The Best Day Trips from Memphis

Memphis is just a short drive from some of Tennessee’s most fascinating historic sites, including a military park where one of the first battles of the Civil War took place. Also nearby are attractions as varied as a lake, a safari park, a science museum, and the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame, all of which make for an ideal day trip from the Bluff City.

Highlights
2595 TN-21, Tiptonville, TN 38079, USA
Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state, Reelfoot is the only natural lake in Tennessee. However, the body of water was formed in a quite unnatural way, when the great New Madrid Earthquake of 1812 caused the Mississippi River to flow backward and flood a low cypress swamp. Today, the shallow 15,000-acre lake is still filled with cypress trees, which serve as home to all manner of aquatic life. Hunters and fishermen flock to the area, while birders come to see and photograph regular visits by bald eagles. Surrounding the lake are several small towns and seafood restaurants, where you can dig into platters of fried catfish and crappie. A modern state park on the southwest shore offers campsites and seven premium cabins for more luxurious accommodations.
La Grange, TN, USA
A paddler’s dream, the Wolf River runs for more than 100 miles from northern Mississippi to just north of Memphis. The entire stretch is incredibly scenic, but the eight-mile leg from LaGrange to the Bateman Road Bridge, dubbed the Ghost River Section, represents one of the last unsullied cypress swamps in Tennessee. This unchanneled part of the river widens to allow water to flow into bottomlands, swamps, and open marshes, making it appear as if the current has disappeared—hence the mysterious moniker. It’s easy to get disoriented canoeing around the trees without a current to guide you, but trail markers help keep paddlers on track and a single sign points out a nice little tributary where you can stop for a lunch break. The eerie atmosphere, complete with towering cypresses shrouded in moss and ivy, will make you feel like you’re miles from civilization, but know that river guides and canoe rentals are available throughout the area to make the trip easy and fun.
618 Conley Rd, Alamo, TN 38001, USA
A major tourist attraction, Tennessee Safari Park sits on a former cotton and cattle farm in rural Crockett County. Open year-round, the drive-through animal park boasts more than 80 species of exotic animals, ranging from zebras, giraffes, and monkeys to emus, kangaroos, and llamas. The Safari Roads section of the park features 5.5 miles of driving trails, where you can purchase buckets of food to interact with the animals. After making the loop, head to the Petting Zoo for a chance to befriend slightly tamer animals, like pygmy goats and other farm favorites. Do keep in mind that credit cards are not accepted here, so bring cash for admission and other activities.
830 Everett Blvd, Union City, TN 38261, USA
You wouldn’t expect to find a world-class museum and science center in the small town of Union City, Tennessee, but that’s exactly what you’ll encounter at the Discovery Park of America. Opened in 2013, this expansive museum features 10 multi-level galleries, designed to educate visitors on the past, present, and future. Various attractions include a children’s area with hands-on activities; exhibits dedicated to the study of energy and warfare; paleontological displays featuring dinosaur fossils and Native American artifacts; a 20,000-gallon aquarium with aquatic life from nearby Reelfoot Lake; and a theater simulation of the 1811 and 1812 earthquakes that shaped the surrounding region. Outdoors, exhibits of log cabins and farm equipment offer a glimpse into the rural traditions of the area, while a train station and locomotive teach about the technological advancements that opened Union City to travelers.
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