When travelers come to Nashville, they’re usually looking to experience excellent restaurants, a hopping nightlife, and live music. Plus, lots and lots of live music. But if you leave the glitz and glamour of the city behind and venture out a bit, you’ll discover that there are some fun and adventurous places to explore the outdoors too. From camping and hiking to paddling and mountain biking, these are the best locations near Nashville to connect with nature and maybe even get your adrenaline pumping.
The Warner Parks
Named for Edwin and Percy Warner, the Warner Parks are some of the most popular in all of Nashville. Located just 9 miles from downtown, these outdoor playgrounds sprawl out over more than 3,100 acres. Visitors will find plenty of good hiking, and mountain biking is allowed on designated trails too. There is also a dog park, an equestrian center, horse trails, a cross country running course, a golf course, and plenty of other things to do there as well. In short, if it is an outdoor activity, you can probably do it somewhere inside the Warner Parks.
Percy Priest Lake
Conveniently located close to the city, Percy Priest Lake is a popular destination for locals looking to beat the heat during the long summer months. The reservoir stretches out across more than 14,000 acres, making it large enough for boaters, kayakers, and stand-up paddle boarders to share. The lake is well stocked with bass, crappie, and catfish, which makes it a year-round destination for anglers while sandy beaches provide good access for a quick dip in the cool waters. Some sections of the lake have paved walking trails and there are campsite and picnic areas throughout the area too.
Radnor Lake State Park
Another popular local outdoor destination near Nashville, Radnor Lake State Park is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without having to travel very far. The scenic and tranquil lake itself is surrounded by rolling bluffs and thick forests, as well as a loop hiking trail. The park is a great place to spot wildlife and in the fall the changing leaves are spectacular. As a favorite local hiking spot, it can get crowded on the weekends during the busier times of the year, but go early and you’ll probably have this beautiful place mostly to yourself.
Another popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in the Music City is the Harpeth River. This gentle (Class 1) waterway is perfect for kayaking and canoeing while also offering excellent fishing from right from the river bank. Hiking trails also run along the Harpeth, for those who would rather take in the wooded scenery on foot. The moderately difficult trails even pass through open meadows and along towering bluffs, providing access to a few small archaeological sites while en route.
Shelby Bottoms Greenway
The Shelby Bottoms Greenway is a system of paved trails that are perfect for everything from a meandering walk to a speedy bike ride. Access points can be found in multiple locations throughout East Nashville, with the trail passing through wooded areas, past small ponds, and into the larger and more developed Shelby Park. While situated right in the heart of the city, the Greenway will make you feel like you’ve escaped to the woods, complete with plenty of deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife to spot. Those looking to get off the beaten path should keep their eyes peeled for one of the numerous unsaved trails that crisscross through the forest, bringing an even better sense of immersion in nature.
Bledsoe Creek State Park
Venture a short distance out of town and you’ll find some wonderful places to pitch a tent. One of the better spots is Bledsoe Creek State Park, which is located on a peninsula that projects out into Old Hickory Lake. The park features not only 6+ miles of hiking trails, and excellent access to the lake, but more than 50 campsites as well. Most of the trails in the area are unpaved, although there is a mile-long stretch that provides easy access for those in a wheelchair, making that outdoor area much more accessible. While there, be on the lookout for any remnants of a bygone era, as the park was once the main hunting grounds for the Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee, and Chickamauga Native American tribes.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Road cyclists looking for a truly unique experience should head out to the Natchez Trace Parkway. The 444-mile long scenic highway is part of America’s national park system and stretches out across parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, where it wanders past Nashville. The right can be as short or long as you’d like, but for the most scenic view be sure to ride across the bridge that passes over Highway 96, where the views are simply spectacular. This is especially true in the fall, when Natchez Trace comes alive with the seasonal colors.
Long Hunter State Park
The 2,600-acre Long Hunter State Park is a great outdoor destination for the visitor who doesn’t know what they want to do. Long Hunter––as the locals refer to it––offers multiple campsites, including some that are only found in the backcountry. It also features access to Percy Priest Lake for fishing and boating, more than 20 miles of hiking trails, and even a 50-foot tall tower, complete with a ropes course, for adventure outings. Mountain bikers can take to the Jones Mill Mountain Bike Trail in the nearby Bryant Grove Recreation Area as well, while those looking to cool off can go for a swim in the lake. In short, if it is an activity that can be done outside, you can probably do it in this park.
Great Smoky Mountains
Venturing a little further out from Nashville and travelers will find an even wider selection of beautiful outdoor places to explore. For instance, the city is just a few short hours away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the entire U.S. There, you'll find hundreds of miles of hiking trail, endless backcountry wilderness to explore, amazing wildlife to spot, and fantastic camping too. The park is a vast outdoor playground that lures millions of visitors on an annual basis thanks to its spectacular beauty, rugged peaks, and untamed woodlands.
Head south of Nashville to Chattanooga for access to even more outdoor activities and locations. Nicely situated in the Tennessee River Gorge, Chattanooga features world-class rock climbing, excellent mountain biking, fantastic rafting and kayaking, and plenty of places to hike and camp too. Best of all, it's just an hour and a half from the Music City, making it accessible for quick day trips or weekend getaways. If you're looking for a place that can supply an adrenaline rush with your outdoor activities, Chattanooga has you covered, and will still have you back in Nashville in time for dinner.