What do the Country Music Hall of Fame, a distillery tour and bourbon tasting, the Johnny Cash Museum, and a honky-tonk club have in common?
Well, aside from the obvious - they’re all high points of any visit to Music City - they’re also indoor activities. Now, we’re not saying you should refrain from any of these must-see, must-do attractions, but there are some amazing ways to enjoy Nashville al fresco, too. Take a side trip to one of these destinations, and we guarantee you’ll be glad you took the time to work the great outdoors into your Nashville adventure.
On the West End, just a stone’s throw from Vanderbilt University, Centennial Park is an oasis of stunning beauty, rich history, and recreation in an urban setting. The centerpiece of this 132-acre gem is the Parthenon—or more precisely, a full-scale replica of the famed Greek temple—built in 1897 to signify Nashville’s stature as the “Athens of the South.” There’s an art museum inside, as well as an immense statue of the goddess Athena (42 feet tall) holding a statue of Nike (6 feet tall), the goddess of victory. It’s kind of meta, but in a jaw-dropping way.
Elsewhere in the park, a popular mile-long walking/running trail surrounds the picturesque man-made Lake Watauga. There are gardens, volleyball courts, dog playgrounds, fountains, and a bandshell for music and theater. History buffs will enjoy the collection of wartime relics, such as Civil War cannons and a Korean War fighter jet, and everyone will enjoy free wi-fi. Throw in a picnic and you have a perfect day in the park.
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park (not to be confused with Centennial Park) sits on 19 acres with a clear view of the Tennessee State Capitol building. This spectacular outdoor space was selected to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Tennessee becoming a state.
A stroll through the Mall is a tour of Volunteer State history. The 1,400-foot long Pathway to History is engraved with milestone events that have taken place from Tennessee’s birth through its bicentennial. The pillars of the World War II memorial are etched with scenes from the war, and you can literally walk across Tennessee on a highly detailed, 200 ft.-wide granite map of the state. A 31-fountain display represents the rivers of the state’s major waterways. There’s even a 95-bell carillon that plays the “Tennessee Waltz.” The lawns of the 2,000 Greek-style Amphitheater are picnic-perfect, especially when there’s a concert or play. At the annual Tennessee History Festival, held every fall, knowledgeable re-enactors show what life was like in the early days.
Also, park rangers lead free guided tours three times a day on Wednesdays from April through November.
The “s” in Warner Parks is not a mistake. The 2,684-acre natural area just nine miles from town is actually two adjacent parks named for Nashville brothers and businessmen, Percy and Edwin Warner. The recreational options here are many and varied: an award-winning nature center, historic landmarks (including a slave cemetery), picnic shelters, a model airplane field, low ropes courses, two golf courses, scenic drives, and the annual Iroquois Steeplechase.
What’s truly exceptional about Warner Parks, though, are the trails. There are trails for any activity level, any ability, and pretty much any means of getting around. Think of Warner Parks as a nature version of the App Store: whether you hike, run, mountain bike, ride a horse, or just take an easy stroll, there’s a trail for that. Brace yourself for these stats:
• 12 miles of primitive hiking trails
• 3 miles of paved trail
• 9 miles (almost) of paved multi-use trail
• 10 miles of horse trails; 3 bridal paths
• 2 cross-country running courses
• 8 miles of mountain bike trails
Among our favorites: The historic Natchez Trace follows the footsteps of indigenous people, early explorers, traders, and settlers. Harpeth Woods Trail, a moderately difficult 2.5 mile loop, traverses a section of the Natchez Trace, and takes hikers through forests and across a rock quarry. Mossy Ridge Trail is a moderate, 4.5-mile loop through hills, meadows, and springs. At 150 yards, Little Acorn Trail is perfect for small children. Amphitheater Trail is an easy, 200-yard trail that passes an old homestead and leads to the Nature Theater. There’s also the ¾-mile Nature Loop, a moderate route with markers identifying the park’s natural features. Maps are available at the Nature Center. (Pssst…there’s also a hidden 4.5 mile trail; ask our concierge for details.)
Radnor Lake State Park showcases the region’s bounteous variety of flora and fauna, and through a number of environmental protection efforts, they plan to keep it that way. This 1,332-acre nature preserve is a state-protected area, meaning it’s open only during the day, and off-trail hiking is not permitted.
However, with more than 6 miles of trail - including one that’s all-terrain wheelchair-friendly - there’s ample opportunity to observe and photograph hundreds of native wildlife and plant species at Radnor Park. It’s not uncommon to spy otters, mink, beavers, muskrats, deer, bobcats, and a menagerie of amphibians and reptiles in this sanctuary. The park is also home to hundreds of varieties of mosses, wildflowers, fungi, trees, vines, and other plants.
Radnor Lake State Park is known above all as a magnificent paradise for birding. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says the spring and migration seasons are “phenomenal” for observing songbirds (there are more than 20 species of warblers alone), while summer brings woodland breeders like cuckoos, vireos, and waterthrushes. Common winter sightings include a variety of duck species and other waterfowl. Birds of prey, including great horned owls and bald eagles, take up residence at the Aviary Education Center.
First-time visitors may want to start at the Visitor Center to get an overview of the park’s natural riches and history. You’ll find a variety of programs led by park rangers throughout the year: birding trips, wildflower walks, astronomy hikes, snake programs, and birds of prey tours, just to name a few. (With thanks to Tennessee State Parks. More info at tnstateparks.com.)