Gainesboro is the county seat of Tennessee’s Jackson County, located less than two hours from Nashville.
Dating back to the late 1700s, the town was a popular site for long hunters and explorers due to its natural salt licks that attracted rich game to the area.
Gainesboro got its name from the American general Edmund Pendleton Gaines and has been featured in movies and songs.
With only less than a thousand people as per the 2020 census, one would think that the town has few, or perhaps nothing, to offer.
However, its historic charm and small-town atmosphere are perfect for travelers who want to visit somewhere less hectic but can still enjoy all kinds of activities.
If this is your kind of adventure, here are some of the best things to do in Gainesboro, Tennessee:
Choose Your Adventure at Roaring River Park
Roaring River Park is a recreational area located on Cordell Hull Lake and is part of the Cumberland River System.
Cordel Hull Lake spans 12,000 acres with more than 300 miles of shoreline, offering various activities for every kind of traveler.
It is the perfect place for relaxation and adventure, surrounded by rolling hills and lush maple, hickory oak, chestnut, and beech trees.
The park teems with wildlife, and visitors can get a chance to spot whitetail deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, and waterfowl in the area.
At Roaring River Park, fish for white bass, catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass.
Those on the adventurous side may go hunting, hiking, and enjoy water activities like boating, sailing, jet skiing, and kayaking on the lake.
If you prefer a more laid-back activity, lay down a picnic mat, sit back, relax, and bask under the warm Tennessee sun.
Camp at Salt Lick Creek Campground
Salt Lick Creek Campground is located in Salt Lick Creek Recreation Area, also part of Cordell Hull Lake.
Visitors can partake in various activities, ranging from wilderness exploration trips to birdwatching and wildlife viewing.
There are also educational and interpretive programs for those who want to learn more about the area and Gainesboro in general.
Water activities include jet skiing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boating.
Camping overnight is an excellent option for those who would like to make the most of their day in Gainesboro.
It’s a great way to appreciate Salt Lick Creek’s peaceful atmosphere and lets you see the stars on a cloudless night.
Salt Lick Creek Campground has hundreds of family sites and features grills, paved pathways, picnic tables, fire pits, water hookups, electricity hookups, and dump stations.
Eat Your Heart Out at Gainesboro’s Excellent Restaurants
Despite its reputation as a sleepy town in Tennessee, Gainesboro has some of the best places to eat in Jackson County.
Start your day with a heavy breakfast at Faye’s Cafe.
Feast on breakfast staples such as bacon, sausages, vegetable-stuffed omelets, French toast, pancakes, country ham biscuits, or hash browns.
For lunch, try the barbecue, pulled pork, brisket, and other grilled dishes at Southern Rock Bouncin’ BBQ.
This laid-back family-owned restaurant also has an eat-all-you-can catfish served with hushpuppies and various side dishes.
If you’re into Italian cuisine, don’t miss Giovanni’s Pizza.
Savor their deep dish pan pizza, Philly cheesesteak, chicken Stromboli, and pasta dishes like lasagna and spaghetti.
At The Stolen Coin Oyster Bar & Bistro, enjoy the fresh oysters, shrimp, and other seafood in an intimate and welcoming setting.
Aside from seafood, the restaurant also serves rib-eye steak, pecan-crusted salmon, roast beef, and burgers.
End your meal with a sweet treat and try their homemade vanilla ice cream, pecan pie, or banana pudding.
Cap off your night with dinner and drinks at The Bull and Thistle Pub, a restaurant specializing in Celtic and Southern cuisine.
Sample their Irish sausage rolls and try the pub’s Irish meatloaf or their Killorglin grilled chicken, an herb and garlic-crusted dish topped with tobacco onions and a special whiskey sauce.
Shop at Front Porch Mercantile
Front Porch Mercantile is Gainesboro’s version of a flea market available all year round.
