7 Things to Do in Athens, Tennessee

Between Chattanooga and Knoxville, spend some time in the historic town of Athens on your way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Photo: City of Athens, TN

Drive through Athens’ charming historic downtown and it’ll be hard not to stop. When you learn about the gorgeous trails, delicious eats and rich cultural heritage in this Tennessee town, you’ll want to spend a few days. These are our favorite things to do.

Hike or Bike the Eureka Trail

This 5.6-mile, one-way trail is beautiful year round, but it’s at its finest in the fall when the tree-lined path turns shades of reds, oranges and yellows come late October and early November. The hard-packed gravel path is fairly flat and can be walked, biked or ridden on horseback. It’s also ADA accessible. Wander for as long as you like through a mix of shady forest and bucolic farmland before turning around.

Tip: Grab sandwiches beforehand from Jenkins Grille and Market and enjoy a picnic at one of the benches along the trail.

Biking the Eureka Trail in Athens, Tennessee
Biking the Eureka Trail in Athens, Tennessee (Photo: City of Athens, TN)

Eat the “World’s Best Ice Cream” at Mayfield Dairy

Regionally famous Mayfield ice cream can be found in grocery stores across the southeast, but their ice cream is made in Athens, Tennessee. Stop by the visitor center to take a tour and see how the ice cream that Time Magazine called the world’s best gets made. Then, head to the ice cream parlor to enjoy a scoop, which is free with your tour ticket. You’ll find classic flavors like vanilla, espresso chocolate chunk and mint chocolate chip, but you’ll also find picks with a delightful southern flair like Smoky Mountain Fudge, Southern Butter Pecan and Black Walnut. Don’t miss the seasonal flavors like banana pudding and pumpkin pie. Afterwards, you can stop at the gift shop to bring your favorite flavors home. Tours are offered Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the gift shop and ice cream parlor are open on the weekends. The visitor center is closed on Wednesdays.

Mayfield Visitor Center
Mayfield Visitor Center (Photo: City of Athens, TN)

Stroll Downtown Athens

Designated as a “Main Street Community,” downtown Athens is charming and worth a stroll. You can take a self-guided tour of the historic buildings, or pop in and out of the antique shops and boutiques lining the street. Don’t miss Maddi Mae’s Cafe which has salads and sandwiches for lunch, but specializes in rolled ice cream.

Rolled ice cream from Maddi Mae's in Athens, Tennessee
Rolled ice cream from Maddi Mae’s in Athens, Tennessee (Photo: City of Athens, TN)

Visit McMinn County Living Heritage Museum

To get to know local history, you’ll want to stop by the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum on Saturdays for “Heritage School.” These interactive sessions help bring the history and culture of southeastern Tennessee to life. Some days you’ll find art sessions like basket weaving or sketching, other days you’ll find presentations on topics ranging from Cherokee history to 18th century medicine. Most sessions include a kids component, so it’s a great activity for the whole family. If you’re not in town on a Saturday, the museum is still worth a visit with many permanent and rotating exhibits including a replica one-room schoolhouse, general store and log cabin. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday.

Enjoy Arts and Culture at the Arts Center

Adjacent to the Tennessee Wesleyan University campus, the Arts Center is Athens’ cultural hub. Stop by the center, which is opening a brand new expansion in 2023, to see monthly gallery displays. Admission is free. The Arts Center also holds frequent community theater shows and hosts big name performers like guitarist Molly Tuttle. Check out what’s going on when you’re in town at www.athensartscouncil.org/our-calendar.

Attend a Seasonal Event or Activity

Scream Chamber Haunted House
Scream Chamber Haunted House (Photo: City of Athens, TN)

The first Saturday in June, Athens gets together to celebrate National Dairy Month and the town’s rich agricultural history at MooFest. You’ll find live music, activities, vendors, cows and plenty of Mayfield ice cream. When harvest season rolls around, it’s time for Pumpkintown which includes guided downtown walking tours, food, music and vendors and a Cherokee Powwow in October. Also in the autumn you’ll find Mayfield Farm Park’s corn maze and pumpkin patch and the Scream Chamber haunted house.

Get Locally Made Souvenirs at a Farmers Market

If you’ve driven through the area’s gorgeous farmland or stopped by Mayfield Dairy, you already know that this region is home to a bountiful agricultural scene. Nowhere is that more obvious than at the regional farm markets. On Saturdays and Tuesdays stop by the Athens Farmers Market at Jackson and Bank streets where you’ll find growers and makers sharing their wares. Mondays through Saturdays, head just out of town to the Englewood Farm Market, an Amish- and Mennonite-run store that offers fresh produce, jams, jellies and an incredible array of baked goods. Note that this market is cash only.

Learn more at athenstn.gov/visitathens or by calling 423-744-2798.

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