While many flock to Franklin each year for its historical tours and fabulous shops and restaurants, locals know downtown Franklin is only part of what makes Williamson County special. The city is surrounded by some of the most beautiful rolling hills and pastureland in all of Tennessee, making the area rich in scenic drive opportunities. Whether you have an hour or a day to spend taking in the sights, here are six scenic drives guaranteed to set your spirits soaring.
Franklin to Thompson’s Station
This scenic drive takes you down Highway 31 from Franklin to nearby Thompson’s Station. Within minutes, you’ll leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind in favor of sprawling farms and the gentle green hills that have inspired many a country music songwriter over the years. End your drive at Preservation Park for a walk on a truly unique trail that takes you up to the top of a Sound of Music-style hill offering 360-degree views of the countryside. Once you’ve burned off some energy, have lunch in nearby Spring Hill — A few favorite options include Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries.
Want to drive on a little farther? Continue on Highway 31 from Thompson’s Station to Pulltight Hill Road in College Grove, where an overlook offers another glorious view of your surroundings.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Did you know one of the most popular scenic drives in the nation runs right through Franklin? The Natchez Trace Parkway is a federally protected, 444-mile road that goes from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi, and the natural landscape on either side of this two-lane road is spectacular. Hop on the Parkway from Highway 96 in Franklin and stop at the award-winning Natchez Trace Parkway bridge, famous for its breathtaking views of Franklin’s famous countryside. Just beyond the bridge, you’ll find Timberland Park and one of my favorite area hiking trails – the 2.5 mile Big East Fork Reserve Trail. Ask for a map of the trails at the park’s Visitor Center before heading out for your walk. Drive down the parkway for a few minutes or a few hours. You’ll find plenty to do along the way, including an exit that takes you into Leiper’s Fork, two waterfalls, and the historic Gordon House, one of only two remaining structures from the old Natchez Trace.
While on the Parkway, keep an eye out for cyclists: They’re everywhere, and they’re allowed to take up the full lane if they choose (though they will generally move to the side to allow you to pass more easily) and heed the speed limit. This is meant to be a slow, scenic drive, and park rangers regularly ticket speeders who drive even a few miles over the limit. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Old Natchez Trace Road
I’m letting you in now on a truly local secret. When we want to go on a short, scenic drive that threatens to break my heart with its sheer loveliness, we head down Old Natchez Trace. This beloved four-mile road is one of Williamson County’s best-kept secrets, and a drive down it, particularly at sunset, won’t soon be forgotten. The narrow road beside the Harpeth River dates back to the early 1800s and follows the original Natchez Trace, a trade route used by Mississippian Native Americans for centuries. Today, you’ll still see plenty of remnants from the past along the Trace, including historic homes and structures, stone walls originally built by slaves, and a marker denoting the original location of Old Town, a highly developed Native American society that flourished here between 900 and 1450 A.D.
If the day’s a hot one, check Google Maps for the Harpeth River Rope Swing location, located just off the Trace. It’s a popular place for families to cool off in the summertime.
Route 31A offers charming countryside views and plenty of interesting roadside stops sure to satisfy everyone in your party. You’ll want to take this road on your visit to historic downtown Nolensville, a fantastic place to spend a few hours shopping and enjoying a Southern-inspired lunch or dinner. Check out my full guide to Nolensville for all the details on this Williamson County gem. The entire 31A Trail also takes you to Arrington Vineyards, considered by those in Middle Tennessee to be one of the most beautiful picnic spots in the region, as well as the Mill Creek Brewing Company and the Morning Glory Orchard.
Big East Fork Road
Here’s another local secret — one I only recently discovered through word-of-mouth! Williamson County’s Big East Fork Road is another breathtakingly gorgeous country road that will have you stopping for pictures every chance you get. You’ll pass grazing cattle, an old covered bridge, the lovely East Fork Creek, and charming farmhouses as you wind your way through the emerald hills surrounding the Natchez Trace Parkway, as well as points of interest that beg to be researched, like Graveyard Hollow, Tobacco Patch Hollow, Big Ivey Hollow, and more. This narrow, lightly-trafficked road is popular with cyclists, so keep an eye out for them while you’re out sightseeing. Stay on the road when it crosses under the Natchez Trace Parkway and becomes Stillhouse Hollow Road, and you’ll eventually end up at Highway 46.
Masters and Makers Trail
Want to make a day (or two) of your scenic drive? Check out the Masters and Makers Trail, a 70-mile trek down Williamson County’s most beautiful backroads with stops at two distilleries, a winery, and two brewing companies.
Start at Company Distilling at Thompson’s Station, where this distillery, tasting bar, and retail store are all located inside a century-old granary. From there, you’ll head to Arrington Vineyards, with its stunning views and sun-dappled rows of grapevines. Next, head to the Mill Creek Brewing Company in Nolensville, where the taproom features a range of locally-brewed beer as well as a full food menu. Drive on to Leiper’s Fork Distillery and learn the art of small-batch whiskey production. End your tour at the Curio Brewing Company in downtown Franklin, where both beer and coffee are brewed to perfection.
If you’re planning on covering the entire trail, be sure and download a Digital Passport. Visit at least four of the five stops and get a stamp (your phone can be ‘stamped’ if you prefer), and you’ll receive a free t-shirt from the Visitors Center in downtown Franklin.
And if you’re planning to indulge in the tastings offered along the way, consider calling Lyft, which covers the entire trail, or hire a car and driver from Signature Transportation Services.