
59 S. Cedar Ave., Cookeville, Tennessee
DISTANCE: Five hours and 12 minutes

If you need a bump of sugar to get you through the final stretch, stop in Cookeville, a small town in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. Its historic downtown has a mix of boutiques, cafés, and hidden murals, and the town is home to Tennessee’s best donut. Ralph’s Donut Shop has been in the same spot since 1962; it isn’t much to look at on the outside, but the smell of fresh donuts invites you in. Choose from more than 30 flavors of donuts, or do as most locals do and order the glistening butter twist. Grab a stool at the counter and eat it there or take a box to go. Just don’t expect them to last until Nashville.

Soundwaves At Gaylord Opryland In Nashville, Tennessee.

SoundWaves is the indoor-outdoor water park at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Photo courtesy Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Final Stop: Nashville
DISTANCE: Six hours and 30 minutes

For a girls’ trip or a romantic getaway, stay at the Germantown Inn and stroll the historic neighborhood lined with brick sidewalks and restored Victorian buildings that house cafés and boutiques. For a more kid-centric experience, head to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Hit golf balls, visit the atriums and indoor gardens, or check out SoundWaves, the indoor-outdoor water park. Take a 10-minute drive to explore downtown Nashville. Walk down Broadway and get a pair of cowboy boots for the kids—many places, like Boot Country (304 Broadway), offer buy-one-get-two-free deals, so you can size up or get a different style for next year. Stop by Biscuit Love in The Gulch (316 11th Ave. South) for a hot chicken biscuit so good you’ll forgive the 45-minute line. Spend an afternoon at 12South, a walkable shopping district with boutiques, vintage stores, cafés, and coffee shops. Get your Southern food fix at Monell’s (1235 6th Ave. North), a local institution where skillet fried chicken and all the sides are served family style—or go after hours for the Midnight Country Breakfast, available on Saturdays from midnight to 3 a.m. If it’s your first visit, spend at least one evening toward the lower side of Broadway, where you can grab a drink and hear free live music any night of the week.

Categories: The Buzz, Travel