As a native Tennessean, I’ve crisscrossed this state many times over. And while Franklin is usually our go-to for local Tennessee travel, the other side of Williamson County is offering more reasons than ever to add a Nolensville day trip to your summer plans with the 31A trail.
This post was last updated in August 2023.
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.
Traveling Nolensville’s 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.
Where to go in Nolensville
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.
Buy apples at 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.
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
What better to follow apples than a flight of whiskey? Wheeler’s Raid Distillery is the brainchild of Ryan Thomas, who has worked in tech for more than 20 years. His unique finishing process distinguishing the brand from its other regional competitors. 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.
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 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.
Nolensville is also home to the original Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, which is right on the 31A trail. It’s also got Hoss’ Loaded Burgers, a food truck-turned-brick and mortar that 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!
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 the area distilleries.
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.
Staying overnight in Williamson County
If you’d like to break up your trip and spend more time in Williamson County, there are plenty of vacation rentals in Franklin and the surrounding towns. Of course, 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.
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