Tennessee is best known for its capital city of Nashville, which is the heart of the country-music scene. The Grand Ole Opry has seen some of the country’s greatest musicians, as have Nashville’s own legendary downtown streets brimming with honky-tonks. The Country Music Hall of Fame is also located here. Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Sun Studio, a pioneer in the rock-and-roll and blues scene, draws crowds to Memphis every year. Tennessee is not only rich in music culture, but rich too in its landscape. The natural beauty of its countryside is both rugged and breathtaking. Wooded forests, mountain ranges, lakes, rivers and streams, and open prairies are home to an abundance of wildlife. Visitors can explore caves, enjoy watersports, zip line, camp, rock climb, and even hike the Appalachian Trail. A host of family-friendly museums, zoos, parks, and attractions create fun for all ages. Here are the top 25 things to do with kids In Tennessee.
1.Ijams Nature Center
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Ijams is loaded with action packed activities for the whole family. A 35-mile loop of hiking trails connects Ijam with five other scenic state parks. There are also 9 miles of rugged, beginner-intermediate level mountain bike trails. The park also boasts Ijam’s Crag; Knoxville’s only rock climbing location. Visitors to the park can cool down on Mead’s Quarry Lake. Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards may be rented on-site. The most thrilling attraction is the Navitat obstacle course, which is suspended mid-air among the trees. Tight ropes, balance bridges, ziplines, rope ladders, and low crawl tunnels test courage at every turn. A visitor’s center and gift shop are on-site. Ijams hosts field trips, homeschool programs, pre-school programs, and day camps.
2915 Island Home Avenue, Knoxville, TN, Phone: 865-577-4717
2.The Wandering Llamas
Kids and families will love to experience hiking the beautiful Smoky Mountains alongside a furry, friendly pack llamas. An ever-growing group of ten sweet and unique llamas are cared for by the ranch. The Wandering Llamas follows two hiking trails: Hobbit Trail and Evergreen Trail. Hikes run 2-3 miles roundtrip, with varying terrain and vistas. Even terrain, hilly meadow, wooded forests, mountain vistas, and cool water creeks offer changes in scenery. Guests stop to eat lunch atop a summit or next to a small waterfall. The llama ranch also offers a glamping tent experience, for those who want to spend a little more time taking in crisp mountain air and gorgeous views.
1516 Foxford Road, Greeneville, TN, Phone: 423-426-7626
3.Rusty’s TV and Movie Car Museum
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Owner Rusty Robinson has been collecting cars for over twenty years. His collection of over 35 vehicles includes race cars, vintage cars, and even a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. The collection’s cars span decades of feature roles in productions as old as Dukes of Hazard and as recent as Fast & Furious. Over twenty of the cars have been used in television shows. Each “mint condition” vehicle has been restored by Rusty’s own hands. The car museum is located in Jackson, and happily hosts personalized field trips for school groups and various clubs. Hours are Friday-Sunday from 9am-5pm, or by appointment.
323 Hollywood Drive, Jackson, TN, Phone: 731-267-5881
4.Adventure Science Center
Exhibits are designed to be hands-on and interactive. Permanent attractions include Anatomy of an Earthquake, Beekeeping, Physics of light, Soundbox, and many, many more. Kids even get to step inside a jet aircraft simulator, which features 360 degree movements and high speeds. There are several programs offered daily, including early explorers, where toddlers get to enjoy an age-appropriate science-based films at the full-dome planetarium, followed by story time. In the Innovation Incubator program, kids participate in STEM based projects that encourage imagination and creation. Kid’s camps, field trips, homeschool support, and special events are hosted year round.
800 Fort Negley Boulevard, Nashville, TN, Phone: 615-862-5160
The zoo’s exotic collection of animals are represented within exhibits such as Gombe Forest, Corcovado Jungle, Himalayan Passage, and Deserts and Forests of the World. Visitors go on a world adventure while viewing hundreds of rare and unique species of primates, wild cats, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and more. There are a variety of daily programs and special events offered by the zoo; Beastly Feast, Chimpanzee Keeper Chat, and Reptile Meet & Greet are just a few of the many experiences offered. Educational programs are offered to teachers and schools leading field trips at the zoo, and there are special programs for homeschoolers. Day camps, summer camps, overnight experiences, and clubs are offered to kids and families.
