15 Best Things to Do in Carthage, TN

Carthage, TN
Robin Zeigler / iStock.com

Carthage is the seat of Smith County, Tennessee.

Founded in 1904, the town sits on the north bank of the Cumberland River, just slightly west of the junction of Caney Fork River.

William Wilton, the first European settler in the area, arrived in Tennessee in the late 1780s.

He arrived to claim the land grant he had earned from his service.

In 1800, he directed the building of Walton Road, a stagecoach route that connected middle Tennessee to the Knoxville area.

Carthage’s location made it a vital steamboat and shipping port in the first half of the 19th century.

The Walton Road influenced transportation routes into the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Despite its modest population, Carthage has hosted important historical figures.

For example, Cordell Hull practiced law in Carthage before becoming a US Representative and US Senator in Tennessee.

Former Vice President and US Senator Al Gore and his father, Al Gore Sr., have also called Carthage their home.

Today, people know Carthage for its dazzling architecture, beautiful artworks, meaningful history, colorful businesses, and outdoor escapes.

Here are the best things to do in Carthage, Tennessee:

See the Sights at the Cordell Hull Dam

Daytime view of Cordell Hull Dam
Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock.com

The Cordell Hull Dam keeps back the Cumberland River, forming Cordell Hull Lake, which flows toward Gainesboro.

It is one of the many sites in the region that provides hydroelectric power, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages it.

If you’ve any questions, stop at the Visitors’ Center, a building with essential features that are a striking contrast to its surroundings.

Nearby, you will find a picnic area, playground, and the Turkey Creek Nature Trail.

The area around the dam draws people for outdoor recreation.

A high rock wall to the parking lot’s side gives you a striking view of the area.

You can also take a long series of steps along the river’s lip, where you may spy a heron or the occasional angler making their way upstream.

Discover the Past at the Smith County Heritage Museum

Few towns in the United States can boast of producing two Nobel prize winners; Carthage is one of them.

Cordell Hull was the first Nobel Prize Peace winner from Carthage.

As US Secretary of State, he became the father of the United Nations.

Al Gore, former Vice President and US Senator won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his environmental efforts.

The Smith County Heritage Museum celebrates these two men and many other notable people.

It also celebrates the events that shaped the region’s heritage and culture.

It aims to provide a museum to preserve and collect the history of Smith County communities.

Check out the Deford Bailey exhibit, celebrating the local icon and the only black founding member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Likewise, visit the Century Farm exhibit, noting local farms that have stayed in the same family for at least a century.

Enjoy a Cozy Stay at the Hotel Walton

Built in 1904, the Hotel Walton gets its name from the first hotel in Carthage, which William Walton built.

The hotel’s opening coincided with a visit from William Walton’s grandson, which made its name the obvious choice for the owners’ new establishment.

Many people attended the hotel’s grand opening, such as finely dressed ladies, gentlemen in tuxedos, musical entertainment from Nashville, and gourmands.

During the hotel’s early years, riverboat passengers and train passengers on the river’s south side frequently visited the place.

A ferry brought tourist train passengers from South Carthage across the river to stay in the hotel.

The health resorts in Red Boiling Spring were popular at one point.

So, many visitors stayed at the Walton Hotel on their way to the spring.

The Walton Hotel remains an iconic historic hotel in the heart of Carthage.

Its private second-floor rooms surround guests with history but with the modern conveniences of today’s world.

Get Sweet Treats at the Candy Bar

The Candy Bar is a unique candy shop in the heart of Carthage.

You will feel nostalgic for childhood treats and sweet romantic dates when you visit this shop!

Here you will find different kinds of treats: milkshakes, yummy coffees, hand-dipped ice cream, and candy.

Other great treats are sundaes, malts, shakes, floats, cotton candies, pastries, and popcorn.

They also have balloons and gift arrangements to bring home to your loved ones.

You will feel like you’ve stepped into a 1950s-style soda shop once you enter the Candy Bar.

The shop also supports Middle Tennessee products, for example, Calfkiller Coffee from Sparta, Tennessee.

Their specialty vintage candies date back to the 1940s, 1950s, 1960, 1970s, and 1980s.

One of their greatest pleasures is hearing their customers’ reminiscences about candy and the memories they evoke.

Buy Pretty Things at #Holly’s

Boutique owner Holly Rose has dreamed of owning and running a clothing store for as long as she can remember.

