It’s summer, the kids are out of school, and you’re likely looking for reasons to get out of the house—and maybe even out of town—after a long, stressful spring cooped up indoors. Franklin is usually our go-to for local Tennessee travel, but now the other side of Williamson County is offering more reasons than ever to add a Nolensville day trip to your summer plans with the launch of the 31A trail.
This road, meandering through trading corridors that have existed for thousands of years, links the heart of Tennessee from Alabama to the capitol city Nashville via a two-lane highway that cuts through some of the prettiest countryside and land around.
About the 31A trail
U.S. Route 31A zigzags through the middle of Tennessee for nearly 77 miles. The section of real estate starting just south of Nashville in Nolensville and winding through the pastoral countryside of Arrington, College Grove and Thompson’s Station is the subject of a newly-launched trail that stitches together some of the best makers—be it of food products, whiskey, crafts or other—on this side of Williamson County.
The most bustling part of 31A is the section that anchors Nolensville, one of the fastest-growing towns in Tennessee. This is where you’ll want to start your day if you’re coming into the area from the north along I-40, but you can easily flip-flop the route if you’re coming up from the south along I-65 or I-24. Take a left or right turn off the major interstates, and you’ll immediately be deposited in Williamson County, taking a trip back into some of the earliest frontier days of this country’s birth and expansionism.
Today, Nolensville is a sprawling community full of development, actively being shaped by the pricing pressures of its larger neighbor, Nashville, into a modern mix of families in search of good schools and open spaces; as a result, it boasts a healthy slurry of hungry entrepreneurs and native Tennesseans that provide food, entertainment and shopping for the growing population of the region.
The highway, 31A, that splits down the middle of the community and serves as a nexus of commerce, interconnects this rapidly modernizing community to the rural heartland of the cities to its south.
A few highlights of the 31A trail
These small communities and the non-chain establishments that populate them are reason enough to take an exploratory drive, but there are plenty of surprising discoveries along the way that we think you should know about before you go.
Stop by Morning Glory Orchard
Call me crazy, but I had no idea that Middle Tennessee had apple orchards until we wandered into Morning Glory Orchard one morning. Not only does Nolensville have an apple orchard that grows 13 varieties of apples, but Morning Glory also grows seven kinds of peaches, too. If there’s anything this Southern gal likes as much as whiskey, it’s a good, juicy peach!
The orchard itself has been owned by Christina Wideman for nearly 20 years; she and her husband Curt moved out to Williamson County from California after their three daughters relocated to Murfreesboro for college. But it’s only been in the last three that it’s reached critical mass and become somewhat of a household name in the town, thanks to the oldest daughter Alyson stepping in to help.
After Curt passed away in 2017, Aly—who had worked in both the entertainment and healthcare industries—picked up where he left off, only with the intentions to expand the business; in the past three years, the orchard’s three acres have grown to 10 with 473 trees multiplying to 700. Aly has even more ambitious plans for the orchard in the years to come, and recent additions such as a commercial kitchen / bakery that was added just this spring will give locals and tourists alike even more of a reason to visit this family-owned orchard.
From June through August, the Morning Glory Orchard store is open all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday with tours offered on Saturday afternoons. During apple season, Labor Day through late-October, those hours are expanded with the farm being opened Tuesday through Saturday. It’s also a popular spot for both field trips and photo shoots; photographers and families can inquire about those options by reaching out through the website.
The orchard’s on-site country store, replete with jams, honeys, homemade goods and cider, is a good spot to support local food suppliers that grow their ingredients within our regional system.
Sip whiskey at Wheeler’s Raid
I’m not sure if we follow the distilleries or the distilleries follow us—what comes first: the chicken or the egg?—but either way, there’s a new distillery in town since the last time we explored Nolensville, and I’m not mad about it. After a gloriously sunny midday, the skies opened up and poured just as we pulled into Wheeler’s Raid Distillery, a sign that we needed to kick up our feet and stay awhile if ever I’ve seen one.
Owner Ryan Thomas, who has worked in tech for more than 20 years, isn’t shy about admitting that he sources his aged distillate from Indiana, which as connoisseurs we appreciate. He’s also not afraid to share the unique finishing process his crew applies to their brown liquor barrel selects to distinguish themselves from others. Using a proprietary blend of hardwood chunks and timing, they steep the wood in alcohol to add flavor.
Each of the products are given a number for a name, skipping over No. 7 as a nod to Jack Daniel. No. 3 is the bestseller, and par for the course, it was my favorite, though I’m not going to lie, the limited release Out of Ordinance piqued my interest, too. If ever there were a bourbon named for me, it was this one! Right now, Wheeler’s Raid is making 20 barrels a year with plans to expand into a larger facility in 2021.
Ryan also concocts his own vermouth, bitters and various simple syrups (honey, brown sugar, Demerara), which make for tasty in-house cocktails on live music nights in the spacious, new tasting room he debuted this spring with plans to host a bevy of musical acts when it’s safe to do so again.
Additionally, Wheeler’s Raid has embraced the canned cocktail trend, which it produces and distributes widely under its other brand, 34° North Cocktail Co.
If you make it through a full tasting at Wheeler’s Raid and are still standing—and have a designated driver—now is a great time to head down to Thompson’s Station and continue your whiskey education at H Clark Distillery, run by lawyer and distiller Heath Clark, one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.