301 North Holtzclaw Avenue, Chattanooga, TN, Phone: 423-697-1322
6.The Fire Museum
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The museum is located within Old Fire Station No. 1, which opened in the very early 1900s. The station served the community until 1973, when it relocated. After several years of unusually high fire-related mortalities in the city, the Memphis Fire Department decided to create an outreach program to teach fire prevention concepts. On October 5, 1998, Old Fire Station No. 1 reopened its doors to operate as a museum and education center. Tours of the fire station are designed for Pre-K aged children through adults. Student field trips are guided by a specially-trained firefighter. A memorial wall is dedicated to the 54 firefighters who have lost their lives fighting Memphis fires.
118 Adams Avenue, Memphis, TN, Phone: 901-636-5650
7.Incline Railway Lookout Mountain
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The Incline is a one-mile single track system that climbs vertically through breathtaking, panoramic views of Lookout Mountain and its valleys. Historically, the mountain served as a battleground during the Civil War. Post-war tours of the site and surrounding nature used to be conducted by a 4-hour buggy ride. In the late 1800s, the Incline No. 1 and No. 2 cars were built. Visitors may choose to hop off and visit Rock City and Ruby Falls. Rock City rests 1,700 feet above sea level and boasts a cascading 100-foot waterfall. Adjacent to the waterfall is the famous 200-foot Swing-A-Long Bridge, suspended in thin air. Ruby Falls is an underground cave waterfall of equal magnificence.
3917 Street, Elmo Avenue, Chattanooga, TN, Phone: 423-821-4224
8.Belle Meade Plantation
Belle Meade Plantation was once the land and home of Tennessee’s most notable family, the Harding-Jacksons. The Greek-Revival style mansion was built in 1853, almost 50 years after purchase of the land. The property first functioned as a cotton gin, grist mill, and sawmill. Later, the Harding’s began breeding and boarding racehorses. All skill work and back-breaking labor was performed by slaves. Tours of the Belle Meade share the personal stories of the Harding-Jackson Family; with all their trials and tribulations. The Journey to Jubilee tour shares the tragic experience that slaves endured on their path to freedom. School-aged programs are designed to support field trips and homeschoolers. There is an ice cream and fudge shop on-site.
110 Leake Avenue, Nashville, TN, Phone: 615-356-0501
9.Chattanooga Riverboat Company
Founded in 1985, The Southern Riverboat began tours along the Chattanooga, with an aim to share the beauty of the river and its waterside town. Today, the Southern Bell offers a variety of tours including dining cruises, holiday cruises, sightseeing cruises, and special events. The Chickamauga cruise gives guests an up-close look at the lock system of the Chickamauga Dam, where passengers get to pass by boat between reservoirs. The Sights Cruise follows the city line and is narrated to highlight various landmarks within Chattanooga proper. During the Fall Cruise, passengers chug along the Tennessee River Gorge, while taking in the gorgeousness of fall colors that decorate bankside trees. Dinner cruises and sunset cruises are also on the menu.
151 Riverfront Parkway, Chattanooga, TN, Phone: 423-266-4488
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Cumberland Caverns offers walking tours through its amazing crystalline formations, underground waterfalls, and the iconic Volcano Room. The trek is moderate in difficulty and 1.5 hours in duration. The “Rocky Topper” tour is the least challenging of the adventure tours, suitable for ages 6+. Families try beginner spelunking; twisting, turning, and climbing through passages that run deep into the cavern. The Legacy Tour is the most extreme of the tours, appropriate for kids ages 16+. Spelunking during this tour involves high climbs, ropes, ladders, and traversing handlines. Secret passages, immense cathedrals, Devils’ Quarry, The Monument Pillar, Blue Mud Mountain, Rock of Ages, and 20,000 year old Lynx bones are just a few of the breathtaking rewards of the journey.