Her top priority is creating special bonds with customers, and striving to develop top-quality customer and employee experiences at all times.

The original #Holly’s is in downtown Carthage and has slowly gained popularity since its opening.

#Holly’s sells the latest classic pieces and trends, including tops, dresses, jumpsuits, jeans, purses, jewelry, graphic tees, and more.

The store works endlessly on classic fashion trends, staying on top of trends and finding different ways to style people.

They also attend markets four to six times a year to keep themselves abreast of what’s hot in the fashion world.

They open late since they understand that working women sometimes need a little retail therapy to unwind after a long day.

Get Healthy Products at Cumberland Cannabis

If you think cannabis is only for recreational use, you’re in for a surprise.

Cumberland Cannabis is Tennessee’s source of ethically made cannabis products.

Likewise, this store is a one-stop shop for viable and ethical cannabis products, supplying medical practitioners and their patients.

They give the public a broad line of cannabidiol sublingual, topicals, edibles, and inhalants for distribution.

They work with many industry leaders across the state to bring viable, ethical, cannabidiol-rich cannabis products within the legal limits of 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Cumberland Cannabis also offers contract pricing for retailers and medical practices.

They have a green subscription program where they can deliver products to your door every month with 20% off the tincture price.

Cannabis has many natural properties and tons of medicinal benefits.

These properties include antioxidant, antidepressant, antipsychotic, anticonvulsant, and anti-inflammation.

Likewise, cannabis is an analgesic, sleep aid, and helps in removal of brain cell plaque.

Kick Back and Relax at Ebel’s Tavern

Since opening 2017, Ebel’s Tavern has become one of the most-loved gathering places in Carthage.

The restaurant is inside the historic building and takes inspiration from town founder William Walton.

Notably, Walton’s first businesses were a ferry and tavern.

Among the businesses in Carthage, Ebel’s Tavern  is at the forefront of returning the downtown area to its original, vibrant status.

Its food model, recipes, and flavors serve many tastes and varieties across the country.

From hand-cut steaks to West-coast wild-caught tuna, top-class Tennessee Sow, to Cajun flavors of the Atchafalaya Basin, Ebel’s Tavern strives to satisfy every palate.

They serve excellent steaks, scallops, seafood, and delicious fresh oysters.

Chef Christopher Underwood delivers local flavor to every dish.

Explore Downtown Carthage

Downtown Carthage is compact, vibrant, and fantastic for exploring.

You can see impressive old buildings such as Walton Hotel or an ancient night deposit vault decorating a bank building.

You can also view variegated canopies all over Main Street inviting you to businesses and shops.

You can shop ’till you drop in downtown Carthage because it has several boutiques, such as Teresa’s Gifts, thrift shops, and furniture and hardware stores.

You can even visit a vast loft apartment called Cozy in Carthage if you want to stay overnight.

See the Old Smith County Courthouse completed in 1879, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the downtown area also hosts the county archives, community playhouse, and gathering place for outdoor concerts, movies, and more.

Likewise, downtown Carthage contains several historical markers about the county’s notable residents and the area’s role in the Civil War.

Admire the Design of the United Methodist Church

Exterior of Davis-Hull House
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Architecture is always fascinating.

It marks the time and place where people built an essential piece to the history puzzle.

Some of Carthage’s exceptional architecture tells a story, from the bricklaying style to spiky arches, from the elaborate to the simple.

See the United Methodist Church on Main Street, which dates back to 1889, built in the Gothic revival architectural style.

Admire the Cordell Hull Memorial Bridge, a silver-colored steel truss bridge completed in 1936, also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another beautiful structure on the National Register is the Davis-Hull House.

Calvin Davis built the house in 1889, which later became the home of Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

Admire the Old Smith County Courthouse, one of the country's most iconic buildings.

Constructed in the Second Empire architectural style, the courthouse has an unmissable tall cupola.

Check out the United Methodist Church and more marvelous buildings in Carthage!

Stroll along the Cumberland River

The Cumberland River is among the country’s major waterways, supplying water to 18,000 square miles of north-central Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.

It generally flows from the Appalachian Mountains to its confluence with the Ohio River and the Tennessee River’s mouth.

The Cumberland River basin is primarily rural, though large cities also sit on the river.

It’s hard to think of Carthage and its surrounding region without considering the Cumberland River.

