Loretta Lynn has long been one of Tennessee’s most treasured icons. But she’s also a driving force behind tourism in Humphreys County, a breathtaking pastoral region tucked away just an hour west of Nashville, flanked by the banks of the Duck and Tennessee rivers. The Kentucky-born country artist purchased her sprawling ranch in Hurricane Mills in the 1970s; once her six children had moved out of the house, her hospitality concept took flight.
Growing up, my extended family, spread across the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee, and we would visit the ranch each August for our annual reunion. My sun-soaked memories are sourced from summer days spent playing down by the creek, riding horses, and going for long hikes in the foothills. I recently returned to the site of my youth, finding that old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” to hold true: Loretta Lynn’s Ranch was every bit as charming—if not more so—as I remembered it.
What started out simply as campgrounds more than 30 years ago has, little by little, morphed into a full-blown rustic resort; today, the 3,500-acre ranch is a bustle of activity. Families come from all over to spend a long weekend—or even a week—nestled beneath the soaring trees of the shaded property. It’s a popular spot for RVers who like to make the ranch their base for exploring the region, but those without a big rig also have the option to rent a tent campsite or one of the several log cabins scattered throughout the grounds. The newest accommodations, the one-bedroom Kozy Cabins, feature en-suite kitchenettes and back porch views of the bucolic surrounds. Though many campers will want to cook their own meals, there’s a cantina as well as Loretta’s Country Store across the street for those who aren’t as skilled cooking over an open flame. My husband and I love cabin living, but we’ve also caught the RV bug in the past few years; I can’t wait to return with a fifth wheel in tow.
Back in time
Outdoor activities are abundant at the ranch and have grown in offering since I was little: They now include kayaking, canoeing, tubing, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, and more. Especially exciting is ATV riding for anyone from young beginners, to avid, thrill-seeking adventurists throughout the year. On any given week, the ranch offers a bevy of special events, such as chuck wagon races or live music around the fire (I may have even plucked a few Girl Scouts tunes out of my back pocket, well-rehearsed after countless Southern summers spent at camp). Loretta herself takes the stage at the 2,500-person pavilion three times a year: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
The “downtown” of Hurricane Mills—complete with a Western Town, old-timey post office and Grist Mill Museum—was new since my last visit and is a solid afternoon worth of fun. The young’uns will delight in poking around the general store full of Loretta Lynn souvenirs, novelty items, and even dolls, while big kids like me should set aside time to walk through Loretta’s Plantation Home and Butcher Holler Home Place, a replica of Loretta’s childhood home. Fascinating both to fans of Loretta Lynn, and those who like getting a glimpse of life in a different era.
Perhaps the biggest showstopper of the entire complex, however, is the 18,000-square-foot Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum, which opened in 2001 and has been added to over time. Loretta’s 87 years are well chronicled via concert posters, costumes, platinum albums, photographs aplenty, awards and accolades of every kind, instruments, and even recreations of rooms from her former homes. A separate space across from the ticket counter houses Loretta’s tour bus, which made a cameo in the 1980 biographical film The Coal Miner’s Daughter, in addition to other tokens and treasures.
Contributing to the authenticity of the whole experience are the ranch employees: Many of Loretta’s children and grandkids work on the grounds, her former bus driver serves as a tour guide and the former nanny to her twin daughters Peggy and Patsy heads up the museum. I loved getting to meet each of them and hearing what Loretta is really like when not behind the mic.
While the ranch is by far the most well-known attraction in the area, it’s not the only draw to the 18,000-resident Humphreys County—not by a longshot. Johnsonville State Historic Park is chock full of Civil War history and named for former Governor and 17th US President, Andrew Johnson. I spent a few hours strolling around the 2,000-acre day-use park on the eastern side of Kentucky Lake, which was the site of the Battle of Johnsonville and attacked by Confederate forces in 1864. Guides cloaked in 19th-century garb offer tours throughout the season—who doesn’t love a truly immersive experience?—and reenactments also occur on occasion. Eight miles of hiking paths marked by trailheads crisscross through the terrain, and the park boasts 10 open picnic areas as well, many outfitted with grills.
Houseboat owners love to dock at Pebble Isle Marina during warmer months; even those just passing through for the day will want to stop at the on-site Grey Heron Grille for lunch (I will personally vouch that the Reuben is delicious). There is no actual lodging in the park so visitors traveling sans houseboat are encouraged to camp out nearby on Loretta Lynn’s Ranch or stay in one of the area’s quaint B&Bs like The Inn at Sycamore Landing in Waverly or the Enoch’s Farm House Inn Bed & Breakfast, a former Civil War house located in McEwen.
After rekindling my love for Loretta and squeezing in some cardio at Johnsonville State Historic Park, my final stop of the day was Waverly, the county seat. The Humphreys County Chamber of Commerce—a striking, retro, Pacific-blue façade that once served as a Greyhound station and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places—was the first building that caught my eye, and I stopped in to pick up maps to nearby scenic driving routes such as the Screaming Eagle Trail and to get the lay of the land.
Just down the way, West Main Street—which passes through the downtown Waverly Court Square—is lined with quaint storefronts and eateries like Waverly Café and Samuel’s on the Square. There’s also an old-fashioned, family-owned movie theatre, the MI-DE-GA, screening current blockbuster films.
Humphreys County definitely hit the mark on all the things I want out of a vacation destination—good food, the great outdoors, affordable camping, and plenty of history to boot—and I can’t wait until our next family reunion at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch.
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