1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, Tennessee, Phone: 931-668-4396
11.Discovery Center at Murfree Springs
The Discovery Center fosters play-based learning through its interactive installations and displays. There are several sweetly named exhibits such as, Creation Station, Five Senses, Clark Maples Train Depot, Farmers Market, and Tiny Town. The center offers a variety of learning programs for kids PreK to 5th grade. Staff-led activities are 60 minutes in length and content is age appropriate. A few of the fun programs are Animals All Around, Splash and Flash, STAR La”, and Winter Wonderlab. During school breaks, the center hosts CAMPOLOGY. Days are packed with exciting games and hands-on activities, designed to develop the whole child. Kids get plenty of outdoor play, weather permitting. Discovery Center also hosts field trips, homeschool programs, scout programs, and special events.
502 Southeast Broad Street, Murfreesboro, TN, Phone: 615-890-2300
12.Chattanooga Ghost Tours
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Tours begin and end at the Chattanooga Ghost Tours storefront, located downtown. The shop itself has a steampunk vibe and sells a variety of quirky souvenirs. Ghost tours are guided by gifted storytellers, who reveal the darker side Chattanooga. A haunted history full of tragic events such as the wrongful lynching of black American, Ed Johnson, are represented within the city’s tales. Walking tours stop at scenic locations and several spooky spots, including the underground site of a former undertaker. Guides incorporate EMF detectors, temperature guns, and other ghost-finding gadgets. It is said that photos taken during the tour are often photobombed by a mysterious phantom. Families looking for a thrill are sure to find it here.
57 East 5th Street, Chattanooga, TN, Phone: 423-800-5998
13.Lost Sea Adventure
The Lost Sea is America’s biggest underground lake, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It has 4.5 acres of accessible water surface, although 13 acres have been mapped so far, with no foreseeable edge. The lake resides within the extensive Craighead Caverns cave system. Tours of the cave are three-quarters of a mile roundtrip, which traverses some steep and sloping pathways. At the bottom of the cave, guests take a boat ride along the surface of The Lost Sea. A seasoned guide tells of the cavern’s rare crystalline formations, along with its enchanting history of visitors that included a Pleistocene jaguar, Cherokee Indians, moonshiners, and cock fighters.
140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, TN, Phone: 423-337-6616
14.Hands On! Discovery Center
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Hands On Discovery Center is a science-based museum center that runs fun, interactive programs year round. Exhibits include Eastman Discovery Lab, Archeology Hall, Everbright Light Wall, Air Rockets, Bernoulli Table, and Tornado Vortex. Program accompanied group tours are also offered by the center. In the Stellar STEAM Tour, kids enjoy learning all about cutting edge technology. In the Fossil Tour, children get to explore the Prehistoric Era, through learning about plant and animal fossils. Small class size, weekly programs include Cublets Art Studio, and Marvelous Metals. Older kids aged 12 to 16 can enjoy Big Dig where they get to work alongside paleontologists to excavate, screen wash, and examine fossils. Half-day and full-day summer camps are offered.
1212 Suncrest Drive, Gray, TN, Phone: 423-434-4263
15.Creative Discovery Museum
Located in downtown Chattanooga, the Creative Discovery Museum currently features Framed: Step into Art, a collection of interactive, world famous painting replicas. Kids get creative by helping to finish paintings, imagining themselves within the setting, and just being silly. The center offers field trips and group tours, accompanied by an educational program. Homeschoolers may join STEAM Club, which inspires use of STEM concepts to solve real-world challenges and think critically. The club is best suited for kids K to 8th grade. PlayGYM is offered daily and includes music, movement, language, and socialization activities for preschoolers. The center also hosts Countdown to Kindergarten, a school readiness program. Science based summer camps, scout programs, and events for sensory sensitivity kiddos are also offered.
321 Chestnut Street, Chattanooga, TN, Phone: 423-756-2738
Once the private retreat of The King of Rock 'n Roll, the Graceland mansion is full of intimate Presley-family memories, which can be experienced through tours of the home. Tours are 1.5 hours in duration and include an iPad presentation, featuring interviews of Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie. An enormous, multi-structure park has been built around the mansion. The 200,000 square foot Elvis Presley’s Memphis building is home to the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum, as well as exhibits such as ICONS: The Influence of Elvis Presley and Growing Up Presley. Legendary costumes, personal mementos, and musical artifacts are on display. Guests can even tour Elvis’ private plane. Restaurants and a full host of amenities are on campus.
