You’ve savored a bucketful of Memphis brisket and blues, and now you’re ready to taste something different. Venture outside the city limits to enjoy some of the best day trips from Memphis. Within a short drive from “Bluff City,” you can explore a wealth of beautiful state parks and fascinating historical sites.
On a day out from Memphis, you could find yourself ambling on the sidewalks of historic towns like Oxford, MS, or Jackson, TN. Or maybe you’ll want to explore the hiking trails of a top-rated nature park, like Holly Springs National Forest or Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park.
Ready to put the pedal to the metal? Grab this complete Memphis side trip guide—and go!
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Treat yourself to a taste of Mississippi charm and culture in Oxford, MS. Like its British namesake, Oxford is home to a renowned university and boasts a rich history, impeccably preserved architecture, and a lively cultural scene. An easy 90-minute drive from Memphis, Oxford is an A-Lister on the Memphis day trip red carpet.
Oxford isn’t just home to the fabled University of Mississippi. It also hosts a wealth of art galleries, restaurants, and historic homes. Make a pilgrimage to Rowan Oak, the graceful former home of American author William Faulkner. Take a ramble through the surrounding countryside, and you’ll see the inspiration for much of Faulkner’s writing.
Head to Oxford’s historic Town Square to really feel the city’s pulse. Visit the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center, a unique project devoted to black American history. Browse an eclectic mix of shops, boutiques, and galleries. Music lovers can get in the groove at The End of All Music record store, and book lovers will find a happy haven at Square Books.
And what’s a great trip without great food? The Square offers the best in everything, from down-home cooking to haute cuisine. Indulge your appetite at the upscale City Grocery, owned by award-winning chef John Currence. (It’s not your grandma’s grocery store.) A visit is a perfect way to end your day!
Pinson Mounds State Archeological Park
Looking for a truly unique park experience? You’ll find it just over 90 minutes away from Memphis at Pinson Mounds State Archeological Park.
Stretching out over 1200 acres, Pinson Mounds has a fascinating past. It’s the site of over 30 Native American ceremonial and burial grounds built between 150 and 250 A.D. One of them is the famed “Saul’s Mound,” the second-highest mound in the U.S.
The Pinson Mounds park site was occupied by the Woodland Indians for about 500 years between 50 A.D. and 550 A.D. Primarily used as a ceremonial gathering place, the position of the mounds suggests they were constructed to align with the stars.
Wend your way through this intriguing spot on a series of walking paths. Be sure to stop in at the museum, housed within a large replica mound. There, you can view the array of excavated artifacts, hear in detail about the creation of the Pinson Mounds, and learn about the culture of their builders, the Woodland Native Americans.
Mississippi River State Park, AR
For nature buffs, Mississippi River State Park is one of the very best side trips from Memphis. Just head south along the Mississippi River, cross the state line to Arkansas and you’ll discover a real gem. Arkansas is renowned for its natural beauty (it’s known as “the Nature State”). And this park is a standout.
Water lovers, gear up! You can access the Mississippi River and St. Francis River, plus a number of beautiful lakes where you can cruise, kayak, water ski, swim, and fish to your heart’s content.
If there’s a nip in the air—or you’d just prefer to stay dry—no worries! Just jump on a bike and cycle the park’s access roads. Or take in the interpretive tours at the Visitor Center.
Pull on your hiking boots to trek paths like the Bear Creek Lake Nature Trail. Keep your binoculars handy to catch glimpses of park wildlife like whitetail deer, wild turkey, and waterfowl. Then pick from an abundance of green spots, plunk yourself down for a well-deserved picnic, and soak up the Arkansas scenery.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Want to get away from it all without hours of travel? Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park makes an ideal Memphis day trip. A mere 25-minute drive from Memphis, this park boasts thousands of acres of hardwood forest stretching along the mighty Mississippi just waiting to be explored.
Hikers are spoiled for choice with over 20 miles of forested hiking trails. Lace up your boots to tackle the 8-mile trek along the imposing Chickasaw Bluffs that rise 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Pack your binoculars: The park is a haven for more than 200 bird species. And you can get close-up views of other wildlife like turtles, snakes, and fish in the park’s Nature Center.
But wait, there’s still more! Grab your golf clubs, cast a fishing line, pilot a kayak, or saddle up for some scenic horseback riding. Surprise bonus: there’s an Olympic-sized pool nearby.
After burning all that energy, grab some snacks or bite into a burger at the Shelby Forest General Store. Friday nights feature steak dinners and live bluegrass, the perfect way to end your visit.
Want to really get the blues? There’s no better place to feel the vibe than in Clarksdale, just an hour south of Memphis. Set in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, this little town had a major impact on the American music scene: it’s the birthplace of the Delta Blues.
Ready for a road trip? Head out on Highway 61, the “blues highway” that carried legends like B.B. King and Muddy Waters away from impoverished plantation life to the north where they made musical history. Stop at the fabled intersection of 61 and 49, aka “The Crossroads”. Here, it’s said, guitar great Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become a blues master. You’ll feel goosebumps. Guaranteed.
Don’t stop there. Hit the town for a fantastic selection of jumpin’ juke joints, including the hugely popular Ground Zero Blues Club. A magnet for music lovers, the club’s name honors Clarksdale’s rich legacy as “ground zero” for the blues. Pick the right night, and you might just bump into co-owner Morgan Freeman, a Mississippi Delta resident.
Check out the Delta Blues Museum to learn more about legendary musicians. Trace their footsteps with a walking tour of Clarksdale’s Mississippi Blues Trail Markers. The journey includes everything from cotton fields to recording studios and the gravesite of a guitar wizard who bartered with the devil.
Reelfoot Lake State Park
Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake State Park is one of the state’s finest slices of nature. The park centers around its namesake 15,000-acre lake, formed when a series of earthquakes caused the Mississippi River to flow back and flood the forest.
