Several months have passed since we last visited the Memphis to Bristol Highway on our trek across the state’s first road. For this week’s article, we are going to let you take off your hiking shoes, sit back and relax while we travel the next section. In this update, we will pick up in Crossville where we last left off and travel 125 miles west until we reach the state capital of Nashville. This section will bring us to a total of 314 miles traveled of the 538 total length.
This portion takes us across three geographic provinces of the state. Crossville sits high atop the Cumberland Plateau, home to cliff-lined gorges, mountains, and many of the state’s largest outdoor areas. After descending the western escarpment, the route travels across the rolling countryside of the Eastern Highland Rim. This area sits at an average elevation of one thousand feet and it dissected by several major rivers and reservoirs such as the Cumberland. The undulating hills then give way to the plains of the Central Basin. Completely surrounded by the highland rim on all sides, this natural valley was formed by the erosion of the soft limestone which makes up most of the bedrock. Home to ecologically sensitive cedar barrens as well as one of the Southeast’s largest metropolitan areas, it is an area of unique contrasts.
We left our trip last time at the junction of U.S. Highway 70 and U.S. 127 in downtown Crossville. If you have the time, Cumberland Mountain State Park lies just a short six-minute drive away from this point down U.S. 127. Featuring an alluring lake, campground, hiking trails, and picnic areas, the park makes a great stopping point for those driving the entirety of the Memphis to Bristol Highway in one trip. An award-winning golf course is just another reason to make a stop at this jewel of the Cumberland Plateau.
Back in downtown Crossville, continue west through the intersection on U.S. 70 West 1.5 miles until you come to another major intersection. Here the U.S. highway portion of the road splits, with U.S. 70N taking a northerly route straight ahead to travel to Cookeville. Route 1 turns left and continues to follow the regular highway 70, now known as the Sparta Highway. The suburbs of Crossville are soon left behind only for you to pass through another community known as Pleasant Hill. Another noteworthy side trip is the eight-mile drive to Virgin Falls State Natural Area just past here. Miles of hiking trails let visitors explore the vast reaches of Scott’s Gulf and the gorge’s namesake falls.
Soon you’ll reach the edge of the plateau and begin the descent into the town of Sparta below. Here in town, you will have the only opportunity to drive a portion of Tennessee Highway 1 which is a standalone road and does not share the same route as a U.S. Highway. After passing through the historic downtown, make a left turn onto Broadway of America and continue on this short stretch of road for one mile, leaving U.S. Highway 70 behind. An interchange with U.S. Highway 70S will be just ahead. Turn left immediately after crossing under the overpass and follow U.S. 70S south. Several miles ahead the highway will split and you will want to continue on U.S. 70S.
This portion of the route passes through some outstanding scenery and is close to several of our best state parks, including Falls Creek Falls, arguably the best of them all. A full day or two would be needed just to visit this park alone, so we’ll save that for another time. Rock Island State Park, however, makes a great side trip and is just five minutes outside the community of Rock Island itself. The park is a boater’s paradise and features amazing waterfalls as well as great kayaking areas along both the Collins River and Caney Fork.
McMinnville and Woodbury are the next two towns you will pass through on your way to Music City. As you descend the last time into the Central Basin just outside Woodbury, Short Mountain will be visible on the right. The massif is an outlier of the Cumberland Plateau and was left here as the surrounding landscape eroded away.
Soon you will enter the city of Murfreesboro, the sixth-largest city in the state with over 100,000 residents. Just before entering downtown, Tennessee Route 1 will turn right onto U.S. 41. Home to MTSU as well as the Stones River National Battlefield, this city deserves a whole day to be devoted to exploring all it has to offer. The national battlefield is an amazing historical site and will be the subject of next week’s article.
Nashville is just ahead, as the highway passes through the suburbs and communities of Smyrna, La Vergne, and Antioch. Long Hunter State Park hugs the shoreline of J Percy Priest Reservoir and serves as a perfect getaway spot for local residents to escape the city. The always busy Nashville International Airport is soon passed under by way of a tunnel, and then the impressive city skyline opens on the horizon.
Our journey for this section comes to an end at the junction of 8th Avenue South and Broadway in downtown. From here, there are so many choices for you to explore the city. A right turn leads to the city’s vibrant bar district where you can catch live country music. Nearby also is the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park just below the capitol building. Don’t confuse that with Centennial Park, home to the replica of the Parthenon, one of Music City’s icons which should not be missed. The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grand Ol’ Opry, and the historic Ryman Auditorium all make great stops for those interested in the impact that music has played in our state and this city in particular. Whatever you decide to do, have fun in Nashville, and we’ll be looking forward to our next trip along the Memphis to Bristol Highway!
Photo: Once in Nashville, make time to stop by Centennial Park, where you’ll find the world’s only full-size replica of the Parthenon.