The shop was the brainchild of Joyce Draper, who was a vendor at a local marketplace in Gainesboro after retiring in 2004.
After some time, she took the reins from the owner and rebranded it as Front Porch Mercantile.
Today, it occupies a spacious area on East Hull Avenue.
The store has a variety of jewelry, furniture, clothing, door signs, handmade soaps, and hand-poured candles.
In addition, they have food products like honey, garden salsa, popcorn, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
All items sold at Front Porch Mercantile are locally produced, grown, and made by small business owners.
Draper also sells her handmade potholders, quilted rugs, baskets, and fresh flower arrangements.
Visit the Boils Wildlife Management Area
The Boils Wildlife Management Area is a floodplain habitat near the Roaring River.
The protected area got its name from the unique geologic features, like the spring that “boils” up from the ground into the river.
Despite its small area, it also offers wildlife spotting opportunities that are common in rivers, forests, and upland deciduous forests.
It’s an ideal venue for relaxing activities like going on photo walks, fishing, and swimming.
The river bottom fields are managed for dove hunting, and visitors can find different places for fishing.
Furthermore, the upland areas are ideal for deer and turkey hunting.
Wading birds like great blue herons frequent the site, and birdwatching enthusiasts can find red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, and chickadees.
Belted Kingfishers are also seen along the river.
Take note that certain fees may apply if you plan on hunting or fishing at the Boils Wildlife Management Area.
Sample Old-Fashioned Moonshine at Roaring River Distillery
Moonshine is a kind of high-proof alcohol that got its name from the tradition of creating it during the nighttime, avoiding detection as it was usually produced illegally.
Over the years, commercial distilleries started producing novelty versions of moonshine, one of which you can try at Gainesboro.
Roaring River Distillery has been producing high-quality moonshine since 2021.
Following family tradition, the distillery does everything by hand, from malting using non-GMO white corn and bottling to labeling.
Since they use old-fashioned techniques, visitors can enjoy the same taste and quality that will take them back to the past.
Take a free tour of Roaring River Distillery to get a deeper insight into the moonshine production process and enjoy free samples along the way.
Aside from their original moonshine, try their other variants like peach, apple pie, banana, butter pecan, blackberry, and orange creamsicle-flavored moonshine.
Roaring River Distillery is located on Main Street.
Spend the Day at Wartrace Creek Park
Situated on Gladdice Highway, Wartrace Creek Park is another recreation area where tourists can enjoy the calm waters of the Cumberland River and Cordell Hull Lake.
It’s an excellent place for individuals and families to bond and spend the day out with nature.
Its amenities include a large group shelter, drinking water, a children’s playground, and a boat ramp.
At Wartrace Creek Park, visitors can fish for white bass, rockfish, catfish, largemouth bass, and more.
On land, follow different hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding paths like the Bearwaller Gap Trail, Turkey Creek Nature Trail, and Bear Wheels Trail.
The nearby Highland Country Market provides guests with ready-to-eat food, drinks, souvenirs, and locally-made gift items.
Drop by the Gaines House
The Gaines House is the oldest standing house in Gainesboro, built sometime around 1839 and renovated during the 1870s and 1900s.
After the Battle of Mill Springs in 1862, most houses in town became field hospitals for Confederate soldiers, including the Gaines House.
Over the years, the house gained a reputation of being haunted, primarily due to its history as a war hospital, thus attracting paranormal enthusiasts for ghost tours.
On your visit, learn about the history of the Gaines House and its contribution during the Civil War.
You can find this attraction along US-31W.
See Different Artifacts at the Jackson County Historical Museum
Discover the history of Gainesboro and the rest of Jackson County at the Jackson County Historical Museum.
It contains various artifacts and exhibits detailing Jackson County’s history, some of which were donated by families and descendants of former residents.
Aside from exhibits, the museum holds special presentations where they invite descendants of those who settled in Jackson County and other areas in Tennessee.
These help keep the county’s history alive and give residents a glimpse of what life was like back then.
