The Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways project is one of the most comprehensive and far reaching statewide tourism initiatives I've ever encountered, and one of the best. The time and energy that must have been put into this project is staggering, but so are the results. Essentially, Tennessee has done all your off-the-beaten-path research for you, and all you have to do is follow the signs to your next adventure. The Trails and Byways program features 16 trails covering 5,225 miles of road and all 95 counties in the state. There are printed brochures for each trail and online resources as well. During my 5+ weeks in Tennessee, I found myself on several of these trails and found them to be a really great resource. It was an enormous undertaking by the state Department of Tourism, but I think other states could follow their lead in an effort to bring tourism dollars to smaller communities and lesser known areas of your state.
I know a lot of people who travel by getting on the biggest interstate they can find, and flying between places at 80 miles an hour. While this is a great option when you have places you have to be and times you have to be there, you really do miss out on so much by doing this. When you have the time, you should definitely get off the highway and take to the back roads. This can be daunting to some people, especially with an entire generation now almost completely dependent on GPS. GPS is a wonderful tool, and will certainly tell you the fastest way to get somewhere, but will rarely tell you the best. You should start by grabbing a state road map, available free at almost every visitor center in almost every state, and trying to find some smaller roads to try out. You might be surprised what you find out there. While I do a lot of research and planning, some of my favorite places on this journey have been places I've stumbled upon while on my way somewhere else. If all else fails, don't be afraid to stop and ask people along the way, most people will be happy to help you get back on track, and most can probably recommend a great place for lunch as well. You may just find that getting to your next destination was just as fun as being there.
Tennessee has taken a lot of the unknowns out of travelling around their state by establishing the Trails and Byways program. They have done an enormous amount of research and designed these trails with getting off the highway in mind. They have built some wonderful tools to help you out, and made it as easy as following the signs.
While I had seen the ubiquitous brown Tennessee Trails and Byways signs before, I had not had time to really find out about them since most of my time in Tennessee had been spent blasting from one side of the state to the other on the aforementioned interstates. When I came into Tennessee last month, I stopped into the Tourist Information Center (which should always be your first stop in a new state), and picked up a number of maps and brochures related to the Trails and Byways program.
While I never followed any of them stop by stop, they were a great resource to help plan my days. They not only gave suggested byways between major towns or attractions, but also gave ideas on where to stop, shop and eat. While I still found plenty of interesting spots not covered in these trail brochures, I found plenty that were as well.
For those of you just starting your journey off the interstate and just severing the umbilical cord to the GPS you've followed since you were 16, this is a great way to get your feet wet. For all of you road warriors and old hands, this is still a great resource. I really applaud the Tennessee Department of Tourism for this undertaking and look forward to more Trails and Byways on my future visits to the state.
You can find all the information relating to the Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways system at the link HERE, or find brochures at most Visitors Centers and attractions around the state.