Memphis is one of the great cultural centers of the South and the United States as a whole. Synonymous with The Blues, Rock n Roll, and great barbecue, Memphis is a diverse city with no shortage of attractions.
It is also located at the crossroads of a beautiful and eclectic region; situated on the southeastern border of Tennessee, Memphis is driving distance from Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and of course, the rest of Tennessee itself. Travelers centered in Memphis have no shortage of options when exploring the region.
But hotels are expensive, and it can be difficult to secure time off work for an extended vacation. The perfect alternative is to take a day trip: drive out in the morning, spend the day in a location, and head home that same night.
Follow along, and we’ll break down the very best day trips from Memphis. Whether you’re obsessed with music, nature, or anything in between, you’ll find the perfect day trip below.
Aside from the blues, if there’s one thing that’s truly synonymous with Memphis, it’s Elvis Presley and Graceland. Located in the Whitehaven community, Graceland is just nine miles from downtown Memphis, making this one of the most accessible day trips on the list.
With over 650,000 visitors a year, Graceland is the second most-visited house in the United States (behind only the White House), and with good reason. The mansion itself is expansive and lavish and makes for a fascinating tour, but Graceland offers so much more.
The Graceland Entertainment Complex features tours of Elvis’s custom jets, an automobile museum, and the world’s largest Elvis museum with rotating exhibits. There is also an in-house food hall and the Jungle Room Bar.
Easily accessible, iconic, and packed with interesting value, Graceland is a must-visit for any Elvis fans in the Memphis area.
Graceland isn’t the only day trip from Memphis for Elvis fans, though. About an hour and 45-minute drive southeast, across the Mississippi border, is Elvis’s hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi.
Before he was the biggest superstar in music, Elvis grew up in small-town Mississippi, in a tiny house which his father had built by hand. That house still stands today, and now functions as something of a shrine. The journey to Tupelo represents a pilgrimage for Elvis’s biggest fans and provides a window into what his life was like before he made it big.
In addition to the house, there is a museum dedicated to Elvis’s life and career. While it’s smaller than the one in Graceland, it provides a different perspective. The site also includes a chapel and the church where Elvis and his family worshipped.
The greatest appeal of Tupelo, though, is simply the ambiance. If you’re a huge Elvis fan, little can top being able to walk around the small town where he spent his childhood, when his career was nothing more than a big dream.
Holly Springs, Mississippi
There’s a wide variety of beautiful small towns within driving distance from Memphis. One of the best options for a pleasant day trip is the quiet hill country town of Holly Springs, Mississippi.
About an hour’s drive from Memphis, Holly Springs is packed with historical architecture that makes for an enjoyable walking tour. The town is also packed with delicious restaurants, which is perfect for days trips; you’ll have somewhere great to go for both lunch and dinner.
Holly Springs also has three separate museums throughout the town. The Marshall County Historical Museum features rotating exhibits about the history of the area, the Kate Freeman Clark Museum is a Gallery of local artist Clark’s paintings, and the Ida B. Wells-Barnett museum details local African American history and culture.
Easily accessible from Memphis, Holly Springs is a hidden gem that’s perfect for a day trip.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
If you’re more interested in spending some time out in nature, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is the perfect day trip from Memphis for you. Just 17 miles from downtown Memphis, it’s about a 30-minute drive from the city.
You can hike freely on the various interlocking trails through the forest, but if you’re interested in more structure, park rangers provide guided hikes, and even boat rides through the lake and swamps throughout the summer.
The forest and wildlife are beautiful, and Meeman-Shelby is a great place to get out of the city and unwind. But there is more than just hiking and boating here. The local general store serves delicious food, and even plays host to live bluegrass music every Friday evening.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Established in 1980, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame was created to honor Alabama’s eclectic musical history. The museum is located in Tuscumbia, Alabama, a little more than a two-hour drive from Memphis. Four to five hours round trip is quite the commitment, but this is a must-visit for any music lover in the area.
Alabama has a prolific musical history, with artists like Nat “King” Cole, Hank Williams, Lionel Richie, and many more. And it has something to offer for music lovers of all kinds, as the museum is set up to honor the music of every genre.
In addition to the Hall of Fame itself, the museum features rotating exhibits on a wide variety of themes.
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is open Tuesday-Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, and on Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $6 for children 12 and younger.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Memphis is right on the border with Arkansas, and about two hours west Arkansas’s capital, Little Rock. A small city, much of Little Rock can be explored in a single day. But that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting.
Little Rock is the cultural center of Arkansas. If you want to spend some of your days out in nature, there is plenty of hiking and biking to do. But you’ll also find a wide variety of attractions within the city itself.