Rather than flatboats and riverboats, you are likely to spot kayaks and bass boats in this section of Upper Cumberland.

If you’re coming from downtown Carthage, try to spot a lighthouse in the river’s access area.

It has a grand staircase that leads to a small deck and large windows.

Situated near the banks of the Cumberland River, this lighthouse has become an important landmark.

Enjoy Recreation at Cordell Hull Lake

People know Cordell Hull Lake for quality outdoor recreations such as camping, hiking, boating, fishing, picnicking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing.

You can also enjoy Salt Lick Creek Campground and Defeated Creek Campground.

They offer three day-use areas with picnic sites, swimming beaches, and playgrounds.

These are the Wartrace Creek Day Use Area, Roaring River Day Use Area, and Defeated Creek Day Use Area.

Likewise, you can see the true beauty of Cordell Hull Lake from the Tater Knob overlook.

First, exit the dam area, then take a winding road up the ridge to reach the parking area.

From there, follow a trail up the final stretch toward the viewing area.

As you look towards the edge, you will see the lake’s vivid waters, the dense forest along its shores, two tiny islands, and the dam.

Go on an Adventure with the Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company

Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company provide endless adventures around the Caney Fork, Cumberland Rivers, Center Hill, and Cordell Hull Lake.

They offer river adventures on the lower Caney Fork River with your choice of a canoe, single kayak, or tandem kayak adventure.

They will take care of the hard work themselves, shuttling you to and from the river.

All you have to do is show up and prepare for a great day!

Their Short Float runs from the Gordonsville Stonewall boat ramp on the Caney Fork River to the South Carthage ramp, spanning about five miles.

Their Medium Float runs from Betty’s Island to Gordonsville Stonewall ramp on the Caney Fork River and reaches approximately seven miles.

Their long float begins at Betty’s Island, letting out at South Carthage.

This trip lasts five to seven hours, which is terrific for avid fishermen and families who love being out on the water.

Enjoy a trip outdoors with the Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company!

Help Grow Healthy Food at Caney Fork Farms

Caney Fork Farms aims to grow the most nutritious and delicious food while putting as much carbon as possible back into the soil.

They believe in healthy soil that produces healthy vegetables, which feed hardy people who care for their environment and build strong communities.

Both farmers and the community aim to provide fresh, healthy, affordable food to neighboring families and communities.

They also research strengthening other organic farming methods that protect people and the environment and sequester carbon.

They believe in carbon farming, which uses sustainable land management practices and agriculture.

This method removes carbon from the atmosphere at a higher rate than conventional practices.

Therefore, they return the carbon to its natural place in the plant material and soil organic matter.

Their farm acts as a living laboratory, looking deeply into soil carbon and improving the ecosystem.

Play Exciting Games at the Rogue and Raven

If you want to sit, relax, and play a rousing game with friends, drop by the Rogue and Raven!

It may be a small and unassuming store, but it has many impressive things to do!

You will marvel at how much fun and imagination they can fit into a single space.

It is the best gaming store in town with plenty of variety, from comics to miniatures to cards to board games.

Here you can play popular games such as Magic the Gathering, YuGiOh!, Pokemon, and the classic Dungeons and Dragons.

Try a round of Warhammer if you want to play the world’s most popular wargame.

If you’d prefer to play colorful roles, collect gold, and erect buildings, try challenging your friends to Citadels.

Go to the Movies with Ridgerock Entertainment Group

Did you know that Carthage is home to at least one production company?

Founded in 2005, Ridgerock Entertainment Group is an independent production company passionate about developing and creating major independent films.

They develop projects with co-financing partners as co-productions.

President and founder Brett Grenstaff manages the creative development, acquires intellectual properties, and runs every production phase.

He has tremendous experience in film and television, once receiving the Founders Day Award.

Over the past few years, the company has produced films with Hollywood stars such as John Cusack, Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, Robert DeNiro, Dwayne Johnson, Dakota Johnson, and Johnny Depp.

Some of its acclaimed films are Vice, The Prince, Black Mass, The Masked Saint, Freelancers, Fire with Fire, Empire State, and The Frozen Ground.

Final Thoughts

Carthage is an attractive destination that showcases the history, culinary adventures, and natural wonders all in one town.

Book your trip now and explore this unique corner of Tennessee today.

You might be surprised to find more things to do in Carthage when you start exploring!