Chattanooga is a great destination located on the Tennessee River along the Tennessee-Georgia border. This city offers great city activities as well as some amazing historical and natural activities in the surrounding areas. In the city, make sure you check out the Tennessee Aquarium. Located adjacent to the tourist riverfront area, this first-rate facility is comprised of two large buildings. One building takes you through the many ecosystems within the Tennessee River Valley. From the upper mountain wetlands to the depths of the river and lakes along it, you can see many examples of the critters that inhabit this region. The second building houses temporary exhibits and aquatic displays from around the world including some excellent saltwater exhibits. Combined, these make up a first-rate aquatic experience and you should plan several hours to take it all in.
There are many great attractions located just outside the city limits. Rock City is a rock garden located on Lookout Mountain just over the border in Georgia. This is an amazing place which features trails that lead you through massive boulders interspersed among beautiful gardens. There are many places where you have to suck in the gut to squeeze between the rocks. The site is handicapped accessible so if you can squeeze through some of these areas there are alternate routes around. One of the highlights of the park is the lookout rock where it is said you can see seven states on a clear day. The view is truly stunning.
Other great things to see are the caves tours of Ruby Falls and Raccoon Mountain Caverns. Ruby Falls is the tallest publicly accessible underground waterfall in the world. It is truly a stunning sight. Raccoon Mountain is a more traditional cave tour which has some exceptionally rare cave formations.
For history buffs, the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is the steepest railway in the world. The motor house at the top allows you to see the engineering that makes the system possible. You can take the railway up to visit the nearby Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park site on Lookout Mountain. This park is a civil war battlefield with great historical significance to the region.
The best place to stay in the area is the Lookout Mountain / Chattanooga West KOA Holiday located just over the border in Trenton, GA. The park is well run, quiet, easy to access, and convenient to the many activities in the area.
The trip to Hot Springs National Park begins by heading west on I-24 to Nashville. From Nashville, take I-40 west through Memphis and on to Little Rock, AR. From Little Rock, pick up I-30 west which will take you to Hot Springs. The terrain is generally flat to rolling hills and is an easy drive.
The Belle Meade Plantation is a fascinating stop to explore the history of Nashville. Sure, Nashville is all about country music these days and there are many great places to visit in the city on that topic. However, before exploding as the hub of the country music scene, Nashville was a hub of thoroughbred racehorse breeding.
The Belle Meade Plantation was at the center of that industry. This property was originally purchased as a 250-acre estate in 1806. Over the years, this land was operated as a diverse farm which included a sawmill, a grist mill, cotton operations, and horse breeding. The horse breeding became a lucrative part of the operations and saw the expansion of the plantation to over 3,500 acres. The breeding here was so successful that nearly all of the Kentucky Derby winners to date can have their lineage traced back to one of two studs on the Belle Meade Plantation.
The Plantation is much smaller today. There are a few original structures left and you can tour most of them on your own. The main mansion is the one exception. That is a guided tour only. It contains many of the original furnishings from the late 1800s. The tour guides are great and provide a lot of valuable information about the Plantation, the people who lived and worked there and the legacy the left to the horse racing industry.
Safe Harbor RV Resort is the best RV park near Nashville. It is located on a narrow peninsula on the J Percy Pierce Reservoir a few minutes east of downtown Nashville. It provides a beautiful, quiet, and convenient base camp for a visit to the city.
The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of new and original buildings located at the site of the old Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, TN. This is the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. Rooms 306 and 307, where his party stayed, are maintained as they stood on that day, and his cars are still parked outside.
The remainder of the building has been converted to host several exhibits, films, and recordings covering the events of that day. The Legacy building is a newer addition to the hotel complex which houses historical artifacts pertaining to the civil rights movement dating back to the 17th century. Memphis has a strong cultural base fostered by its history as a Mississippi River town. That diversity can be found in its food, music, and cultural heritage. This museum is an excellent example of that and it should not be missed.
