5 Days to Nashville — A Recap
Another, short but super fun road trip!
Day 1 — A travel day (Brick, NJ to Charlottesville, VA)
Beware, this trip involves a whole lot of driving. On the first day we left around 5pm for a nice 5 hour drive to Charlottesville, VA. I wish I could say this drive was scenic, but it was mostly on the interstate and within 30 minutes of driving the sun had set. We made it safely to Virginia and promptly fell asleep.
Day 2— A travel day (Charlottesville, VA to Gatlinburg, TN ft. Blue Ridge Parkway)
I would say this drive was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done in my life. We set off to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park and headed south for Roanoke. This stretch of the parkway is called the Ridge Region because the road itself was built on top of the ridge part of the mountain. We happened to go at the most perfect time of the year because the colors were incredibly vibrant and beautiful. Although I’ve grown up in New England my whole life, I feel like I haven’t seen foliage like this in years. The parkway itself is well maintained and in the morning there weren’t too many cars so we had a lot of the outlook points to ourselves. We were on the parkway for around 3.5 hours. Afterwards, we exited and took the interstate for the rest of the 4 hours to Gatlinburg, TN.
Gatlinburg is a small town right outside of Smoky Mountain National Park. I thought it was going to be very very small, but it looked like it was straight out of a German fairy tale book. Parts of the town felt very touristy, but overall I enjoyed the vibes. We had a nice beer and some pizza and walked around in the very cold air.
Day 3— A travel day (Gatlinburg, TN to Nashville, TN ft. Smoky Mountain National Park)
The Smoky Mountains are indeed very smoky. The effect comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance, according to Wikipedia. The fog is so beautiful and gives the park a very angsty mood. It is the most visited park in the country and the entrance fee is free! I was amazed by how large the park is. It could take someone 3 hours to just drive from one end of the park to another.
We entered at the visitors center near Gatlinburg and took the main road to Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest points of elevation in the park (6,500 ft). The drive itself took us through the lower parts of the mountains which were decorated with trees and leaves at their prime fall color state. The drive was extremely windy and as we gained elevation, the majority of the fir trees started to be covered with snow and frost. It was incredible to see the different climates within such a small amount of space. The view from the top of Clingman’s Dome really showed off the true nature of the Smokies and we did a small paved hike to the observatory deck. The hike intersects with the Appalachian trail so we took a quick 2 mile detour hike on the trail which was really incredible. It made me want to do the full Appalachian trail at some point in my life.
After Clingman’s Dome we drove back down and exited the park so that we could reenter and do a small “off-road” trail called the Roaring Forks Motor Trail. It’s a small loop but the road is not very well paved so it took a good hour to get through. The trail was alright but it was cool to have some different scenery.
We said our goodbyes to Gatlinburg and the Smokies and headed west to Nashville. The drive was around 5 hours and there wasn’t too much to write home about.
The more I write the more I realize how much we did in such a short amount of time. We reached Nashville and drove into the downtown area for a quick bite at Prince’s Hot Chicken. Let me tell you, hot chicken is not a joke. It is genuinely very spicy, but also so good. To end the night we got some Jeni’s ice cream, which is one of my all time favorite ice cream places. I wish there was one in New York.
My first impressions of Nashville were really good. I love the energy of the city, it seemed like everyone was there to have a good time, so it felt very ‘good vibes only’. There is music everywhere. It sounds like a silly statement to make because it’s literally Nashville, but damn it’s so cool to hear good live music on every corner. I think every city should be like this. There were so many bachelorette parties and just large groups of girls having a good time and I was all for it.
Day 4— Nashville, TN
This was our only day where we didn’t have to drive more than an hour which is pretty funny. We woke up fairly early and drove to Franklin, a small town on the outskirts of Nashville. We got some coffee at a very cute coffee shop (Coffee & Company) and went to a small market that was converted from a factory. The factory had a ton of cute shops as well as a well known bakery (Five Daughters Bakery) where we got a tasty jelly doughnut.
We set off for the Johnny Cash Museum located in downtown Nashville. The museum was fairly small but had so much information about Johnny Cash. It was cool to learn about his beginnings and how his sound evolved throughout the years. Afterwards, we walked around Broadway, which is a really fun street packed with bars and live music. It was only noon but the streets were packed and people were ready to party.
We headed to get lunch at Edley’s BBQ, a very tasty barbecue spot located a little outside of downtown. They had some amazing banana pudding as well as draft beer selection. After the meal we were pretty stuffed and tired so we headed back to the hotel for a quick break.
The night began at the Parthenon which was unfortunately closed off due to an event but it was pretty cool to see it all lit up at night. We walked from the Parthenon to downtown which was a pretty decent walk. The city of Nashville is not that walkable which is unfortunate. There’s also not a ton of public transportation, so if you want to drink you are most likely gonna have to take an Uber or Lyft. We ended up getting drinks and some food on Printer’s Row at a cute little bar called Fleet Street. Afterwards we walked around downtown and headed back to the hotel since we had a very long day ahead.
Day 5— A travel day (Nashville, TN to Brick, NJ ft. Kentucky & West Virginia)
The last, but definitely not the least exciting day. This day started at 5am. We had a nice 13 hour drive ahead of us through Kentucky & West Virginia. Since we had come in through Virginia, we wanted to take a bit of a different route out, and it was a really good decision. The first few hours of the drive were an absolute blur but it was very cool to see parts of Kentucky & West Virginia. We drove through a lot of parks with nice foliage and small towns.
After 10 hours of driving without too many long breaks, we were getting delirious but grateful that we had taken this route that was very calm and didn’t have much traffic. We ended up reaching within 13 hours which was very exciting.
The first thing that I want to say is that road trips are so fun. It’s a great way to bond and intimately see different parts of the country. It was also satisfying at the end to know that if we wanted, we could drive 13 hours in one day. This was the first time I had really used cruise control and it was actually life changing. I also can’t get over the fact that the foliage was so incredibly beautiful. I haven’t seen colors like that in years and it was yet another reminder of how lucky I am to be able to see things like that. This road trip made me want to go on even more road trips. I love the act of figuring out where to stop and planning the route and eating at fast food places I don’t usually let myself go to, and doing this all while spending time with someone I really enjoy spending time with. I’ll wrap this up with the quote that Henry David Thoreau probably didn’t intend for road trips, but “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”.