Up the Road: Get Out & Explore with Nashville's Big Back Yard

Apr 06, 2022 at 09:51 am by RMGadmin

By Emma Chennault

Nashville’s Big Back Yard (NBBY) is a region anchored by 100 miles of the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway that connects communities with populations under 5,000 — from Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, down to The Shoals of Northwest, Alabama. NBBY is bookended by two world-famous music cities – Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Natchez Trace Parkway, a drive through 10,000 years of history, is maintained by the National Park Service and designated an “All American Road.”
Central to Nashville’s Big Back Yard are many popular tourist attractions, including Fame Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Amber Falls, Keg Springs Winery, Natchez Hills Vineyard and Winery, and the historic Commodore Hotel, just to name a few. Scenic beauty, history and outdoor recreation draw tourists to the region for hiking, biking, motorcycling, kayaking, camping, fishing and more. Music is one of the tourism linchpins of the region. 
Nashville’s Big Back Yard was kind enough to send Christian Headden and me on a weekend getaway to explore Waynesboro, Clifton, Linden, Centerville and Hohenwald. On this two-day trip, we got to explore these cities and come to a better understanding of what makes them unique in their own ways. We met fabulous people, ate great food and explored the businesses that made us want to keep coming back. 

Day One

Day one started with an hour and a half drive to Waynesboro to visit the Tennessee Fitness Spa and the Natural Bridge. The Natural Bridge, located on the grounds at the Tennessee Fitness Spa, is the only known double-span natural bridge formation in the world. It is a purely natural formation created by a nearby fresh-water spring. Many Native American tribes walked the trails around the Natural Bridge. Over two hundred years ago, the Natural Bridge was used as a hideout by Natchez Trace outlaws, including “The Bloody Harpers” and the Mason and Murrell Gang. Davy Crockett also gave one of his first political speeches atop Pulpit Rock, overlooking the Natural Bridge. 
Our next stop was in Clifton to have lunch and visit local spots. Founded in 1840, the city of Clifton is nestled on the Horseshoe Riverbend with a history rich in Tennessee Americana. We met up with a Clifton local, Wendy, at the Clifton Marina to have lunch and learn more about the town. The Clifton Marina is a full-service restaurant, marina and RV park where guests can feed turtles right off the dock. The Tennessee River is extremely popular with fishermen and has more than two hundred fish species, including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and blue catfish. After lunch, Wendy took us to the T.S. Stribling House to see where Pulitzer Prize Winner T.S. Stribling lived. Stribling was the first Tennessean to win a Pulitzer Prize in literature for his 1933 novel, The Store. The house was donated to the city in 1946 and contains the author’s personal papers and possessions, including the books he wrote about political issues of his time. Before we headed to our next town, Wendy introduced us to Jeff Letson, the owner of Hitman Smoked Products. Jeff generously gave us a tour of his smokehouse, where he smokes all of his products. The Hitman team makes bacon like their great-grandfathers, rubbed with Kosher salt, brown sugar and a whole lotta love. Then, they pump up the bacon with flavors instead of water, so their products cook a little lower and slower. Hitman’s products are sold online (hitmansmokedproducts.com) and are even sold at Cool Springs Wine & Spirits! We had the opportunity to try some of his bacon, and let me tell you, this is some of the best bacon we have ever eaten. 
Next, we traveled to Linden, Tennessee, to hike Lady’s Bluff and stay at the Commodore Hotel. The 2.7-mile Lady’s Bluff Loop Trail, a designated National Recreational Trail, leads visitors to the top of a majestic limestone bluff offering far-reaching views across the Tennessee River. The moderately strenuous trail climbs through a mixed hardwood forest with intermittent limestone rock outcroppings. The trail winds through varied ecosystems including, the Lick Creek embayment, limestone glades and outcroppings, natural sinks and intermittent spring-fed watercourses. We were accompanied on this hike by Michael and Kathy Dumont, who gave us a brief overview of Linden and its history. The Dumonts, who are Rhode Island natives, moved to Linden with the hope of purchasing land. They not only found their land but also found so much more in this town. They bought the Commodore Hotel & Café in 2007 and made it a town staple. The Commodore, named one of “Six Great Places to Stay in Tennessee,” is the perfect getaway for relaxation and rejuvenation. It is a boutique hotel, translated to “intimate, charming and just right for guests to receive individual attention and superb Southern hospitality.” We ended day one by having a light dinner at the hotel’s speakeasy. In the tradition of gathering places during the prohibition era, The Speakeasy Lounge at the Commodore Hotel has become a place where guests and locals mingle. This modern-day speakeasy captures the ambiance of a bygone era with its serious cocktails, dim lighting and historic appeal. 

Day Two

The second day of our trip started with breakfast at the hotel, and then we were off to Centerville, Tennessee. Centerville is a fantastic town with a unique history and deep county music roots. We started our day with coffee from The Local Place, which rivals many places in Williamson County. With its modern yet historic ambiance and a wide variety of options, The Local Place is a must-do on a trip to Centerville. After our quick coffee stop, we walked over to the Grinders Switch Museum to learn more about Hickman County’s history. The Grinders Switch Museum (located inside the Chamber) houses memorabilia from Minnie Pearl, Del Reeves, Blake Shelton, Beth Slater-Whitson, Paul Warren, Howdy Forrester, Dicky Wells, Mike Smithson and more. They also have a radio station inside where the Grinders Switch Hour originates. It is the third longest-running live country music variety show in the United States, only available on Saturday mornings. We were then given a tour of the town square, where we met many shop owners and discovered more about Centerville’s unique past.
The final stop of our trip was the Elephant Sanctuary Discovery Center in Hohenwald. The Elephant Discovery Center welcomes families to visit, explore and learn about the mission and work that they accomplish. This was one of Christian and I’s favorite stops that we made. Although we did not get to visit the actual elephant sanctuary, we got to learn about the sanctuary in a way that made us feel like we were not missing out on anything. Their overarching goal of making their elephants feel like they are genuinely retired is something that we found incredibly admirable.

I cannot put into words how much fun this trip was. Christian and I traveled to many places that we had never been to before and met some of the nicest people. This trip was only one part of Nashville’s Big Backyard, and we will be covering the other cities in upcoming issues. I encourage all of our readers to get out and explore Nashville’s Big Back Yard.