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Rural Tennessee's Hidden Gems

Muscle Shoals and more in Nashville's "Big Back Yard"

Follow the 100-mile route along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway from Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee to Florence, Alabama and you'll find a rural escape from the city that is filled with outdoor adventure, music, incredible food and small-town hospitality.

American Picker and Leiper’s Fork resident Mike Wolfe joined leaders from 13 rural Middle Tennessee and Northwest Alabama communities to launch a new regional movement dubbed Nashville’s Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative that shines a light on the richness of life and culture in the small (population of 5,000 or less) towns connected by the Trace.  

“We appreciate Mike’s support of our movement to engage people who may be looking for a change of pace and a different quality of life,” said Lewis County Mayor Jonah Keltner. “We’ve always considered ourselves to be a vital back-yard support system for cities like Nashville, and we think now is the right time to promote a regional approach to living and working.”

The Big Back Yard anchors, The Shoals and Leiper's Fork, are best kept secrets. From the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where Aretha recorded “Respect”, to Puckett’s of Leiper’s Fork, where on any given Thursday, you might catch Motley Crue’s Vince Neil on stage at open mic night, a trip through Nashville’s Big Back Yard is the Tennessee vacation you didn’t know you needed… but trust me, you do. 

Linda Hall, widow of Rick Hall, “The Father of Muscle Shoals music”, and caretaker of FAME Studios; and Judy Hood, wife of legendary Muscle Shoals “Swamper” David Hood and caretaker of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio were in the thick of it during the heyday of music in the Shoals, and they have stories to tell. Linda and Judy have been the women behind the men of the Muscle Shoals Sound and they continue the tradition of music-making in the Shoals with fully operational studios and guided tours available daily. 

Four Alabama cities make up “The Shoals”, the largest of which is Florence, where you can stay right in the heart of downtown at the GunRunner Hotel, shop at the Billy Reid headquarters and dine from a menu packed with sustainably raised, locally sourced ingredients at Odette

At the northern end of the Trace is Leiper’s Fork. Originally settled in the 1800s, the village was brought back to life in the mid-1990s by a cooperative that restored the Queen Anne and craftsman style homes that had been left vacant for years; and established land trusts which protect it from being overrun with chain hotels and restaurants. The result is an idyllic hamlet that, in just a few square miles, has all the shopping, entertaining and relaxing that you could possibly need.  

You can shop for vintage turquoise at Morgane Stapleton’s Tennessee Turquoise and ogle over upcycled, one-of-a-kind clothing from Textile Revival. You can stuff your face with a “Big Bad Breakfast” at the Country Boy and sample from a multi-course menu in a 130-year-old home at 1892 Leiper’s Fork

At Leiper’s Creek Gallery, you might think you are trespassing into a local’s home. The historic former gas station’s 15-foot ceilings and fireplace provide a village-chic domestic setting in which to enjoy the art. 

The Spa at Leiper’s Fork is in a beautiful Victorian house at the edge of town. It’s a comfort just to walk in the front door. Their list of treatments covers ev-er-y-thing and their bespoke Bourbon Lavender bath collection smells good enough to eat… or drink. 

Just a few minutes’ drive down the main road will take you to Leiper’s Fork Distillery. Owner and distiller Lee Kennedy’s small batch production, using locally sourced ingredients, perfects a smooth “grain to glass” whiskey. 

The Pot N' Kettle Cottage collection is the perfect landing pad for a Big Back Yard adventure. Owners Eric and Sam have curated the most impeccable cottages, with interior design so good that I found myself nearly squealing with joy as I walked through the space. From the appliances to the bathroom fixtures and bed linens, everything is of the highest quality and laid-back chic.  

There’s a good reason that Justin Timberlake and Keith Urban put down roots here. It’s a quick drive to Nashville. The countryside is gorgeous, and they can go about their business as a local, without being bothered. 

Each of the towns along the Big Back Yard route has something special to share. From the only known double span natural bridge formation in Waynesboro, where Davy Crockett gave one of his first political speeches; to the charming main street of Mount Pleasant, there are sight-seeing treasures at every turn.

Mike Wolfe sidebar:
“Nashville’s Big Back Yard, a back to the land movement, is a virtual showroom of small-towns outside of Nashville,” said Mike Wolfe, a rural Williamson County, Tennessee resident who has traveled tens of thousands of miles and gained millions of fans as the star and creator of HISTORY’s “American Pickers” series. "These communities are important parts of the heart and soul of America. The American dream is alive and well in these places. And this time in history gives a unique opportunity to embrace that, to come home again for the first time. We invite you to come and play in our Big Back Yard.” 

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