Visiting Reelfoot Lake State Park, you’ll marvel at cypress trees piercing through the calm waters of the shallow lake. On the shorelines, a variety of plants and flowers set the scene for shorebirds—and even American bald eagles—soaring overhead.
One of the best ways to experience Reelfoot Lake is with a scenic pontoon boat tour, offered from May to September. Along the shores, you can also find several hiking trails that are perfect for getting closer to the 280-acre park’s birdlife and wildlife.
Reelfoot Lake State Park lies just two hours north of central Memphis by car.
Village Creek State Park, AR
Looking for fresh air and a serene setting? Then, you’ll want to experience the natural wonders of Village Creek State Park. Just an hour west of Memphis in Arkansas, this 7,000-acre site features crystal clear streams and rolling hills.
Whether you prefer aquatic or land-based action, it’s all here. Rent a boat and cast a fishing line into one of the park’s beautiful lakes. Want to stay on dry land? Hit the hiking trails that wind their way through the hardwood forest. Hike, bike, or saddle up for a gentle ride.
Take in the beautiful views, and test your balance on the swinging bridge. Or, for you golfing diehards, putt around on the 27-hole golf course. Relax in a pavilion, or grab a bite at a picnic table.
Drop into the Village Creek State Park museum to view exhibits about the area’s history. And if all this fresh air just leaves you wanting more, rent a cabin and stay the night. Inhale deeply, and enjoy.
Holly Springs National Forest, MS
Browsing for Memphis day trips that offer outdoor adventures in a family-friendly setting? Make Holly Springs National Forest your destination. About an hour’s drive north of Memphis, this national forest offers a wealth of natural features that will delight day trippers of all ages and interests.
Get active on or off the water. Paddle the majestic Wolf River, one of the Mississippi’s major tributaries. Explore Poplar Tree Lake by kayak and camp out on the shore. Take to the trails that wind through pine and hardwood forests, around beautiful lakes, and into the hills. Take a break at one of the park’s picnic spots, then pitch your tent or park your RV for an overnight stay.
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Holly Springs National Forest is a true nature preserve, restoring and protecting over 150,000 acres of hardwood forest and unique wetland habitats. Part of the protected Wolf River watershed, it’s a haven for wildlife and heaven for birders. So keep your eyes open and your binoculars ready for action!
Little Rock, AR
In the market for a side trip that’ll please both history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts? Think Little Rock, AR. Named for a river rock formation used by early French travelers as a navigational guide, “La Petite Roche” is Arkansas’s state capital and largest city. Combine rich history with a stunning natural setting, and you’ve got a day trip winner.
The Clinton Presidential Center is a treasure trove of American history. Check out the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum to get intriguing insights into White House life from 1993 to 2001.
In town, amble through the River Market District, home to some of the top tourist attractions in Little Rock along with great places to shop, dine, and people-watch. Add a notch to your urban trekking belt by traversing the Big Dam Bridge, the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in North America.
Take a short jog west to Pinnacle Mountain State Park to hike or bike miles of green trails. Catch your breath before tackling the park’s crown jewel, Pinnacle Mountain, towering 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River. Make it to the top, and you’re rewarded with stunning views of the entire river valley.
Back in town, kick back and savor the pleasures of local Little Rock beverages. Tap into the Rock Town Distillery for their popular tours and tastings. At day’s end, relax and take in River Lights in the Rock, the nightly lighting of the city’s bridges.
Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge
Want to get away from the bustle and bright lights? Head to Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, less than an hour northeast of Memphis. Stretching along the scenic Hatchie River, its wild swamplands and dense vegetation make it an ideal habitat for migratory birds and aquatic species—and a perfect Memphis day trip for wildlife enthusiasts.
This unspoiled territory has a mystique all its own. Take to the water, and you’ll see tall trees rising above the still, murky waters. Largely untouched by human activity, this intriguing destination offers a unique glimpse into what untamed Mississippi looked like before European settlement in the early 19th century.
This natural refuge is brimming with wildlife. It’s home to a diverse population. Keep an eye out for species including owls, hawks, bald eagles, and deer. Climb to the top of the observation deck for a bird’s-eye view, or explore the river’s twists and turns by boat for a closer look at wetland life.
The Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge isn’t all “for the birds.” It’s also a great spot for hiking, biking, and kayaking. Nature buffs will want to get in on the site’s wide selection of interpretive programs, including ranger-led tours and self-guided walks. You’ve got thousands of green acres to explore—so get to it!
If you’re looking for a “something-for-everyone” experience, you can’t beat Jackson, Mississippi. The vibrant state capital, Jackson, MS, is proudly known as “the City with Soul.” Perched between Memphis and New Orleans, Jackson is steeped in a rich history that’s on display in its many museums and historical sites.
Jackson offers a hefty activity menu to choose from. And with so much to see after a three-hour drive from Memphis, you’d be wise to make this an overnight or weekend trip. Just be sure to book yourself a place to stay.
Once in Jackson, step into history by exploring the Old Capital Museum, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and the many sites along the Mississippi Freedom Trail.
Got youngsters on board? Then don’t miss the Mississippi Natural Science Museum and the Children’s Museum, both visitor favorites.
Nature enthusiasts will want to put the Mississippi Petrified Forest and LeFleur’s Bluff State Park on their list of what to do in Jackson, MS. And art lovers will enjoy strolling through the galleries of Jackson’s trendy Fondren district.
If you’re a music lover, you’ve come to the right place. Music is yet another of Jackson’s riches. Whether it’s jazz, gospel, or blues, there’s something for music fans of every appetite. Be sure to catch a live performance in the city’s historic Farish Street district. You’ll end your day on a high note.