T.O. Fuller State Park is the best campground in the area. It is located on the south side of town. While located within an urban area, this park is a quiet treed oasis with quick access to downtown attractions.
Downtown Little Rock is home to a great walkable district that features outstanding shopping, food, entertainment, and historical facilities. The River Market covers the from the William J. Clinton Presidential Bridge to the US-70B bridge along the riverfront. In this area, you'll find boutique shops, a farmer's market, and pavilions where you can shop for everything from souvenirs to commemorate your trip to fresh produce or even hot international foods at one of many food stalls. A few blocks to the east is the William J Clinton Presidential Library which details the life, presidency, and legacy of our 42nd president.
A few blocks west of River Market you'll find the excellent Old Statehouse Museum, where you can catch up on Arkansas history within a stunning building circa 1833. All along the riverbank in this area is a beautiful park with walking trails, an amphitheater that hosts live music events, and a splash pad for the kids. This area makes for a wonderful day out in a great little city.
The best place to stay the night here is the Downtown Riverside RV Park. This excellent facility is literally right across the river from the River Market Area. You can even walk across the river by foot on the William J. Clinton Presidential Bridge which has trails that connect to the campground.
Little Rock Central High School was constructed in 1927. At the time of its construction it was the largest and most expensive high school in the United States. It is most famous for the role it played in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957. This important civil rights event marked was the most dramatic implementation of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision which found the segregation of schools to be unconstitutional.
The school is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic Site and National Historic Landmark. Tours of the school are available but must be made 24 hours in advance as it is still a fully operating high school.
Across the street from the school is a visitor center operated by the National Park Service which features exhibits detailing the events of the Integration Crisis as well as an interpretive film on the topic. Adjacent to that building is a Mobile Gas Station which acted as the press base during the crisis. It has been restored to its 1957 appearance and is pretty interesting to see.
Hot Springs National Park is a different national park experience than you may be used to. Unlike most national parks which set aside large areas of unspoiled regions of natural significance, this park aims to preserve an area of significant modern human history. Sure, the surrounding hills and beautiful country side are also part of the park, but those are not the focus here. Instead, the focus is the naturally occurring mineral hot springs in the area and how those were utilized for therapeutic purposes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
That history occurs in the area known as “Bathhouse Row” which is a couple city blocks long in downtown Hot Springs. On those blocks stand several bath houses that used the local hot springs as sources for hot mineral waters. These waters were used by wealthier folks during the late 19th and early 20th century to “cure” all sorts of ailments. A couple of the bath houses are still active if you'd like experience the benefits of this therapy on your own. The park has no entrance fees. The visitor's center is located in the Fordyce Bathhouse, which makes a great first stop on your visit. There you can take an excellent free ranger guided tour of the bathhouse or you can explore on your own. The tour covers many of the rooms and facilities in Fordyce and gives some very interesting insights and history regarding the many features of the building.
Behind Bathhouse Row is the Promenade. This beautiful paved walking path makes for a great family walk on a sunny afternoon. It also provides access to some of the trail heads which lead up the mountain behind Bathhouse Row. At the top of the hill is a fire tower which provides excellent views of the valley below. There are also a number of hot spring features in the area including the beautiful hot spring above ground in the park.
The best place to park is the free parking garage on Exchange Street 1 block west of Bathhouse Row. It's a short, easy walk to the visitor's center from there.
An excellent family dining option is The Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden. It is located on Exchange Street just north of the Parking Garage. They have outstanding pizzas which are served in a beautiful wooded patio environment. All along Bathhouse Row, across the street from the bathhouses there are also numerous small shops and boutique stores to visit.
The best place to stay is Catherine's Landing RV Resort. This is a large upscale RV park located right on the river. They have a beautiful pool, splash pad, a huge pavilion/entertainment complex and a lot more. For a more classical camping experience try Lake Catherine State Park. If you're lucky you may be able to land one of their lakefront campsites which makes for an incredibly beautiful camping experience.