From the tourist attractions of the Smoky Mountains to the music-crazed cities of Nashville and Memphis, family reunion locations in Tennessee abound.
Meeting in Memphis
Memphis is about roots, which makes it a fitting destination to connect with your own by planning a Memphis family reunion.
The National Civil Rights Museum can be a moving experience for families. Located on the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, it has a wide variety of exhibits relating to the civil rights movement, including the preserved motel room that Dr. King was staying in when he died. The museum promotes itself as a destination for reunion groups.
It is practically mandatory when in Memphis to pay a visit to Graceland, home of the late musician Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock n’ Roll.” Even those who don’t like his music or are too young to know who he is will enjoy Elvis’ mansion and the expensive toys he kept there, including a pink Cadillac and a custom jet.
Although there should be something for children at both Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, the one they’ll probably enjoy most is the Children’s Museum of Memphis. The youngest members of your reunion can build bridges over a model Mississippi River, learn about storms at the tornado generator or don a fire hat and hop on the real fire truck.
Mud Island, a deceptively named peninsula jutting out into the Mississippi River, is also worth a trip. On the “island” there is a museum about the Mississippi River, an amphitheater that hosts concerts, a scale hydraulic model of the Mississippi from Cairo to New Orleans and a monorail that offers great views of the city.
Everybody will love a day outside at Shelby Farms Park, an urban park in the heart of Memphis stretching over 4,500 acres, larger than New York’s Central Park. Bike trails, horseback riding and areas to fly kites ensure that everyone will have fun. The new Woodland Discovery Playground will keep any younger family member entertained. Don’t miss the herd of bison that live in the park.
Getting Together in Gatlinburg
The region surrounding the Smoky Mountains hosts over 10 million visitors a year, many of them families. This heavy inflow means that there is a dizzying array of attractions, restaurants, shopping and lodging options for your family.
Dollywood, the Pigeon Forge amusement park owned by country singer Dolly Parton, offers something for everyone. Thrill-seekers will flock to Mystery Mine, a roller coaster that plunges through an abandoned coalmine; Thunderhead, a traditional wooden coaster with a 100-foot drop; and SkyZip, a zip line ride through the Smoky Mountains. Those looking for something more sedate will appreciate the park’s craft demonstrations, festivals and shows. There is also a water park called Dollywood’s Splash Country with a wave pool, water slides and a lazy river.
The obvious highlight is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited of all American national parks. Take the family hiking, horseback riding or for a scenic drive through the perpetually haze-covered mountains. The most intrepid can try to scale Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.
Another good option for active families is a family rafting trip. Rafting in the Smokies specializes in groups such as reunion-goers and offers different routes depending on the skill level of your rafters. The experienced can navigate through whitewater rapids while beginners can pilot through calmer waters and spend more time enjoying the mountain scenery.
Ripley’s maintains a number of attractions in the area that are designed to appeal to families. The best is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, located in Gatlinburg, which has over 8,000 fish and other sea creatures and features a glass tunnel that cuts through a shark tank. Also worth a visit is Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, with such exhibits as an eight-legged buffalo and the world’s largest hairball.
Music and Memories in Nashville
Nashville is first and foremost “The Music City,” the world capital of country music and the home of artists from all genres. For families who bond through a shared love of music, this may be just the place to have that next reunion.
The Grand Ole Opry House is at the top of any list of things to do in Nashville. The house has been the site since 1974 of the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running live radio show in the world. The show is often considered to have given birth to country music and is still broadcasts several times a week in front of a live audience. Country stars such as Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood stop by to perform regularly. Also of interest is the adjacent Grand Ole Opry Mills, an outlet mall with over 200 stores and entertainment venues.
Another can’t-miss site for music lovers is the Country Music Hall of Fame. See Hank Williams’ Martin D-28 Guitar or browse the greatest albums in country history on the Gold Record Wall. You can also tour RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley first recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” and changed music forever.
There is more to Nashville family reunions than just music, though. For example, the kids will love the Adventure Science Center, where they can go on a simulated walk on the moon, walk inside of a giant human heart that occasionally goes into cardiac arrest, pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator or use a bicycle to power a working elevator.
The General Jackson Showboat, the country’s largest paddlewheel riverboat, often hosts family reunion groups. As you cruise down the Cumberland River, enjoy a dinner show featuring some of country music’s greatest hits or a lunchtime comedy show. Either way, you will enjoy the General Jackson’s unique mix of Southern cooking and one-of-a-kind entertainment.
Another option in the Tennessee State Museum, one of the nation’s largest. Permanent exhibits cover the role Tennesseans played in settling the frontier, the Civil War and the building of the “New South” after the war. Visitors can also tour the Tennessee State Capitol building.
Chattanooga was once the site of vicious and bloody fighting during the Civil War. Now it is called “The Scenic City” and known for its scenery and pleasant quality of life, not for soldiers and cannons. Its unique combination of urban comforts and easily accessible natural scenery might make it the ideal location for your next reunion.
The region’s most famous attraction is Rock City, a unique attraction atop Lookout Mountain made famous by one of history’s best marketing campaigns. To this day, roofs across the country have “See Rock City” painted onto them. Created by the inventor of miniature golf and his wife, Rock City features trails that wind through the rocks, while passing over 400 species of native plants and some spectacular views. At the end of the trail, take a look out from Lover’s Leap, where it is reputedly possible to see seven states on a clear day.
At a much lower elevation, Chattanooga family reunions should experience an underground waterfall at Ruby Falls, the largest such waterfall open to the public in America. Before you can see the falls, though, you and your family will hike down over a thousand feet, passing stalactites and other natural features. If you call enough in advance, they will cater a meal for reunion groups as well as get you a discount on tickets.
Back in the city, the Chattanooga Choo Choo is a combination hotel and attraction where you can wander the quiet gardens or ride an authentic restored streetcar line. A model train set on the premises that travels through a miniature version of Chattanooga and the surrounding Cumberland Mountains is one of the world’s largest.
Another thing your family will enjoy doing in the city itself is seeing one of thousands of aquatic creatures at the Tennessee Aquarium. The aquarium re-creates three living forests complete with wildlife and has the world’s largest freshwater aquarium tank. Other highlights include a stingray touch pool and a 3-D IMAX theater. Steps away is the Children’s Discovery Museum, where children can dig for dinosaur bones or play doctor in a realistic doctor’s office.