How to Spend a Perfect Day in Athens, TN

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Visits to small towns are some of the best ways to experience America. Athens, TN, is an excellent example of a place that offers insight into history and modern marvels. A day in Athens can include a walk through nature, some ice cream, and a look at what Southwest Tennessee once was. The town is conveniently located on I-75 for an easy stop while passing through or a destination for a quiet retreat.

Are you ready to explore Athens, TN? Let’s get started! 

About Athens, TN

Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Athens, TN, is “The Friendly City.” The small town was founded in 1822. By 1851, the railroad reached Athens and helped its small businesses grow. After the Civil War, industrialization grew the local textile and furniture industries. 

Today, there remain historic homes throughout the town. The buildings and shops in the downtown district are also a reminder of the past. The town preserves them as a reminder of their cultural and historical significance. 

Athens, TN, is a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle of big city life. With the great outdoors at your fingertips, it’s a quiet place to enjoy the fresh air. So let’s take a closer look at things to do in this small town.

Where Is Athens, TN? 

Athens, TN, is between Chattanooga and Knoxville on I-75. It sits within narrow ridges and low hills. And it’s only 45 miles from the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can’t go wrong with the location and views.

Traveler’s Tip: Follow I-75 south through the foothills and visit Rome, Georgia, for it’s natural beauty and many historic stops.

Are There Mountains in Athens, TN? 

The elevation of Athens, TN, is 860 feet. While the Great Smoky Mountains are in the distance, Athens is surrounded by foothills. Heading to the mountains from here is a beautiful drive filled with anticipation of what’s over the next incline.

What to Do in Athens, TN, If You Only Have One Day? 

Since Athens, TN, is right off I-75, it’s an easy place to stop on a road trip for a day-long break. It’s also an excellent option for a weekend getaway or a base for visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

But regardless of how much time you spend here, there are five things we recommend not missing out on. Let’s check them out.

Visit Mayfield Dairy Farm

Mayfield Dairy Farm is home of the “World’s Best Ice Cream”

Start your day in Athens, TN, by visiting Mayfield Dairy Farm. It’s fun for all ages and involves ice cream! The farm has been producing milk and ice cream for more than 100 years. 

At Mayfield Dairy Farm, you can stop in the visitor’s center with an ice cream parlor and gift shop. Here you can also learn fun facts about the cows on the farm and their products. The farm offers tours, but check the website for availability.   

Have Lunch at Big Daddy’s BBQ Shack

Big Daddy’s BBQ Shack in Athens, TN, offers Texa-lina style BBQ — a mixture of Texas and Carolina BBQ. The business opened in 2019 with a desire to bring the community together over tasty meats. Its atmosphere is inviting and friendly, and the menu is top-notch. We recommend trying the slab of ribs and brisket.

A delicious spread of barbecue in to-go boxes on a plaid table cloth.

Experience the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum

The McMinn County Living Heritage Museum houses more than 10,000 artifacts from the 1700s to the present day found throughout southeast Tennessee. Exhibits include information on Native Americans, U.S. veterans, and African American history. 

The museum also provides events and educational programs throughout the year. Its Heritage School is a popular educational program that offers traditional demonstrations about the history and culture of southeast Tennessee. It’s typically offered on Saturdays and is a wonderful family event.

Hike the Eureka Rail Trail

The Eureka Rail Trail is an easy 7.9-mile out and back trail. It’s an excellent way to see the beautiful trees and landscape around Athens, TN. The trail follows a former railroad bed. You can hike, bike, or ride horses on the trail. Leashed dogs are also allowed.

To access the trailhead, start on East Madison Avenue in Athens. Parking is available at 1300 East Madison Avenue (Highway 307). It’s about a mile north of Prof Powers Park, across from Fairview Road.

A group of friends hiking a trail through mountains as the sun peaks over the peaks.

Have Dinner at Gondolier Pizza & Steak House

After experiencing the Eureka Rail Trail, head to Gondolier Pizza & Steak House to refuel. They offer all types of pizzas, including meat lovers and vegetarian specials. They also have a variety of Italian dishes and pasta. And they offer char-broiled steaks from rib eye to New York strip. You won’t walk away hungry!

What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Athens, TN?

Spring and fall are the best times of year to visit Athens, TN. The weather is pleasant and not too cold or hot. These two seasons are perfect for spending time outdoors in Athens and visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Have you packed your bags for a trip to Athens, TN? We hope you’re able to experience this small town for a weekend getaway or if you’re just stopping through for a day.

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