Whether you’re visiting Tennessee for the first time, or you’re a native showing a visitor around your beloved state, Parks highly recommends visiting at least one of our 10 Best Unusual Tennessee Attractions this summer. We have included destinations that will help you escape the heat, get off the beaten path, and snap incredible shots for your social media feeds and family photo collections.
Fill up those water bottles, pack up some sunscreen and bug spray, and let's start exploring!
The Lost Sea Sweetwater, TN bit.ly/thelostseatn
Deep beneath the ground, Tennessee’s cave systems harbor the largest underground lake in the country. This mysterious cavern tour takes visitors past rare anthodite “cave flowers;” then out on a flat-bottomed boat ride around the pristine lake. Catch a glimpse of the record-setting trout that call The Lost Sea home and hear tales of the unexplored world that lies deep beneath the placid lake’s surface.
The Bell Witch Cave Adams, TN bit.ly/bellwitchcave
Ask any kid in the south, and you’ll hear tales of Kate, the Bell Witch, star of the ghost story that has its origins in the summer of 1817. Legend says this spirit’s violence was so remarkable that even Andrew Jackson was scared off when he attempted to investigate the disturbance personally.
There is one legend, however, that tells a different story, reporting that Kate’s spirit saved a child who was lost deep within a karst cave on Bell Farm. Did the Bell Witch really pull this child to safety, then teach a cave safety lesson to the children? Come here this wild tale and decide for yourself!
Be warned, though: visitors to the Bell Witch cave report unusual phenomena to this day, and it is said that the cave is the single most haunted area around this reported hotspot of paranormal activity.
The Secret City Oak Ridge, TN bit.ly/thesecretcitytn
In 1942, the US government built this city ad hoc to house the (mostly female) employees of the Manhattan Project along with their families. In three short years, the population of Oak Ridge jumped by 2,500%!
While the families who called Oak Ridge home enjoyed their beautiful town, they did not understand the full impact of their official duties until the United States released the atomic bomb on Japan.
Two years later, the town was turned over to civilians. Visitors today can still see fixtures around town marking its wartime origins. If you have a valid United States ID, you can take the American Museum of Science and Energy tour, see the infamous graphite reactors, and hear more about the secret past of this historic town.
This gorgeous hiking destination wanders through 1,157 natural acres of lush forest before arriving at Virgin Falls itself. Plan to spend a full 8-hour day hiking to the falls and back, or camp at a nearby designated camping area to prolong your stay in this natural paradise.
Lost Cove Settlement Erwin, TN bit.ly/lovecovesettlement
Between Tennessee and North Carolina, Poplar Gorge conceals a ghost town that is more than a century old. Once home to moonshiners, this town boomed to a population of 100, thanks to the arrival of the railroad, but died slowly as the natural supply of timber was depleted. By 1957, the last family had packed and left this tiny town.
Today, visitors can see several homes that still stand in Lost Cove, and visit the cemetery, whose graves date back to the very origins of the town. If you plan to visit, please note that you’ll have to hike in, and there are bears nearby due to this area’s status as a bear sanctuary. Please visit the link above for extensive directions and safety recommendations.
The Crystal Shrine Grotto Memphis, TN bit.ly/crystalshinegrotto
Despite being located in the center of a cemetery, this bizarre grotto is not a grave or memorial. Instead, this art installation, created in the 1930s, is a mind-bending trip into a world where not much makes sense. Dionicio Rodriguez, the artist, was asked to improve the cemetery, and thus the Crystal Shrine was born.
Rodriguez dug 60 feet into a hillside and created a faux cave from cement. He studded the interior with crystals that caught the light, lending an ethereal glow to the cavern. The grotto contains strange Biblical tableaus, twisted concrete trees, and a pool dyed a shocking blue, all of which leave visitors wondering if they’ve visited a spiritual retreat, or an artist’s miniature amusement park.
Billy Tripp's Mindfield Brownsville, TN bit.ly/billytrippmindfield
In Brownsville, a massive tower of carefully crafted, esoteric chaos looms over the landscape, just barely nosing into traffic—but that, says Billy Tripp, was by accident. Begun by the famed author in 1989 as a means of expressing his emotions, Mindfield is an autobiographical sculpture that serves as a companion to his book, The Mindfield Years, Volume 1. Mindfield is still under construction, so astute visitors may be able to see how the sculpture morphs as the years go by.
Elkmont Historic District Gatlinburg, TN bit.ly/elkmonthistoricdistrict
Lying shrouded in the mists of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find a tiny sign that says Elkmont Campground. Just beyond this point is a hidden ghost town - free for all to explore! Founded in 1908 as a logging community, this town was abandoned gradually over a 50-year span as the government slowly edged out the people who called Elkmont home. Fortunately, the National Historic Register claimed these homes, so they remain untouched for all to see.
St. Peter’s Spiritual Temple Memphis, TN bit.ly/stpeterstemple
Despite having been relentlessly mocked and harassed by their white neighbors, the black residents of the Memphis neighborhood called St. Peter’s Spiritual Temple have remained steadfast in expressing their history and spirituality through Masonic folk art. Visitors are not usually welcome, so Parks at Home must stress: please be respectful and kind to the artists themselves as you enjoy their creations from afar.
Backyard Terror's Dinosaur Park Bluff City, TN bit.ly/backyarddinopark
Deep in the mountains of rural Tennessee, visitors can enjoy a free, self-guided tour of handcrafted, scale replicas of dinosaurs! See a velociraptor enclosure (feathers and all), Mesozoic trail, and a fossil dig site alongside other fun surprises. Keep in mind that this handmade park is a constant work in progress, so don’t be surprised to see peeks of exhibits currently under construction.
Wherever you wander off the beaten path this year, whether in search of less crowded areas or just a new take on Tennessee, we hope you stay safe, take care of each other, and continue to enjoy the splendor of our beautiful state.
Did we miss your favorite hidden attraction or downright unusual destination? Leave us a comment below, and your recommendation may be featured in a future article!