A big goal for 2016 was exploring more of Tennessee, as there are so many incredible parts I’ve yet to explore—such as the bulk of the 56 state parks. Despite being born and having lived in the Volunteer State for more than 20 years, I often feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.
But life happened (see: my dad’s stroke) and work has pulled me away as always—in the last month alone, I was in Florida twice, South Dakota and Utah, in addition to California and Memphis to see family—plus, there’s the little issue of that massive project house that takes nearly every spare second of our lives. Add it all up and I haven’t had nearly as much time to get out as I had hoped.
Still, there have been brief spells where I’ve been home and had the opportunity to explore new-to-me spots, such as Humphreys County, where I found myself one brisk but sunny day for a last-minute assignment a couple months back.
While I’ve technically been through the county before, it’s been years: My extended family used to have one big reunion every other summer nearby in Paris Landing, so the territory wasn’t completely unfamiliar. Still, there were plenty of spots like Johnsonville State Historic Park that I knew nothing about.
My day at the park began with lunch at the grille before setting out by car to explore Johnsonville’s domain, plus learn more about its storied Civil War history.
Spanning 2,000 acres, the day-use park is full of trails—10 miles’ worth—and picnic areas, not to mention water sports galore. According to the website, the Johnsonville Depot was attacked by Confederate forces under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1864. It got its name from Andrew Johnson, former U.S. president who served as the Union Military Governor of Tennessee during the Civil War, and there are “Period Pastimes” (aka historical reenactments) that take place around the cabins throughout the year.
It’s also really, really gorgeous and one of Tennessee’s more underrated spots.
From New Johnsonville, my guide (and new friend) Karin drove me to the area’s main attraction—and the whole reason I came in the first place—Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. The Kentucky-born songbird made Hurricane Mills her home more than 30 years ago and raised all her children here. What a fantastic place to grow up, right?
In the early 1980’s, she opened her 3,500-acre property as a campground for travelers. The decades that followed saw a number of additions, like full RV hook-ups, a cantina, a store, a museum and a Western Town, and today it’s one of the most popular family travel destinations in Tennessee.
I can see why: The property is massive—plenty of room to explore with the kids, whether in a canoe, on horseback, in an ATV or by foot—and the ranch offers no shortage of special events, such as this weekend’s concert with Loretta herself (she performs on the Saturday of Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day weekends each year).
The town of Waverly, the county seat, about 15 minutes up the road is equally adorable. The chamber headquarters occupy what was once a Greyhound station; on one side was the white part, which had the bathroom, while the other side was for the black residents, which had a restaurant. (Side note: I can’t imagine having grown up in such an era.) It’s worth stopping by to marvel at the architecture of the curved building, as well as pick up maps to the area.
Across the street is downtown Waverly. The town has just 13,000 residents, but about as cute a little Main Street stretch as I’ve seen. There are a number of restaurants, cafes, independent shops and even a sweet, old-fashioned movie theatre, the MI-DE-GA.
My day in Humphreys County was the perfect break from my home office and a lovely introduction to a town I previously knew very little about.
I’ve been back in the South for five years now and am constantly in awe of the charming towns that seem to pepper every corner of this state. I hope that feeling never changes.