3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, TN, Phone: 901-332-3322
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17.Lichterman Nature Center
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Nestled in the heart of Memphis, the Lichterman is an oasis of tall trees, native plants, and wildflowers. The nature center grows wild over three different habitats, spanning 65 acres. A lake, meadow, and forest each host a variety of wildlife. Several unique plants species, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals can be found here. The Backyard Wildlife Center located on campus showcases live animals and gives kids a chance to perform hands-on explorations. An enchanting, two-story forest boardwalk and an underwater viewing area are just a few of the remarkable experiences to be had. There are three miles of trails looping through the three habitats. The center offers eight natural-science exhibits and ten uniquely focused field trip programs.
5992 Quince Road, Memphis, TN, Phone: 901-636-2211
The Memphis Zoo features animal species from Africa, Asia, and The Pacific Northwest, as well as local wildlife. Elephants, wild cats, pandas, polar bears primates, hippos, exotic birds, reptiles, and more can be found here. There is also an aquarium at the zoo. A daily schedule of live entertainment includes a sea lion show, carnivorous and herbivorous animal feedings, and several zookeeper chats. The zoo has a train that loops the exhibits, making it easy for families with little ones in tow to get around. There is an abundance of delicious restaurants, food court options, and treat stands. The zoo hosts interactive field trip programs, zoo camps, and special events.
2000 Prentiss Place East, Memphis, TN, Phone: 901-333-6500
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19.Big South Fork
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Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area sprawls across 125,000 acres of scenic plateau, along the free-flowing Cumberland River. Awe-striking gorges and beautiful sandstone bluffs give visitors a variety of fresh-air activities. An extensive hiking trail features fourteen, day-hikes. A licensed adventure company leads guided hikes and overnight excursions. Guided river trips, kayaking lessons, and tubing are among other activities that many be chartered. The Charit Creek Lodge provides rooms and dining. The Bandy Creek Stable provides Wi-Fi, has a gift shop, and boards horses. Guests can rent bikes and equipment within the park. A railway hosts excursions to Blue Heron. There are five campgrounds; some primitive and others well-developed. There are rock climbing routes in the park.
4564 Leatherwood Road, Oneida, TN, Phone: 423-569-9778
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20.Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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The Great Smoky Mountains are an emblem of natural beauty and Southern Appalachian culture. A robustly diverse plant and animal population make this one of the country’s most incredible national parks. Wildflowers, spruce forests, streams, and roaring cascades delight the senses. Cades Cove is one of the more popular attractions, containing remnants of old Cherokee hunting grounds and several historic buildings dating back to the early 1800s. An expansive network of hiking trails leads to scenic destinations like Alum Cave Bluffs, Charlies Bunion, Rainbow Falls, Andrews Bald, and Chimney Tops. There are kid-friendly hikes, day hikes along the Appalachian Trail, and multi-day hikes. Frontcountry campsites offer a host of amenities, while backcountry campsites are for the rugged explorer.
107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN, Phone: 865-436-1200
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21.Obed Wild and Scenic River
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The Obed Wild and Scenic River rushes along the wildlife rich, Cumberland Plateau. Featuring 500-foot-deep gorges and earthy rugged terrain, the river and surrounding land deliver a generous serving of outdoor adventure. Thrill-seeking visitors will dive at the chance to whitewater raft in the parks roaring river. It doesn’t hurt that the park also sports one of the world’s most famous rock climbing locations. There are over 20 miles of hiking trails. Kid-friendly walks include the Lilly Bluff Overlook and Emory River Nature Trail. For families with older children, the park has longer day-hikes and even backpacking treks. The Rock Creek Campground has 11 campsites, which include grills and camping-style toilet facilities. There is no running water at the campgrounds.
208 N. Maiden Street, Wartburg, TN, Phone: 423-346-6294
Ruby Falls is the deepest and tallest underground waterfall in the country, accessible to the public. The waterfall sees over half a million visitors each year, who travel from all over the world to see this remarkable sight. Tours of cavern, which resides within Lookout Mountain, have been in operation for over 89 years. Knowledgeable guides tell the tale of the waterfall’s discovery and teach about the incredible cave formations. Waterfall tours are 75 minutes in duration. Extended tours and a lantern tour are also available. The area around the cavern features historic buildings, breathtaking overlooks, a 40-foot climbing tower, and a zipline adventure.
