In an increasingly polarized era, the country can still agree on at least one thing: Dolly Parton is a treasure. The country music queen won wide acclaim in 2021 for two new albums, a book, her first perfume and — oh yes — the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which she helped fund. While it’s hard to top those accomplishments this year, it’s still a wonderful time to spend a few days learning more about Parton and the musical legacy of his corner of the country, both in his home state of Tennessee and in neighboring Alabama.
Best driving holidays 2022:Four Great Road Trips from Columbus
Stop 1: Nashville
Journey from Columbus: 380 miles, 5 hours and 42 minutes
Begin your music-themed journey with a six-hour drive to Nashville. Spend a day downtown, walking to destinations such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the National Museum of African American Music, and the Musicians Hall of Fame. You can also stroll along the Music City Walk of Fame, which honors artists from multiple genres who have made significant contributions to the music industry.
While most of your experiences in Nashville can be spontaneous, you should plan a visit to the historic RCA Studio B or Hatch Print Show, where you can see decades of woodblock prints for bands and artists. You’ll want to sample the sights and sounds of Nashville’s famous entertainment districts, where neon lights and music fill the streets. Lower Broadway, SoBro, and Printer’s Alley are packed with restaurants and bars like the Listening Room Café, where you can listen to free live music and grab a bite to eat. End your trip with an evening show at one of the iconic venues like the Grand Ole Opry House, the historic Ryman Auditorium, or the Bluebird Café, the launching pad for many of Nashville’s music greats.
Stop 2: Muscle Shoals
Travel from Nashville: 134 miles, 2 hours and 29 minutes
It’s not as famous as Nashville, but Muscle Shoals is a musical mecca in its own right. In the 1960s, a multiracial core of musicians, songwriters and producers – led by Rick Hall, described as “the father of Muscle Shoals music” – transformed this small town in northwestern Alabama into an international recording mecca, attracting artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, Etta James and Bob Seger.
Start your tour at the recording studios that were the heart of the Muscle Shoals scene. Tours of the Hall’s Fame Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (founded by The Swampers, Muscle Shoals’ famed rhythm section) and Cypress Moon Studio (Muscle Shoals Sound’s second location, in nearby Sheffield) can fill a day.
Also, be sure to set aside a few hours to visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, with exhibits that showcase the accomplishments of Alabamians WC Handy, Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette and more. Another option is to take the Roots of American Music Trail Cell Phone Tour. It includes directions to top sites and side stops, as well as information on the melodic influence of the Tennessee River on American music.
You can work food stops at Champy’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Swampers Bar & Grille, and Rattlesnake Saloon or just follow your nose at a roadside barbecue restaurant that’s probably been in business for decades.
Stop 3: Pigeon Forge
Travel from Muscle Shoals: 312 miles, 5 hours and 10 minutes
With travel-themed tunes on your playlist, the roughly five-hour drive to Pigeon Forge will go fast. Check into Dollywood DreamMore Resort & Spa near Pigeon Forge Parkway or book a cabin in the woods surrounded by the serenity of the Smoky Mountains. Your visit to Pigeon Forge will focus on the influence of Dolly Parton, one of country music‘s deepest and most influential artists, born in this area in 1946.
While there, experience some of Parton’s themed entertainment, including Dollywood Theme Park, where you can view some of the behind-the-scenes memorabilia from Parton’s life and musical career at the Chasing Rainbows Museum and step inside a replica of her two childhood homes, which had neither running water nor electricity. Many local attractions center around Parton, such as Dolly Parton’s Stampede, with horse shows and a four-course meal.
Plan to stroll through historic Old Mill Square which is home to local artisan shops and the Old Forge Distillery shop, where you can pick up a pot of chocolate moonshine. The Old Mill Restaurant is a must visit for breakfast, a chicken dinner or a slice of homemade pecan pie in the afternoon. In operation since the 1830s, the mill is where Parton’s father used to get corn for the family.
Spend a day at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg. As the most visited national park in the country, there’s plenty to do, from hiking the trails, soaking up the views from scenic lookout points or stopping by Cade’s Cove, where you can see the native fauna.
Spend your final night listening to the regional sounds of bluegrass music under dark Tennessee skies as you sit in The Island plaza in Pigeon Forge before returning to Columbus.
Where to stay
Gaylord Opryland Resort: A unique resort experience not far from downtown Nashville with entertainment, a SoundWaves water attraction and expansive indoor gardens
Huton Hotel: Boutique hotel near Music Row with music packages available
The Dive Motel & Swim Club: Part dive bar, part motel, with unique rooms equipped with a party switch to activate the room’s disco ball and dive radio channels
Dollywood DreamMore Resort & Spa: Dolly Parton’s premier resort and spa offers an upscale, porch-style ambiance that is characteristic of the Smoky Mountain lifestyle.
This story is from the February 2022 issue of Monthly Columbus.