Columbus Day in Tennessee is a special treat if you love bluegrass music, cool breezes, colorful foliage, and pumpkin spice everything. The mountains and rolling hills are ablaze with scarlet red, while hickories, poplar, and ginkgoes cloak themselves in varied hues of golden yellow. Outdoor festivals and magnificent leaf-peeping drives await you. Book a stay at one of many Tennessee vacation rentals for an unforgettable three-day weekend. Check out the top cities and towns to visit in Tennessee.

Autumn foliage in Tennessee
Source: Flickr / David Siu

1. Memphis

Stoke up on some hearty pumpkin duffins, a cross-over pastry of cake, doughnut, and muffin, a local delicacy. Afterward, head to Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park just outside the city along the mighty Mississippi River where you can enjoy over 20 miles of hiking, biking, horseback riding, and photography. There’s a world-class children’s museum, the aptly named Children’s Museum of Memphis, with many experiences and programs for small hands. Become a kid again by riding the restored 1909 Dentzel Grand Carousel. Music lovers enjoy a visit to Elvis Presley’s Graceland or Beale Street, home of the blues.

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2. Nashville

Nestled in the heart of urban Nashville is Radnor Lake State Park. Nature reflects its vivid clothing along the lake’s banks, while more than 200 species of birds, including Carolina wrens, downy woodpeckers, and great blue heron, take up residence here. There are miles of trails for hiking or biking along this natural preserve. The Musicians Corner in Centennial Park has family-friendly entertainment, so bring a blanket, sit back, and enjoy. The grounds at Cheekwood Harvest show off more than 5,000 chrysanthemums in autumn splendor amid scarecrows and pumpkins.

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3. Erwin

Stroll the grounds at the Unicoi County Apple Festival in Erwin, and begin your holiday shopping at over 350 arts and craft booths. Three food courts offer all manner of apple-inspired fare, and you might want to dance in the streets to live entertainment. Join locals at the corn hole tournament, challenge them in the 4-mile run, or get your face wet dunking for apples. Take a hike through the corn maze at Fender’s Farm or enjoy the deeply forested trail at Pinnacle Mountain with magnificent views of the changing colors and panoramic vistas of the valleys below.

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4. Allardt

Join in the fun at the popular Great Pumpkin Festival where festival officials take pumpkin measurements and weights for world-record consideration. Not only do locals crown a king, queen, and royal court, check out the costume contest and pumpkin parade. Take home some fresh produce from local farmers as well as pumpkin-inspired treats. Grab a refreshing pumpkin cone at Dairy Mart or stop for lunch at Simply Fresh before heading out for a hike in the Colditz Cove State Natural Area.

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5. Gatlinburg

Spend your Columbus Day getaway in the heart of the Smoky Mountains at the Sugarlands Mountain Festival in Gatlinburg. Partake in plenty of spirits, outdoor competitions, competitive races, and live music from over 30 bands. Indulge your taste buds in quality as you taste dozens of whiskey samples at The Tennessee Whiskey Experience, then dance off the effects at the square dance jam. And don’t leave Gatlinburg without sampling the Old Smoky pumpkin pie moonshine.

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6. Chattanooga

Indulge your visual senses in the brilliant scenery surrounding Chattanooga via boat, bike, train, or trail in Chattanooga. Take a three-hour cruise aboard the Southern Belle riverboat. Live narration of historical sites, food, bingo, and live music keep you entertained while you view nature’s most astounding displays of color along the shores. Bikers enjoy the 13-mile paved Riverwalk that runs parallel to the Tennessee River and the art district at Bluff View. If you fancy a train ride, board the Chattanooga Choo-Choo for a fun-filled journey in the surrounding countryside.

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7. Sweetwater

Sweetwater is a small, charming Southern town that has a historic shopping district perfect for holiday shopping. Search for antiques, art or hard-to-find collectibles here. Plan on viewing the spectacular scenery by car or bicycle while traversing the Cherohala Skyway. There are 25 miles of scenic picnic sites along the road, and the staff at DinnerBell happily packs a lunch for you. Explore well-maintained trails, or journey by raft and canoe on the river.

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8. Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge sits at the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains with a history dating back to the Revolutionary War. This all-American town favors family-friendly and wholesome activities, so it’s a great place to have a vacation rental that serves as a home base while visiting. Take in spectacular fall foliage while boating on Chilhowee Lake, or discover scenic overlooks on the curvy Tail of the Dragon. View a historical, old settlers home from the Cades Cove Loop.

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9. Spring Hill

Ham it up over Columbus Day at the festival in Spring Hill. Tennessee knows country music and country ham, so celebrate the Country Ham Festival with locals. Soar over fall vistas in a hot air balloon, take a monster truck ride, or flaunt your mechanical bull-riding skills for a full eight-second ride. Most definitely save your voice for the popular hog-calling contest. History buffs enjoy a self-guided walking or driving tour of the Spring Hill Battlefield where Union and Confederate soldiers fought in 1864.

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10. Oak Ridge

Pick out the best pumpkin and gather a bouquet of riotous, fall-colored mums at the First Baptist Church, then stay for the bonfire and s’mores. Enjoy off-roading or riding your ATV at the Coal Creek Motor Discovery on tracks suitable for all experience levels. Take a leisurely walk in the Emory Valley Greenway, where volunteers keep well-maintained trails with clear markings that stay far away from traffic. For the best burger and curly friends in town, stop at The Other One, and if you love crispy fish and chips, check out Aubrey’s.

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11. Knoxville

Join the crowd at the Knoxville Brewer’s Jam at World’s Fair Park. This popular event is a great opportunity to tap your feet to some fine music and enjoy unlimited samples of craft beers. Take in some nice fall scenery from the trails at the Ijams Nature Center, or you may prefer to drive the Rocky Top Trail to see dramatic, breathtaking vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains. At the top of the trail, take the aerial tram before sipping some legal moonshine at the Ole Smoky Distillery.

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