One unique draw is the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, which, among other things, features a to-scale replica of the Oval Office. Little Rock is also home to many other art galleries, history museums, and even the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
Little Rock is a small city, but it’s far from boring; no matter your interests, you’re sure to find something to pass your day.
Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge
Also in Arkansas, but a much closer drive, the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge is about 30 to 40 minutes from downtown Memphis, and it is a perfect day trip for animal lovers.
Over 5,000 acres in area, Wapanocca is home to a diverse variety of birds and mammals. Bald eagles make their homes there, as well as other large water birds like egrets and blue herons. Many other season birds migrate through Wapanocca, so bird watchers will have a wonderful time.
In total, there are 260 species of birds, 22 mammals, and a variety of fish, reptiles, and amphibians at Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge. Wapanocca Lake is also an excellent place for fishing, which is permitted from March 1st to November 30th.
Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect day trip for people who want to get some fresh air and connect with nature and wildlife.
A 45-minute drive from downtown Memphis, Wilson, Arkansas is perfectly designed to host day trips. A small town of just 900 people, tourism is a major driver of Wilson’s economy.
The centerpiece is the Hampson Museum State Park, which exhibits a collection of artifacts from the local Nodena Site. This was a Native American palisaded village that existed along the Mississippi River just outside where Wilson stands today. The museum is designed to depict the village’s culture and way of life.
A Mississippi Delta town, Wilson is quaint and scenic and features the beautiful Grange gardens, which is open for guided or self-guided tours. For a small town, Wilson has a range of restaurants, coffee shops, and even a welcome center, so you’ll never go hungry.
Ghost River Canoe Run
About an hour drive East from Memphis lies La Grange, Tennessee. Nestled within the protected forestland of La Grange is the Ghost River, an eight-mile stretch of Wolf River that is perfect for canoeing and kayaking.
The run is advertised for all skill-levels, but some turns do require a bit of technical ability. Ghost River might not be perfect for your first time paddling, but if you have a bit of experience, it’s a wonderful course.
The scenery is fantastic, and you paddle through protected land so you’ll pass all kinds of flora and fauna. There are even bald eagles in the area, and you may see one flying overhead as you float by.
Any paddling enthusiasts in the Memphis area should be sure to make the trip out to Ghost River. Easily accessible and a fun ride, you’ll likely want to make this a regular trip!
Village Creek State Park
About an hour drive west from Memphis in Arkansas, Village Creek State Park is a perfect day trip for people who want to experience nature in a more relaxed setting. Covering 7,000 acres, the park is filled with rolling hills and crystal clear babbling streams.
Village Creek State Park features 33 miles of multi-use hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, though the fragile composition of the soil means they are closed to horse-riding after rain. Most of the trails are easy walks so the whole family can come along.
In addition to the trails, Village Creek State Park has an indoor theatre and an outdoor amphitheater, a pavilion with picnic tables, a visitor’s center, and a gift shop.
While most of the activity is lighthearted, part of the trail allows visitors to walk a segment of the Trail of Tears, which can be a very somber opportunity for reflection.
Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge
Under an hour drive northeast from Memphis, Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is another perfect day trip for wildlife enthusiasts.
Hatchie is over 11,000 acres of mostly swampland and is packed to the brim with migratory birds and aquatic life. It was established as a sanctuary for wintering birds in the area, and birdwatchers will have an incredible time here.
Birds to look for include barred owls and red-shouldered hawks, which make their homes at Hatchie year-round, as well as the migratory Cerulean Warbler, Swinson’s Warbler, and many more. River otters also call Hatchie home and are often spotted by visitors.
If you are a bird watcher in the Memphis area, a day trip to Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge should be high on your list of priorities.
Memphis’s largest neighbor in Tennessee, Nashville is also the longest drive on the list. Memphis is on the States southwestern border, while Nashville lies three hours east in Middle Tennessee. But if you leave early enough, it can definitely be done in a day, and Nashville offers more than enough to make it worth your while.
Nashville is a thriving cultural center with many excellent draws for tourists. The city is synonymous with country music; fans will have enough to do for the entire day without looking at anything else.
A particularly fun attraction is the Opryland hotel, host to the famous Grand Ole Opry radio show. But the hotel is also filled with a lavish indoor garden and several delicious restaurants.
Nashville also has a thriving bar scene, a wide variety of museums and cultural centers, and for history buffs, there are many Civil War battle sites in and around the area. No matter your interests, a day trip to Nashville will have something for you.
The Final Word
Memphis is one of the most underrated cities in the United States, full of arts, unique culture, and incredible food. But if you’re looking to get out of the city for the day, it’s also within driving distance of some wonderful locales.
From the adrenaline-pumping excitement of the Ghost River Canoe Run to the music and history of Graceland, day trips from Memphis have something for everyone.