Operated by the Jackson County Historical Society, the museum serves as a tribute to the county’s people and a reminder of its legacy.
The Jackson County Historical Museum is located on West Montpelier Avenue.
Enjoy a Thrilling Day Tour with Roaring River Post
Roaring River Post is a tour provider located on Dodson Branch Highway, along the banks of the Roaring River.
They offer all kinds of recreational activities perfect for families and groups of friends.
Tourists can rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, paddle boats, life jackets, phone bags, and wet or dry bags.
Try some of their special wood-fired meals at the end of your fun-filled day on Roaring River.
The delicious dishes include wood-fired personal pizza, pork shoulder sandwiches, and chicken wings with various dipping sauces.
If you’re looking for hidden gems or other fun things to do in Gainesboro, local guides from Roaring River Post are happy to suggest places and activities.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Take a Day Trip to Standing Stone State Park
Standing Stone State Park is a 30-minute drive from Gainesboro, located on the Cumberland Plateau in Hilham.
The state park took its name from the Standing Stone, a 12-foot tall rock believed to have Native American origins.
Canoe across Standing Stone Lake at the park, hike along the Lake Trail or the Cooper Mountain Loop Trail, or explore the nearby waterfalls.
Guests can also stay overnight at the campsite or in cabins and lodges.
Explore Cummins Falls State Park
Cummins Falls State Park is a rugged yet majestic state park featuring the 75-feet high Cummins Falls.
The park has been a popular swimming spot for over a century for locals.
Aside from swimming, you can see the falls from a different perspective on a hiking trip, wading through water, climbing rocks, and crossing past slippery slopes.
Cummins Falls State Park is located 20 minutes from Gainesboro in the neighboring city of Cookeville.
Learn about Granville’s History at the Granville Museum
The Granville Museum preserves the history of Granville, which was once a riverboat town.
Discover the rich history of Granville at the museum and find various memorabilia and artifacts that give you a glimpse of how life was back then.
The Military Room shows uniforms donated by families, while the Textile Room has various clothing items and textiles related to Granville’s history and development.
The Granville Museum is a 20-minute drive from Gainesboro.
Tour Sutton Homestead and Pioneer Village
A 20-minute drive from Gainesboro is Sutton Homestead and Pioneer Village, the residence of Sutton General Store owners Ben and Ethel Sutton.
Sutton General Store is a general merchandise store that serves as the heart of the Granville community.
Learn about the Sutton family through the themed displays and exhibits that change throughout the year.
Find a blacksmith shop, car museum, 1829s log cabin, an agricultural museum, and a weaving shop at Pioneer Village.
Sutton Homestead and Pioneer Village also hosts live pottery making, basket making, and wood carving demonstrations.
Discover the History behind Flynn Creek
Flynn Creek is a 360-million-old crater located 15 minutes from Gainesboro.
It formed when an asteroid or comet struck the area, resulting in a 3.8-kilometer-wide and 150-meter-deep impact site.
Its shattered central peak resulted from the uplifting of deformed limestone beds in adjacent cliffs.
The crater was used by NASA and USGS to train astronauts for Apollo missions.
Flynn Creek also serves as an example of craters in the Earth’s solar system, helping scientists understand more about asteroids, comets, and other celestial bodies.
At a glance, one would think that Gainesboro is just a sleepy town east of Nashville, but it offers exciting activities, attractions, and places to eat.
Try water activities, go on leisurely walks along the riverbank, and simply soak up the beauty of nature at one of the town’s parks.
For foodies, Gainesboro offers several local restaurants that will take you around the world with their international cuisine and family-run businesses.
Aside from checking out the best things to do in Gainesboro, Tennessee, you can take a short drive to neighboring towns like Granville and parks like Standing Rock State Park and Cummins Falls State Park.
Overall, Gainesboro is a slow-paced yet worthwhile destination in Tennessee.