Taste some of Tennessee’s culinary staples
SVV and I started our day on the 31A with lattes and mini donuts at Itty Bitty Donuts (formerly E&B Coffee Roasters) in downtown Nolensville. I can’t think of a better way to prime the pump for a day of exploring than a little bit of sugar with a side dose of caffeine! Itty Bitty Donuts has a patio for those of you looking to dine outdoors.
Every time we’re in Nolensville, I feel the need to stop at the original Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, which is right on the 31A trail with plans to move into a bigger facility across the street later this year, even though it now has several outposts throughout Tennessee, but on this occasion, we branched out and tried Hoss’ Loaded Burgers for the first time, which wound up being one of the smartest decisions I’ve made in awhile. This food truck-turned-brick and mortar is just over a year old and sits squarely on the Williamson County/Davidson County line. There’s a patio, which is particularly useful during social-distancing periods, though the inside is well-maintained and spread out, too.
What’s a bit of salty without some sweet to finish off your meal? I don’t know about you, but there’s little more I crave than a milkshake on a 90-degree Tennessee afternoon, and I found just what the doctor ordered down at Sip-n-Scoop. Before Pennsylvania natives Bryan Todd and April Erb relocated to College Grove in 2016 and opened Sip-n-Scoop two years later, they completed gutted the interior of this small country grocery; the only catch was they still had to maintain a store component. What came out of the new concept is a mashup of a coffee shop, an ice cream and pizza parlor, a specialty grocery and a live-music venue. It’s basically the best of all worlds rolled into one!
My favorite new culinary discovery on this day trip to Nolensville was Pork Belly Farmhouse, which reminded me of a classic Nouveau New Orleans French restaurant plopped down in Middle Tennessee. With high-quality cuts of steak, elevated Southern sides like Gruyere Mac & Cheese, pimento cheese fritters and pork belly greens in addition to decadent dessert options, this establishment hits all the buttons for a fancy date night at an approachable price point. It also gets extra points for having a multi-paged wine/bourbon menu and cocktails like the peach rosemary cosmo, which is perfect after a long day.
If you find yourself at the end of the trail in Thompson’s Station around dinnertime instead of Nolensville—while in the same county, they’re spread out 25 miles—you can’t go wrong with Circa, a high-end restaurant housed in a former general store that features elevated Southern cuisine and cocktail menu of “hometown spirits,” featuring libations made from their next-door neighbor Heath Clark’s bourbon and gin.
Shop at these indie stores
Nolensville has some truly unique stops like the Amish market Nolensville Feed Mill and the artsy Painted Dragonfly in its historic heart, but what captured the bulk of our afternoon was falling down the rabbit hole of nostalgia at the Nolensville Toy Shop. Occupying a century-old home right on Nolensville’s main drag, this house is chock-full of memorabilia from your childhood, like Mad Libs and old-school board games, as well as just about anything else you could want.
There are toys for all ages, gifts for all occasions. Nolensville Toy Shop even has an extensive collection of dress-up clothes, from Disney princesses to toddler-sized Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department uniforms.
Down in College Grove, which is a tiny blip on the map, you’ll find Vintage South Decor, combining French country and shabby chic home accents in a rustic store that is brimming with fun items you’ll want to take home with you. Looking for a hostess gift? This is the place to go. Fancy a treat for yourself? Vintage South also will deliver.
Next door to Vintage South is Joy in the Morning Antiques, a meticulously curated collection of antiques that the owner hand-selects from estate sales and auctions up in New England. SVV picked up a vintage auger while I nabbed a book about cat personalities, which were both pretty on-brand finds.
For a full list of shops and other stops along this Williamson County trail, reference the official 31A page on Visit Franklin’s website.
Staying overnight in Williamson County
If you’d like to break up your trip and spend more time in Williamson County, there are a heck of a lot of hotel deals happening right now. Tennessee residents can go here to see local discounts, while Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi residents can find discounted packages here.
Of course, you know my favorite place to stay in the area, the Harpeth Hotel, which allows you to sleep in the fanciest hotel in downtown Franklin and flit around the historic district by foot.
Hotels offering discount packages include:
- Aloft Franklin
- Candlewood Suites Nashville-Brentwood
- Candlewood Suites Nashville-Franklin
- Courtyard Franklin Cool Springs
- Drury Plaza Hotel Franklin
- Embassy Suites-Nashville South/Cool Springs
- Franklin Marriott Cool Springs
- Hampton Inn & Suites Franklin Berry Farms
- Hampton Inn & Suites Nashville/Franklin/Cool Springs
- Hilton Franklin Cool Springs
- Hilton Garden Inn Brentwood
- Hilton Garden Inn Cool Springs
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Nashville-Franklin-Berry Farms
- Home2Suites Franklin/Cool Springs
- Residence Inn Berry Farms
- Residence Inn Franklin Cool Springs
- Sleep Inn Cool Springs
- The Harpeth Hotel
- TownPlace Suites Franklin/Cool Springs
For more Williamson County travel inspiration, check out these trips:
- Masters & Makers: Where to Drink in Franklin, Tennessee
- Exploring Franklin’s Civil War History
- Opt Outside: Fun Summer Things to Do in Franklin + Leiper’s Fork
- How to Do Downtown Franklin with Your Dog in Tow
- On the Whiskey-Fueled Tennessee Backroads