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Memphis offers lots of things to do, from Graceland and Sun Studio to live music and more, but if you want to do some exploring outside the city, there are a wealth of places to explore within a day’s drive. There’s lots to be discovered for Elvis fans, history buffs and nature lovers. Of course, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of tasty southern cuisine along the way too.
Tennessee’s capital and largest city, famous for being the home of country music, is three hours east of Memphis but well worth the drive for music and culture lovers. Enjoy a show at the Grand Ole Opry, tour the Ryman Auditorium and explore the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum with its rotating exhibits featuring current legends and icons from the past. But outside of music, you’ll find many other things to do too, like touring the 1853 Belle Meade Plantation known as the “Queen of Tennessee Plantations,” serving five generations of the Harding-Jackson family. There are guides dressed in period costumes that detail its history and you can still see bullet holes from the Civil War.
Elvis Presley fans may want to visit the “King’s” birthplace, Tupelo. Less than two hours from Memphis just across the border in Mississippi, this is where he was born and spent the first years of his life. Visitors can check out the ramshackle home where he was raised, complete with furnishings from the 1930s, and tour a detailed museum nearby that showcases his life and talents. The town is also home to a small zoo and the Tupelo National Battlefield, the site of a Civil War battle.
Pinson Mounds, Tennessee
About an hour and 45 minutes northeast of Memphis, Pinson Mounds is a group of around three dozen Native American ceremonial and burial mounds that were built between 150 A.D. to 250 A.D. They include the country’s second-highest mound, Saul’s Mound. Visitors can climb among them, tour the museum in the state park and learn more about the mounds and view artifacts that were recovered in the area. The Pinson site was occupied by the Woodland Indians for about 500 years from around 50 A.D. to 550 A.D. It was primarily used as a ceremonial gathering place for Woodland Indians around the region.
A little over two hours from Memphis is the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. It’s really a must for Elvis lovers but any music fans will appreciate it. A picturesque city, it sits along the banks of the Tennessee River and is one of the area’s oldest European settlements. While it has lots to offer in terms of history, it’s most often visited due to its association with music as the host of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. It provides a platform for the state’s top musicians and other performers to be remembered through exhibitions in addition to hosting a variety of shows on site.
An hour and 20 minutes from Memphis in Mississippi, Oxford has been immortalized by countless artists, writers and poets. It’s home to the University of Mississippi and has an interesting history, rich culture, magnificent architecture, wonderful green spaces and lots of outstanding eats. Enjoy a stroll around the town square, bike through the Holly Springs National Forest, visit the Oxford Treehouse Gallery which features works by local artists and tour Rowan Oak, the former residence of author William Faulkner, a Nobel Prize winner.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, Tennessee
If you’re looking for something closer to Memphis, the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is only 15 miles away and offers the ideal place to spend the day among scenic natural surroundings. It’s filled with unique swamplands along the edge of the vast Mississippi River, as well as walking trails for exploring. One of the best ways to experience it is to canoe or kayak through them while watching for the local wildlife. The visitor center provides detailed information about the habitats and what you might be able to spot.
Tennessee Safari Park - Alamo, Tennessee
In an hour and 20 minutes, you can be at the Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo. Fun for all ages, it was founded by a family who had a small collection of animals, and in 2007, it was transformed from a farm into a zoo. Today, it’s home to one of the state’s largest collections of animals. There’s a walkthrough area as well as a driving tour that will take you to see creatures from across the globe like giraffes, primates and exotic birds.
Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, Tennessee
About an hour from Memphis is the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, a wild swampland where you’ll see tall trees rising from the murky waters surrounded by dense vegetation. The refuge is a great place for biking, hiking and kayaking. It’s also a rich environment for wildlife, with a wide range of waterfowl species, majestic bald eagles, thousands of geese and ducks, and, along Powell Rod, turkey and deer are commonly spotted. Self-guided walks and fishing programs are available too.
Little Rock, Arkansas
If you want to explore another large city in a different direction, Little Rock can be reached in less than three hours and is an exciting destination for those interested in politics and history. Explore the Clinton Presidential Center which is home to the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum as well as the Clinton School of Public Service. You can also tour the governor’s mansion where nearly a dozen of the state’s governors have resided at one point, wandering through the Grand Hall Ballroom, Library, Formal Living Room, State Dining Room and more. If you have time, you might want to walk across the Big Dam Bridge, the world’s longest pedestrian bridge spanning 4,266 feet over Murray Lock and Dam.
Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas
From Memphis, head south along the Mississippi River and you’ll reach picturesque Mississippi River State Park just across the border in Arkansas. It’s an ideal spot for all sorts of outdoor adventures like kayaking, hiking, biking and picnicking, with lots of beautiful greenery. Hikers can enjoy exploring many trails, watching for wildlife in the forest along the way. It offers an ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrel, raccoon, rabbit and waterfowl.