Community > Play > Get Outdoors
Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. — Kahlil Gibran
MEMPHIS HAS CREATED a successful marriage between lively urban life and classic country fun. With numerous local and state parks, Memphis has plenty of places to bike, jog, paddle, play, and fish.
The crown jewel in the Memphis outdoors would have to be Shelby Farms Park — and in the next decade, the Park looks to go from being the best of the city to the class of the world. With a new Master Plan currently being implemented by the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, the Park will undergo transformation in several phases.
The vision for Shelby Farms Park is “One Park, One Million Trees, Twelve Landscapes.” The entire community has benefited from the Park for generations — and future citizens and businesses will be able to get even more out when you factor in the civic-engagement and economic-development aspects of the bold plan.
Rivers and lakes are in abundance throughout the Memphis landscape, bringing the opportunity for water sports to the city folk. For a mysterious and scenic interaction with water, visit the Ghost River — a part of the larger Wolf River system that’s popular with kayak and canoe enthusiasts. Of course, there’s always the Mighty Mississippi as well, for water sports or just a great view.
Bicyclers also have plenty to love around Memphis. Miles of scenic trails give riders a variety of options, whether they’re beginners or more advanced cyclists. A highlight: the cycling route that runs alongside the Mississippi River and through downtown Memphis — connecting the city to 10 states of bike trails. For more information, go to www.mississippirivertrail.org.
For hikers and joggers, there are numerous parks in the area that create a scenic environment for outdoor exercise. In Shelby Farms, a web of scenic trails stretches across the 4,500-acre park. Outside Shelby County, there are plenty more parks that pepper the Mid-South. For more information about nearby greens in Tennessee, visit www.tennesseetrails.org.
Hunting and fishing opportunities also abound in the Memphis area. For deer and small game, the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park has an 11,000-acre natural area, managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. Visit www.state.tn.us/environment/na/natareas/meeman.
For those who love fishing, the nearby Ozark Mountains contain three of the best trout streams in the country: the White River, North Fork River, and Little Red River.
For more information on hunting, fishing, boating, and wildlife watching in Tennessee, visit the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency at www.state.tn.us/twra.
Below, we profile the best places to bike, jog, hike, and paddle. For more information on specific activities or to meet fellow nature-lovers, contact one of the many organizations on our list. All phone numbers are area code 901 unless otherwise noted.
Arkabutla Lake | (662) 562-6261
This five-mile loop begins in picnic area 761 and turns into a scenic out-of-town mountain bike ride.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park | 876-5215
This state park offers moderate-to-hard climbs up and down river bluffs with beautiful vistas of the river.
Mississippi River Trail | (479) 236-0938
The Mississippi River Trail (MRT) has been awarded Millennium Trail status and features two main sections for Memphians to ride:
North on Bartlett Road to Yale Road, and then turn left. The parking lot is on your right. This trail system has approximately eight miles of trails to choose from. Highly technical, this tight and twisty single-track features abundant switchbacks. Not recommended for beginner riders.
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Arkabutla Lake Trail | (662) 562-6261 |
This five-mile loop offers great views of the surrounding forest, and is especially spectacular in the fall.
Fort Pillow State Park | (731) 738-5581 | www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/FortPillow
Because of its bluff top views, this 1,642 acre park offers some of the most impressive hikes along the Mississippi River, as well as a rich Civil War history – a great place for a day trip.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park | 876-5215 | www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/MeemanShelby/
Just a short drive from Memphis, this park offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails through mature forests, along bluff tops, and in the bottomlands of the Mississippi River.
Mud Island Greenbelt Park |
This two-mile multi-use path parallels the Mississippi River and is a favorite hike in the Downtown area. When combined with the dirt path on the grassy banks of the river, the park offers a nice four-mile walk. Time it right and you can watch the sun go down over the water.
Shelby Farms Park | 767-7274 | www.shelbyfarmspark.org
Spreading across 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms is one of the largest parks in the nation; almost five times the size of New York City’s Central Park. Drop by the visitor’s center for more information.
Big Hill Pond State Park | (731) 645-7967 | www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/BigHillPond
The park encompasses approximately 5,000 acres of magnificent timberland, Cypress Creek, the Tuscumbia River, Travis McNatt Lake, and Big Hill Pond. Many smaller oxbow lakes and swamp areas further add to the waterway and make the park a great place to watch the local wildlife during a pleasant flatwater float.
Buffalo River | www.perrycountytennessee.com
This National and Scenic Wild River offers a relaxing float trip and great fishing. The Wayne and Perry Counties section is designated a class I/II river with regular waves and occasional rapids. Plenty of canoe liveries service the river and can help you on your way.
Cadron Creek | (501) 679-5050 | www.arkansas.com/lakes-rivers/river.aspx?id=48
Between Greenbrier and Damascus, Arkansas, this beautiful Ozark wilderness stream twists its way through tall bluffs, pinnacles, caves, and uncut timber. Depending on rainfall, this stream varies from a pleasant float to challenging whitewater and even dangerous flood conditions, so be sure to check the water level before you paddle.
Spring River | (870) 856-3210 | www.arkansas.com/lakes-rivers/river/id/15/
This stretch of water near Hardy, Arkansas, is fed year-round by Mammoth Spring near the Arkansas/Missouri border. The peak season is the warm spring-to-fall months when the river becomes crowded with daytrippers. The river consists of quiet pools and small ledges, which can make the relaxing float fun and especially interesting at times.
Wolf River Ghost River Section | 452-6500 | www.wolfriver.org
The Ghost River section is a paddler’s delight: a beautiful 14-mile section of the Wolf River that flows from LaGrange, Tennessee, to the Bateman Bridge near Moscow. This spring-fed waterway is rich in wetlands and wildlife.
Paddling Clubs and Organizations
Contact the wide community of regional paddlers and water enthusiasts for more information.
Bluff City Canoe Club
Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association