1720 S Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga, TN, Phone: 423-821-2544
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23.Middle Tennessee Hot Air Adventures
Middle Tennessee Hot Air Adventures is a Bedford family owned-and-operated business. Balloon rides take off in the rural town of town of Franklin, although hot air balloon rides can also be arranged in Nashville. The Bedford’s are passionate about showing passengers the breathtaking beauty of Tennessee’s landscape. Balloons gently hovering above wooded forests, green meadows, interesting hollows, and hidden lakes. Passengers may even catch glimpses of local wildlife, undisturbed in their environment. Baskets vary by size; capacities accommodate three to four guests, four to five guests, five to six guests, or eight to nine guests. Families will love to take in an aerial view of Tennessee’s unique and gorgeous countryside.
Murfreesboro Road, (Mile 1,737.39), Franklin, TN, Phone: 615-584-6236
24.Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum
The Railroad Museum displays exhibits dedicated to the life of Casey Jones, a Jackson, Tennessee railroader. The museum, which sits next to the historic house that Casey called home, houses three authentic rail cars, including the original engine model that Casey drove. Kids get a kick out of climbing aboard to ring the train bell, just like a conductor. The museum features a short film about Casey Jones’s life. A special exhibit named, The Railroads & the Civil War in Tennessee, is also on display. The Village, as it’s called by locals, has specialty shops, a diner, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, a mini golf course, and more.
30 Casey Jones Lane, Jackson, TN, Phone: 731-668-1222
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The Knoxville Zoo has all the bells and whistles of a fun-filled day for the whole family. The animal exhibits feature elephants, African lions, tortoises, chimpanzees, wild hogs, zebras, penguins, beavers, and so much more. There’s plenty of exciting activities to be had. Kids will love experiencing up-close zookeeper talks during Animal Encounters, riding the carousel, going for camel rides, and splashing around in the safari water play station. There is even a zip line canopy adventure for thrill-seeking kids. The zoo supplies age appropriate programs for school field. Summer camps, scout programs, and a homeschool science academy are also hosted by the venue.
3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, TN, Phone: 865-637-5331
25 Fun Things to Do in Tennessee with Kids of All Ages
- Ijams Nature Center, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- The Wandering Llamas, Photo: tinastar/stock.adobe.com
- Rusty’s TV and Movie Car Museum, Photo: Patrick Foto/stock.adobe.com
- Adventure Science Center, Photo: Bob/stock.adobe.com
- Chattanooga Zoo, Photo: Foap.com/stock.adobe.com
- The Fire Museum, Photo: Geza Farkas/stock.adobe.com
- Incline Railway Lookout Mountain, Photo: Ritu Jethani/stock.adobe.com
- Belle Meade Plantation, Photo: Samu/stock.adobe.com
- Chattanooga Riverboat Company, Photo: JinnaritT/stock.adobe.com
- Cumberland Cavern, Photo: bjphotographs/stock.adobe.com
- Discovery Center at Murfree Springs, Photo: vitec40/stock.adobe.com
- Chattanooga Ghost Tours, Photo: Vibe Images/stock.adobe.com
- Lost Sea Adventure, Photo: bjphotographs/stock.adobe.com
- Hands On! Discovery Center, Photo: Pascal Huot/stock.adobe.com
- Creative Discovery Museum, Photo: ?rtranq/stock.adobe.com
- Graceland, Photo: white_bcgrd/stock.adobe.com
- Lichterman Nature Center, Photo: Gregory Johnston/stock.adobe.com
- Memphis Zoo, Photo: Mike/stock.adobe.com
- Big South Fork, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Photo: Nate Hovee/stock.adobe.com
- Obed Wild and Scenic River, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Ruby Falls, Photo: miami2you/stock.adobe.com
- Middle Tennessee Hot Air Adventures, Photo: twobee/stock.adobe.com
- Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum, Photo: Gudellaphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Knoxville Zoo, Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Darrell Young/stock.adobe.com