Tennessee is within a day's drive of 65 percent of our nation's population. There, you'll find natural beauty, great music and vibrant communities ladled with a dose of Southern hospitality. Here are five places your family won't want to miss.
1Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg. This 800- square-mile wonderland offers a treasure trove of outdoor opportunity for family members of all ages. Heavily forested, it's well known for its plant and animal diversity, including a population of 1,500 black bears. Enjoy picnicking, hiking the nearly 800 miles of trails, horseback riding and fishing. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge and join one of the ranger-led programs designed for young people.
Contact: 865-436-1200; www.nps.gov/grsm
2Graceland, Memphis. Share a bit of music history with your kids by including Elvis Presley's home in your itinerary. You won't want to miss the trophy building where the King of Rock 'n' Roll stowed his massive collection of awards, records and flashy mementos. Consider donning a headset for an audio tour that includes commentary from Elvis himself as well as his wife, Priscilla.
Conclude the visit with a stop by the Meditation Garden where Elvis and other family members rest in peace.
Contact: 901-332-3322 or 1-800-238-2000; www.elvis.com
3Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga. Make time for a stop at the world's largest freshwater aquarium. Scope out the 10-foot-long sharks, giant spider crabs, river otters and alligators. Within the aquarium's newest addition, Ocean Journey, you and your clan will learn about stealthy stingrays and colorful reef fish as the creatures glide through coral formations. You'll also experience a shark and ray touch pool and hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Ask about overnight programs that allow those 6 and older to "Sleep in the Deep."
Contact: 1-800-262-0695; www.tennesseeaquarium.com
4Nashville. Spend time in Music City USA, and young and old will swing to country music and discover its rich origins. Start at the Grand Ole Opry, where an 85th birthday celebration is under way. Learn about industry legends such as Loretta Lynn as well as more recent names the kids might recognize, including Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum further reveals how folk and gospel music and front-porch jamming evolved into the sounds we know today. You'll also see rhinestone costumes and tear-stained lyric sheets in this world's largest music museum.
Contact: Grand Ole Opry, 1-800-733-6779, www.opry.com; Country Music Hall of Fame, 615-416-2001; www.countrymusichalloffame.org
5John Muir Trail, Cherokee National Forest at Reliance, Tenn. Named for the famed naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, the John Muir Trail stretches for 20.7 miles along the north side of the Hiwassee State Scenic River. Here, nature-loving families can explore a crowd-free portion of the state that's said to look much the same as it did in Muir's day. Take the trail in springtime to view wildflowers. Fishing, picnicking and rafting are also accessible via the trail.