6 of the best day trips from Memphis

Memphis has rightfully earned its place in history for its impact on American music and the Civil Rights Movement.

But since the city is also so well located, near Mississippi and Arkansas, with good highway connections, bus routes, and train lines, it’s a great base for visitors looking to maximize their time. 

Getting outside Memphis allows travelers to dig deeper into what makes the region so unique, including its cuisine and the music of the Blues Highway that starts there and continues south. It’s also a chance to see the wide open spaces beyond the city skyline. Here are six of our favorite day trips from Memphis.

A woman wearing a silver dress sings on stage
Tina Turner’s one-room schoolhouse has been transported to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Museum © Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Travel time: 1 hour

Brownsville is where visitors can learn about the Queen of Rock n Roll – Tina Turner. Her one-room schoolhouse was transported from nearby Nutbush, Tennessee, to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Museum and here you’ll find a world-class collection of Turner memorabilia.

The school is adjacent to the former home of blues pioneer Sleepy John Estes, another former area resident. The Dunbar-Carver Museum also covers the region’s cultural heritage.

Stop by for a meal at Helen’s BBQ, a century-old building named for the matriarch that still oversees the pit. She’s the recipient of the Southern Foodways Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award for her slow-roasted pork, ribs, and sausage.

How to get to Brownsville from Memphis: An hour’s drive east of Memphis on I-40 will put you at exit 56, where you can dive into the museums or choose to venture a further ten minutes into town.

A picturesque tree-lined path leads to a large house
Visit Rowan Oak in Oxford, former home of author William Faulkner © James Kirkikis / Shutterstock

Travel time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Oxford, Mississippi is home to the University of Mississippi, often called “Ole Miss.” The school dates back to 1844 and is best experienced through football game day in the Grove, at the center of campus, where tailgating crowds gather. 

Oxford is also where author William Faulkner lived. His home, Rowan Oak, has been turned into a museum, where you can walk through the grounds and home, with its furnishings and book cases. Another essential stop in town is Square Books, a sprawling bookstore with two satellite locations on the historic square covering just about every genre. 

Despite its relatively small size, Oxford has multiple award-winning restaurants, including the empire of Chef John Currence, who opened City Grocery on the square in 1992, where it remains a beloved institution. Part of the same restaurant group, Snackbar is run by James Beard-award-winning Chef Vishwesh Bhatt, using Mississippi ingredients and influences from his native India. 

How to get to Oxford from Memphis: Take I-55 south out of town until you cross into Mississippi. In Batesville, turn on 278, which brings you right into Oxford.

A small one-story house surrounded by fields
Johnny Cash spent his childhood in Dyess, Arkansas © Rush Jagoe / Lonely Planet

Travel time: 1 hour and 20 minutes to Dyess; 1 hour and 20 minutes to Helena

On the other side of the Mississippi River, you’ll find several interesting towns connected to American history. In Dyess, see where music legend Johnny Cash spent his childhood working the fields. His childhood home has been preserved at Historic Dyess Colony. The exhibits include photos taken by eyewitnesses at his famous Folsom Prison concert.

The neighboring town of Wilson feels straight out of a postcard, with restaurants like Wilson Cafe, which offers souped-up soul food. Hampson Archaeological Museum State Park documents the region’s Indigenous people with pottery and arrow points. 

If you have time, venture south to Helena-West Helena, host of the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in October. During the rest of the year, pop into the Delta Cultural Center to learn about the region and sip on sweet potato vodka at Delta Dirt Distillery, a family-run operation using one of the area’s chief agricultural products.

How to get to Dyess from Memphis: Take I-55 north for about 45 minutes and venture off onto exit 41. From there, go left on Arkansas Hwy 14W, travel 5 miles and take another left onto Hwy 297.

Blues musicians playing under red lights
Clarksdale is home to legendary blues clubs and music history © Peek Creative Collective / Shutterstock

Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes

An air of mystique still hovers over this Mississippi town that’s said to be the root of one the Delta’s most haunting tales. Clarksdale claims to be home to the legendary crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to learn the blues.

The town is still home to the densest concentration of juke joints in the Delta, from the tourist-friendly Ground Zero Blues Club to hole-in-the-wall Red’s Lounge. If you’re not a night owl, you can still learn about the blues at the Delta Blues Museum, which has the cabin where Muddy Waters lived and B.B. King’s guitar.

If you’re hungry, Hooker Grocer & Eatery is named for musician John Lee Hooker and hosts live music. And don’t miss Abe’s Bar-B-Q, a circa 1924 staple serving its namesake pit-roasted pork plus Delta tamales, a local spin on the traditional Mexican dish. 

How to get to Clarksdale from Memphis: The cities are connected by Greyhound bus, but most travelers will find it easiest to drive. Travel down B.B. King Boulevard, which becomes US Hwy 61 as you head south from downtown Memphis. Follow the Blues Highway for about an hour and a half until you hit Clarksdale.

A closeup of a sign showing the birthplace of Elvis Presley in the Mississippi town of Tupelo.
A two-hour trip south from Memphis brings you to the birthplace of Elvis Presley – Tupelo, Mississippi © Chris DeRidder and Hans VandenNieuwendijk / Shutterstock

Travel time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Before Elvis Presley was crowned the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, he was a boy living in the farm town of Tupelo. Visitors to Tupelo can view the two-room house known as Presley’s birthplace, see where he bought his first guitar at Tupelo Hardware, and dine in his favorite booth at Johnnie’s Drive In, known for its “slug burger,” a doughy burger recipe dating from the Great Depression. The fandom reaches fever pitch during the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival in June.

Tupelo is also the halfway point of the Natchez Trace Parkway, one of the nation’s most beautiful scenic drives, connecting Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. Stop by the official visitor’s center here to learn more about it and drive a few miles on the quiet route.

The city has some great restaurants ranging from donut shops to fine dining. But if you want to catch live music, be sure to head to Blue Canoe. The restaurant and bar has burgers, sandwiches and performers nightly, including past shows by Gary Clark, Jr and Alabama Shakes. 

How to get to Tupelo from Memphis: If you’re driving, take Lamar Avenue south towards Byhalia. This becomes Hwy 78 and carries you all the way to Tupelo in just under two hours. It’s also a popular tour and buses run every Friday from Graceland.

An oval-shaped office with plush sofas
See the replica Oval Office at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas © Amadeustx / Shutterstock

Travel time: 2 hours

History hounds and outdoor enthusiasts will find lots to love in Little Rock. the Clinton Presidential Library is the nearest presidential library to Memphis. It offers insight into The White House from 1993–2001, alongside a replica Oval Office and President Clinton’s limousine.

Outside, the Arkansas River Trail provides a 15.6-mile loop through hardwood forests and meadows that’s crowned by the Big Dam Bridge, the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in North America. If cultural offerings are more your thing, stop by the quirky Esse Purse Museum. Even if you’re not a fashionista, it’s a fascinating look into the things we carry.

Grab a bite at The Fourth Quarter in North Little Rock, which serves up one of the top-rated burgers in Arkansas, or grab a pint at one of the many local breweries.

How to get to Little Rock from Memphis: It is possible to reach Little Rock by Greyhound bus, but it’s much quicker to drive. Take I-40 west for two hours.

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