Tennessee offers musical and natural wonders perfect for family vacations

Summer is over, but it's never too soon to start dreaming about the next family getaway. Tennessee is a great place for a vacation with the kids. You'll find natural beauty, great music and vibrant communities ladled with a dose of Southern hospitality. Here are five places to investigate.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg

This 800-square-mile wonderland offers a treasure trove of outdoor opportunity for family members of all ages. Heavily forested, it's known for its plant and animal diversity, including a population of 1,500 black bears. Enjoy picnicking, hiking the nearly 800 miles of trails, horseback riding and fishing. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge and join one of the ranger-led programs designed for young people.

More info: 865-436-1200;

2. Graceland, Memphis

Share a bit of music history with your kids by including Elvis Presley's home in your itinerary. You won't want to miss the trophy building where the King of Rock 'n' Roll stowed his massive collection of awards, records and flashy mementos. Consider donning a headset for an audio tour that includes commentary from Elvis himself as well as his wife, Priscilla. Conclude the visit with a stop by the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and other family members rest in peace.

More info: 901-332-3322 or 1-800-238-2000;

3. Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga

Make time for a day at the world's largest freshwater aquarium. Scope out the 10-foot-long sharks, giant spider crabs, river otters and alligators. In the aquarium's newest addition, Ocean Journey, you and your clan will learn about stealthy stingrays and colorful reef fish as the creatures glide through coral formations. You'll also experience a shark and ray touch pool and hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Ask about overnight programs that allow those 6 and older to "Sleep in the Deep."

More info: 1-800-262-0695;

4. Nashville

Spend time in Music City, USA, and young and old will swing to country music and discover its rich origins. Although the city was hit hard by flooding in May, recovery is going strong. Start at the Grand Ole Opry (which reopens Sept. 28), where an 85th birthday celebration is under way. Learn about industry legends such as Loretta Lynn as well as more recent names the kids might recognize, including Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum reveals how folk and gospel music and front-porch jamming evolved into the sounds we know today.

More info: Grand Ole Opry, 1-800-733-6779,; Country Music Hall of Fame, 615-416-2001;

5. John Muir Trail, Cherokee National Forest at Reliance

Named for the famed naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, the John Muir Trail stretches for 20.7 miles along the north side of the Hiwassee State Scenic River. Here, nature-loving families can explore a crowd-free portion of the state that's said to look much the same as it did in Muir's day. Take the trail in springtime to view wildflowers. Fishing, picnicking and rafting are also accessible via the trail.

More info: