A line of people on sun loungers with umbrellas along a white sandy beach in Destin, Florida

Road Trip from Nashville to Destin

Updated by Pat Dorri on January 15 2024

From Nashville's twangy country beats to Destin's shimmering emerald waters, get ready to journey past historic landmarks, lush parks, and quirky attractions that define the spirit of the South. Buckle up, and let's get planning your road trip from Nashville to Destin!

The 530-mile road trip from Nashville to Destin via Gulf Shores takes 9 hours to drive. En route, you'll pass Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Gulf Shores, and Pensacola Beach. Alternatively, you can travel direct, via Montgomery.

Keep reading for our take on the best road trip you can take from Nashville to Destin, including the specific route, the places you'll pass along the way, where to stop overnight, things to see and do, plus the best time of year to travel.

How far is Destin from Nashville, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between Nashville and Destin
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The Direct Route450 miles7 hours
The Gulf Shores Route580 miles10 hours 15 minutes

For your road trip from Nashville to Destin, you could choose to take The Direct Route, at around 7 hours drive time and 450 miles. While it's pretty direct, you'll still have plenty of opportunities for culture and entertainment, passing through Birmingham and Montgomery, as well as charming southern towns including Mossy Head, Good Hope, and Florala, Alabama.

Taking the longer Gulf Shores Route offers a more scenic and leisurely journey, covering 580 miles and taking 10 hours and 15 minutes. You'll pass through the cities of Tuscaloosa, Jackson, Mobile, Gulf Shores, and Pensacola before arriving in Destin.

While the Direct Route could be completed in a day, we would advise spending at least a few hours exploring Birmingham and Montgomery, meaning you'll need at least two days for your trip to do it justice.

Historic green and red Alabama Theater sign in downtown Birmingham
Get a real feel for Alabama with a stop in Birmingham, which features on both routes. It's well worth taking an hour for a stroll downtown
Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock.com

If you'd prefer to follow the Gulf Shores Route, you will be rewarded with plenty of charming coastal towns and beautiful ocean landscapes on the second half of your trip. For this route, we suggest taking 3-4 days to fully enjoy the ride.

Best road trip route from Nashville to Destin

While both of our routes from Nashville to Destin offer plenty of culture, history and beautiful views, they each have a distinctly different vibe. Whether you want to immerse yourself in history in the museums of Montgomery, or you'd prefer to enjoy the ocean air at Gulf Shores, we've got you covered with our road trip options here.

The Direct Route will take you on a tour of America's culture and history, passing landmarks such as The First White House of the Confederacy, The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, and Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum.

Outdoor lovers will also have plenty to enjoy, with Oak Mountain State Park, Blackwater River State Forest, and the Emerald Coast Zoo all on the way to Destin via the Direct Route.

wood trackway in blackwater river state park in pensacola florida
You'll find many opportunities to connect with nature, even if you're taking the shorter Direct Route. The beautiful Blackwater River State Forest is one such example.

This first option offers a rich historical experience along with beautiful landscapes, giving you a good balance of attractions without detouring too much from the quickest possible route.

On the other hand, if you're drawn to coastal beauty and maritime heritage, the Gulf Shores Route offers something more. Along the way, you can explore the Alabama Iron and Steel Museum, Paul W Bryant Museum, USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park, and the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum.

On top of that, Gulf State Park and Gulf Islands National Seashore fall directly on this route, meaning that you'll have ample opportunity to enjoy the sea air and coastal views. Nature and history enthusiasts won't be disappointed either, with a wide array of museums and natural parks to explore.

Both routes follow the same path until you reach Birmingham, allowing for stops at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Cook Museum of Natural Science, and Rippa Villa, among others.

Generally speaking, the Direct Route is more tailored for a historical and nature-filled experience, while the Gulf Shores Route leans towards coastal attractions, as its name suggests.

Whether you're looking for a quicker trip through history or a longer exploration of the Gulf's rich coastal life, either of our routes from Nashville to Destin offers a great mix of things to do along the way.

How to drive from Nashville to Destin

The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between Nashville and Destin, Florida. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.

The Direct Route

Head south out of Nashville on Interstate 65 (I-65), making your way through Athens and Decatur, where you can explore attractions like Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and the Cook Museum of Natural Science.

Continue to Good Hope and Birmingham, where you'll find historical landmarks such as Vulcan Park and Museum and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument if you want to stop off and stretch your legs.

Continue south to Montgomery - our recommended overnight stopping point - which is home to the First White House of the Confederacy and the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, among other cultural gems. Around an hour further along our route lies Georgiana, where music fans can enjoy a visit to the Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum.

Past Georgiana (taking AL-55), but just before the Florida border, you'll pass through Florala, where outdoor enthusiasts can explore the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center. Continue on to Mossy Head in Florida, passing through Blackwater River State Forest, a perfect place for hiking and enjoying the natural beauty.

Alabama State Capitol, Montgomery with a road in the foreground leading to the historic building, tall trees either side of the road on a cloudy day.
The Direct Route takes you past Montgomery, with its statuesque State Capitol building.
Susanne Pommer/Shutterstock.com

As you approach Destin (heading south on FL-285), you'll be able to enjoy coastal attractions like the Emerald Coast Zoo, Peach Park, Three Notch Museum, and Oak Mountain State Park, adding more flavor to your road trip.

The Direct Route offers a rich mix of historical, cultural, and natural experiences, providing an engaging journey from Nashville to the beautiful beaches of Destin, FL. Whether you're a history buff, a nature lover, or simply looking for a relaxing drive, this route has something to offer.

The Gulf Shores Route

Both the Direct Route and the Gulf Shores Route follow the same path from Nashville to Birmingham, taking the I-65 south past Athens and Decatur.

From Birmingham, head southwest to Tuscaloosa, where sports fans might enjoy a stop at the Paul W Bryant Museum. Nature lovers can take a detour to Lake Lurleen State Park or explore the Moundville Archaeological Park.

Continue south on Highway 43 to Mobile, taking time to explore the rich history at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile Carnival Museum, and USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park. A side trip to the Safe House Black History Museum in Greensboro is also worth considering.

From Mobile, head across Mobile Bay on I-10 to Gulf Shores and Pensacola. In Gulf Shores, you can enjoy attractions like Alligator Alley and the beautiful Gulf State Park, before making your way to Pensacola. Be sure to check out Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, Fort Pickens, and the Pensacola History Museum before continuing your road trip to Destin.

Sand dunes at Pensacola Beach, Florida on Gulf Islands National Seashore
Take in more of the fresh ocean air via the Gulf Shores Route as you make your way past Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Colin D. Young/Shutterstock.com

Once you're ready to relax at your destination, head eastwards along Highway 98 Destin, enjoying the breathtaking views of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and Pensacola Beach along the way.

The Gulf Shores Route offers a captivating blend of history, maritime heritage, and coastal beauty. From exploring ancient archaeological sites to enjoying sun-kissed beaches, this route provides a scenic and leisurely journey through some of the Gulf's most picturesque locations. Whether you're interested in history, marine life, or simply relaxing by the sea, The Gulf Shores Route has much to offer.

Best places to stop between Nashville and Destin

While you could technically complete either of these routes in a single day, we wouldn't recommend it. It'd be a shame not to take your time and delve into the culture of America's South!

Whether you're taking the Direct Route, or detouring via Gulf Shores, we've got you covered with our favorite overnight stopping locations for your road trip to Destin.

Pause to reflect in historic Montgomery

Montgomery is the perfect place to take a break on The Direct Route from Nashville to Destin, located about 4 hours into the drive - just over halfway.

The capital of Alabama, Montgomery, is a city rich in history, blessed with good weather, and many excellent restaurants offering delicious southern cuisine.

As fantastic as its food is, however, most people would say that Montgomery is a must-see destination thanks mainly to its historic and cultural significance, with historical landmarks such as The Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.

Poignant statues stand in the gardens of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery
Take a moment to pause and reflect at the profound National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.
DiAnna Paulk/Shutterstock.com

While visiting Montgomery, we suggest staying at the fabulous Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center. This hotel is in a central, downtown location and offers beautiful city views. With amenities like a rooftop pool, the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre, and a Spa & Fitness Centre, it's the perfect place to unwind after exploring the city.

If you base yourself here, you'll be 5-10 minutes' walk from the the Rosa Parks Museum and The Legacy Museum. We recommend heading back to the hotel for dinner though, as you'll have access to delightful dining options right on-site.

Montgomery, with its deep historical roots and warm hospitality, offers an enriching and comfortable stopover on your journey from Nashville to Destin, making the road trip all the more memorable.

Enjoy the collegiate spirit of Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa is an excellent place to take a break on The Gulf Shores Route from Nashville to Destin, located just over 3 and a half hours into the drive, conveniently positioned just under halfway and before a longer stretch of driving to the coast.

Mainly known as the home of the University of Alabama and its celebrated football team, Tuscaloosa has more to offer than just college spirit.

For sports enthusiasts, a visit to the Bryant Denny Stadium is a must, especially if you can catch a game. The Mercedes-Benz US International Visitor Center/Museum offers a behind-the-scenes look into automotive manufacturing, while the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion provides a glimpse into antebellum architecture. As you can tell, there really is something for every taste here!

Historic red-brick buildings in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama on a summer's day. Green trees outside The Shirt Shop
Tuscaloosa has a range of attractions to enjoy - but you could also just take a stroll downtown and enjoy the scenery.
William McDill/Shutterstock.com

While visiting Tuscaloosa, we recommend staying at the Residence Inn by Marriott Tuscaloosa. This well-equipped aparthotel with a serene location on the river offers a balance of practicality and tranquility.

Features like an indoor pool, family rooms (great for those traveling with children), and an outdoor fireplace make this hotel an excellent choice for relaxation.

Things to do near this hotel include a 5-minute walk to Randall Family Park & Trailhead, perfect for a leisurely stroll or picnic. A 7-minute drive will take you to the Tuscaloosa River Walk, close to Downtown and the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, where you can enjoy a scenic walk along the Black Warrior River.

Tuscaloosa, with its collegiate buzz, historical attractions, and natural beauty, provides a fun and varied stopover on your journey from Nashville to Destin along the Gulf Shores Route.

Where to stay when you reach Destin

Destin is best known for its beautiful Gulf of Mexico beaches and is a great place to go deep-sea fishing. The glistening white sands of Destin Harbor and Crystal Sands Beach are must-visit spots, offering picturesque views and a great opportunities for fun on the water.

Speaking of crystal sands: the sand on Destin's beach is actually crystal, pushed down from the Appalachian Mountains. This geological wonder contributes to the dazzling white appearance of the beaches in the area.

Just a few minutes from the renowned beaches, Henderson Beach Resort is a beautiful beach resort that lets you enjoy the best that Destin has to offer.

With two pools, a lazy river, and a full-service spa, relaxation is always just steps away here. Private beach access ensures an exclusive seaside experience, while impeccable dining options provide a range of high-end culinary delights, from fresh seafood to sizzling steaks.

White sands and clear blue water on the beach on the Emerald Coast near Henderson Beach State Park and Destin, Florida
The pristine sands of Destin couldn't be any more perfect - unless you're enjoying the hotel's private beach access of course!
The Sturdy Table/Shutterstock.com

Whether you're there for the angling or simply to bask in the sun, Destin is undoubtedly an enticing destination. From the stunning Gulf beaches to the comfort and luxury of the Henderson Beach Resort, you'll have everything you need to make the most of this coastal paradise.

Things to see on a road trip from Nashville to Destin

We've already mentioned a whole host of things to see and do on your way to Destin from Nashville. With so much to enjoy either direct or via Gulf Shores, you'd be forgiven for wondering which route to choose.

Never fear! We've gathered together our favorite attractions on both of our routes - and highlighted which appear on both - to make the decision process a little easier. Read on for our top picks for this awesome southern road trip.

On The Direct Route

  1. Oak Mountain State Park - Alabama's largest state park, offering hiking, fishing, and camping amidst beautiful landscapes and a diverse array of wildlife.
  2. The First White House of the Confederacy, Montgomery - The historic residence of President Jefferson Davis during the early months of the Confederacy, offering guided tours and insights into Civil War history.
  3. The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum - A museum in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to the famed literary couple, housed in their former residence, and showcasing personal artifacts and exhibits.
  4. Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum - Located in Georgiana, Alabama, this museum preserves the childhood home of the legendary country singer Hank Williams, showcasing memorabilia and history.
  5. Three Notch Museum - A historical museum in Andalusia, Alabama, featuring preserved buildings and exhibits that reflect the area's cultural heritage, including a 19th-century depot.
  6. Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center - An educational facility in Andalusia, Alabama, dedicated to forestry research and conservation, providing educational programs, walking trails, and hands-on experiences.
  7. Blackwater River State Forest - Located in Florida, this state forest offers various recreational activities including hiking, kayaking, and bird-watching, known for its pristine waterways and lush surroundings.
  8. Emerald Coast Zoo - A small and intimate zoo in Crestview, Florida, known for its close-up animal encounters and commitment to rescue and rehabilitation, offering a personal wildlife experience.

