Did you know there is an elephant sanctuary in Middle Tennessee? The small town of Hohenwald, located an hour and a half south of Nashville, is home to The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee, one of the nation’s largest natural habitat refuges for African and Asian elephants. Pair that with downtown art, great food and deep history (Meriwether Lewis was exploring the Natchez Trace, close to town, when he died.) and Hohenwald is an ideal day trip.
Stop in to Hank's Family Diner for a cup of coffee and chat with the locals in this recently renovated space. The tea is sweet, coffee is hot and the food is delicious. When you dine here, you’ll find burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and yummy dinners like Veggie Alfredo, Creamed Beef on Toast, and Marci’s Chicken. The locals recommend trying the Homemade Peach Cobbler and Vegetable Beef Soup.
If you want a delicious steak dinner, Junkyard Dog Steakhouse is where you go. The owners worked in the Nashville restaurant business for years and decided to open their own place away from the city. This spot is a local favorite. Be prepared for it to be packed for lunch. The Ragin’ Cajun’ steak is a favorite; the steak has a spicy butter that melts onto the steak and into your mouth.
Lewis & Clarke’s is a full service restaurant and lounge boasting a casual atmosphere and the perfect spot for late night dining. Be sure to order the homemade mashed potatoes, caprese flatbread appetizer and grilled jumbo shrimp. Favorites are also the deviled eggs and catfish dishes.
If you want to familiarize yourself with the town’s extensive history, head to the Lewis County Museum of Natural History. Did you know the county is named after Meriwether Lewis, the famous explorer? Here you’ll learn more about the man behind the expedition and the legacy the world’s greatest explorer left behind. You will also find the extensive wildlife collection from Dan and Margaret Maddox. This collection has been preserved and held at Hohenwald since 1989. You’ll see herbivores like Even-toed Ungulates, carnivores like cats, bears, and dogs, and primates. It is a sight to behold and a great educational experience that deserves to be at the top of your to-do list.
This old train station depot has been converted into a welcome center and gift shop. You can pick up some pamphlets on what to do in the area and shop pieces from local artisans. During the holiday season, you can buy unique ornaments made of wood and magnolia leaves as well as hand crafted picture frames, jewelry, soaps, and cute décor pieces.
The annual Oktoberfest Heritage Festival celebrates Hohenwald’s German and Swiss roots. There are food trucks, live music, street vendors, a car show, a marketplace where you can buy baked good like large cinnamon rolls, handmade items and craft demonstrations. Hohenwald takes sustainability seriously as well and teaches attendees about the green initiatives happening in the area. Many residents are off the grid and homesteaders are popping up all over the county. Lewis County makes it a priority for residents to care for the environment and live off the land they have.
Pass the elephant sculpture made of tires and visit The Elephant Discovery Center. A few miles away there’s an elephant sanctuary that was founded in 1995. It’s grown to be one of the nation’s largest natural habitat refuges for African and Asian elephants. Most of the elephants were born in the wild but have lived their lives at the zoo or circus. The sanctuary gives them the companionship of a herd and the space to roam and thrive in their retirement. The sanctuary isn’t open to the public, but at The Elephant Discovery Center there are screens live-streaming the elephants as well as interactive exhibits.
Lewis County is home to great Tennessee wineries located on the Natchez Trace Wine Trail. Spend a few hours or an entire day visiting each winery. The first stop is the award-winning Keg Springs. They have dry Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel to sweet wines like Monk’s Blackberry, Jaycee’s Cherry and Princess Peach. Split a bottle with friends and enjoy the view and live music on their side porch. They also have some fun gifts inside if you have any friends or family members who love wine.
Drive up to Hampshire for Amber Falls Winery. Take a tour of the winemaking process there and learn all about their peach tea – known as “grown up peace juice” - and the wines their offer. Their award-winning Tennessee wines are their Crescendo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Cajunfest and Madame Muscadine. They also have an underground tasting room, a one-of-a-kind feature to see at a winery. You feel like you’re in a cozy underground cave with its solid wood doors, paneling and warm rust tones. They have outdoor seating and live music on Saturdays. You can buy wine by the glass, have a tasting and purchase a bottle as well. They also opened a tasting room in Opry Mills in Nashville.
Not only is this a beautiful wedding venue, but Natchez Hills Vineyard & Winery is gorgeous. Nestled in the trees, the tasting room is surrounded by lush greenery, wood detailing, chandeliers, and pretty flowers. Enjoy some of their special Naughty Tea - tea wine that tastes just like sweet tea, Alicante Bouschet, Ridgetop Red, Sunset Blush and Sweet Harmony. With names as pretty as their scenery, this place is a must-visit. They also have a tasting area at the Nashville Farmer’s Market.
Sparkey & Ringo's is off the main street and is named after the owner’s two dogs. Here you can find casual, everyday men and women’s clothing and accessories. You’ll want to buy several of the fun graphic tees they have for sale. Stop by between noon and 5 p.m. for local shopping and also some insight into what the locals like to do in the area.
If you need a dress or suit for any occasion, Janet’s is the place to go. You can also find custom bridal gowns, accessories and tuxedo rentals. Janet’s also provides alterations and dry cleaning services. Janet’s is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stop in at All Around Southern Mercantile for some truly unique home décor as well as handmade goods, soaps, and essential oils. Their inventory goes quickly and you’ll never find the same piece twice. The Mercantile is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you’re looking for charm, friendly locals, and lots of good food and wine, Hohenwald is an ideal day trip destination.
Knoxville, Tennessee is full of delicious food choices, beautiful outdoor scenery and cultural offerings sure to make you want to visit again and again.