A special thanks to writer/photographer Andrew Saucier for this special guest post.
This time of year, Middle Tennessee is a place where the hillsides and deep cut valleys meld into a stark and vivid scene as a rich golden cast comes over the land. Barns of bowed and weather-grayed wood begin to show themselves from the deep, shaded hollers from which they’d hid the summer through. And after the sweltering humidity dissipates for the season, the day’s sun takes on a gentle warming quality more comfortable than any other time of year. The span of heartland between the banks of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers is as scenic and beautiful a place as any other in the American southeast if you have the eye and the will to see it. Traveling through in autumn, you’d have to actively try not to notice.
You’re likely the start in Nashville, whatever you’re doing in the region. And while Music City may well be the indisputable heart of the state, you are likely to find that the true soul of Tennessee resides outside the neon limelight of the city, permeating from all the small whistle-stop hamlets, crossroads town squares and two lane blacktops meandering through the surrounding countryside where the state’s more authentic and original identity pulses. And there’s no better time to immerse yourself in it than fall.
Principal among the scenic drives to see fall foliage through Middle Tennessee is the Highland Rim Section of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Here you have a road that is as unadulterated by the influence of man as it can be and still be a maintained highway. It is without billboards, gas stations, commercial hauling, traffic lights or golden arches. Instead, it is designed to go with the land instead of exacting the shortest, most convenient route through it. And for the leisurely traveler, that means that it is a road made for you. Starting – or ending, depending on which way you’re headed – off of Highway 100 near the Loveless Café just west of Nashville, you can literally take it all the way down to Natchez, Mississippi, some 444 miles. Driving it, you will find any number of trails through quiet creek valleys and along high, wooded ridges, complete with long, bucolic vistas for the fall foliage photograph we all know you’re going to take.
Not to say that any old state or US route wouldn’t do. Out to the east of Nashville, you can take either US-231 between Lebanon and Fayetteville or US-70 between Lebanon and Crossville. North of Nashville, TN-52 is an east-west route that spans almost the entire state near the Kentucky border, but you can shorten it to a day’s drive between Dale Hollow and the Land Between the Lakes. Another excellent east-west route, US-64, let’s say between the Shiloh National Battlefield and Monteagle, lies to the south of Nashville along the Alabama line. Any one of these roads offers its drivers Middle Tennessee’s lush and wild landscape, and unlike the Natchez Trace, you’ll find yourself passing through town after town with all the meat-and-three diners, stone monuments, tall-steeple churches and roadside produce stands you can stand. So whatever route you choose, wherever you’re going, roll down the windows and stop on a whim at all the little places you see along the way.