On The Gulf Shores Route

  1. Alabama Iron and Steel Museum - Located in Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, this museum showcases Alabama's iron and steel heritage with artifacts and historical exhibits.
  2. Paul W Bryant Museum, Tuscaloosa - Dedicated to legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, this museum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, highlights the history of University of Alabama football.
  3. Moundville Archaeological Park - An archaeological site near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, displaying preserved Native American mounds and hosting a museum depicting the Mississippian culture.
  4. Safe House Black History Museum - Located in Greensboro, Alabama, this museum marks the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was hidden during a 1968 visit, focusing on Civil Rights history.
  5. Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile - A historic Roman Catholic cathedral in Mobile, Alabama, known for its impressive architecture and beautiful stained glass windows.
  6. Mobile Carnival Museum - A museum dedicated to the history of Mardi Gras in the city, featuring costumes, float designs, and interactive exhibits.
  7. USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park - A maritime park in Mobile, Alabama, displaying the historic USS ALABAMA battleship, along with military aircraft and submarine exhibits.
  8. Alligator Alley, Summerdale - An alligator farm offering guided tours, alligator feedings, and opportunities to learn about these fascinating reptiles.
  9. Foley Railroad Museum - Located in Foley, Alabama, this museum celebrates local railway history, housed in a restored depot, and features model trains and historical exhibits.
  10. Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum - A functioning lighthouse and museum in Pensacola, Florida, providing breathtaking views and showcasing naval and maritime history.
  11. Fort Pickens - A historic military fort on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola, Florida, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and offering tours and reenactments.
  12. Pensacola History Museum - A museum located in Pensacola, Florida, offering exhibits and interactive displays detailing the rich history and cultural heritage of the area.
Close-up shot of some brown and dark red colored retired vintage train cars standing at Foley Railroad Museum, Alabama
Pull into the historic Foley Railroad Museum for a charming stop not too far from Gulf Shores.

On both routes

  1. Rippa Villa - A historic plantation house in Spring Hill, Tennessee, offering guided tours that explore Civil War history and the life of the plantation's residents.
  2. President James K. Polk Home and Museum - Located in Columbia, Tennessee, this museum is the only surviving home of the 11th U.S. President, featuring period furnishings and Polk-related artifacts.
  3. Cook Museum of Natural Science, Decatur - An interactive museum in Decatur, Alabama, focusing on natural science education, featuring live animals, hands-on exhibits, and various environments from oceans to forests.
  4. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge - A National Wildlife Refuge located near Decatur, Alabama, offering hiking, bird-watching, and fishing opportunities, and home to diverse wildlife including migratory birds and alligators.
  5. Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument - Located in Birmingham, Alabama, this monument and museum preserve and interpret the city's role in the Civil Rights Movement, including landmarks like the 16th Street Baptist Church.
  6. Vulcan Park and Museum - Home to the world's largest cast-iron statue, this park and museum in Birmingham, Alabama, showcase the city's industrial history and offer panoramic views from the observation tower.
  7. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark - A preserved blast furnace site in Birmingham, Alabama, symbolizing the city's iron industry, and hosting educational tours, events, and a metal arts program.

Best time to go on a road trip from Nashville to Destin

Destin, Florida is a splendid destination year-round, but your road trip experience will vary depending on when you travel A road trip during the winter may have comfortable temperatures, but it's the summer, with its high temperatures of 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit, that really draws the crowds to Destin's beautiful Gulf of Mexico beaches.

Destin Florida at Henderson State Park at sunset with birds settled across the water
Whenever you decide to travel to Destin, Florida, you're almost guaranteed some beautiful sunsets on the beach.
EZ Miles/Shutterstock.com
If you'd prefer milder weather and fewer crowds, late fall or early spring can be a great choice, allowing you to take advantage of the best value times. The shoulder seasons also feature some stand-out events in Destin: with the Destin Fishing Rodeo in October and the Sandestin Wine Festival typically held in April.

On your way to Destin, the timing of your trip can align with some wonderful events. If you choose The Direct Route, you could catch the Birmingham Sidewalk Film Festival in August. Opting for The Gulf Shores Route? Don't miss the lively National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores in October, or the famous Mullet Toss in Perdido Key if you're traveling in spring.

From enjoying deep-sea fishing to relaxing on crystal sand beaches, Destin's outdoor offerings are appealing in all seasons. The unique crystal sand, clear waters, and wonderful local events are sure to make your road trip to Destin a memorable adventure, no matter when you choose to go.