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11 Ways to Experience Memphis’ Great Outdoors

20170605_Tennessee_Memphis_Big River Crossing

Known as the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Home of the Blues, Memphis attracts more than 10 million visitors annually. People visit from all over the globe to experience the culture, food, and history unique to Memphis—but there are plenty of opportunities to get in tune with nature, too. We put together this list of some of the best activities Hoop City has to offer to help you get started and get outside.

1. Experience the Big River Crossing

One of the newest attractions in downtown is Big River Crossing: a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River, connecting Tennessee to Arkansas on the other side. Cycle across the nearly mile-long bridge and continue for nine more miles on the paved trail to West Memphis, Arkansas. From the Memphis skyline on one side to the greenery on the other side—the views from the bridge are plentiful. (And you might even see a barge rolling through as you cross the river!) Soon, the Arkansas side will have the Delta Regional River Park, which will offer additional trails and lookouts.

For a longer ride, take your mountain bike down the 70 miles of graveled levee trails on the Big River Trail for a completely different experience of the Mississippi River.

2. Wine and Dine Outdoors

Enjoy Memphis’ ever-growing diversity of amazing food and top notch drinks at one of the many restaurant outdoor patios. If you’re looking for a great outdoor space to enjoy a meal and a drink, Loflin Yard has a relaxed atmosphere in downtown, Railgarten is located in an old rail station in midtown, and Brookhaven Pub & Grill in East Memphis features live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Silky O’Sullivan’s Pub, on historic Beale Street, has been a Memphis hotspot since the 70s.

If a brewery is more your style, you can’t beat the scene at Wiseacre Brewing. Ghost River, High Cotton, and Memphis Made have the best local brews, and some of the best outdoor spaces around.

3. Beale Street Blues

It’s almost impossible to come to Memphis and not take in the blues scene.
It’s almost impossible to come to Memphis and not take in the blues scene.

Roger Hsu

Voted “Favorite Iconic American Street” in 2013, not a night goes by that you can’t stroll up and down Beale Street to live music. Great food and a diversity of bars, restaurants, and stores lure millions to the city each year to experience this public street. Don’t want to pay cover charges? Just walk around with your beverage and people watch while jamming to the blues.

4. Parks on the Mississippi River

Follow Beale to the Big Muddy and watch riverboats come in and tugboats steam by. Tom Lee Park and Beale Street Landing are great places to get in a little exercise and then watch the sunset on the Mississippi. For both paved and dirt trails, visit the Mississippi River Greenbelt Park on Mud Island. Note: The trails are growing as the Wolf River Greenway is being built from Mud Island to Germantown.

5. Cycle, Hike, or Run on Memphis’ Expanding Trail System

The Mud Island Greenbelt Trail runs along the Mississippi River.
The Mud Island Greenbelt Trail runs along the Mississippi River.

Gary Bridgman

As of June 2017, the Wolf River Greenway has 8.5 miles of paved trail along the Wolf River, and by 2020, there will be more than 27 miles of paved trail from Mud Island into Germantown. This trail will intersect Shelby Farms Greenline, a 10-plus mile paved trail connecting midtown to Cordova along an abandoned railroad.

Cyclists will love the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), a national bike route that runs the length of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota down to Louisiana. The ample and growing trails and bike lanes throughout Shelby County make it easy to connect to the Wolf River Greenway, Shelby Farms Greenline, and MRT.

6. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

Cycle the MRT north from downtown Memphis and experience the all that Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park has to offer. With everything from hiking and mountain biking to camping and horseback riding, there is no shortage of things to do here. Don’t miss the chance to spot a bald eagle or the rare Mississippi kite at Eagle Lake Refuge, and bring your discs for a round of disc golf on the park’s two 18-hole courses.

7. Flatwater Paddling

Paddling on the Wolf River is a serene experience through Memphis.
Paddling on the Wolf River is a serene experience through Memphis.

Gary Bridgman

You won’t find any rapids here, but the scenery more than makes up for it. Wapannocca National Wildlife Refuge has a superb paddling trail to a 600-acre lake surrounded by hardwood forest. Another paddling option is the Wolf River, running through the heart of Memphis for 75 miles.

If you are a skilled paddler and feeling adventurous, the Mighty Mississippi River could be a challenge worth taking on. (Though you may want to use a guide on your first Big River Paddle or participate in the annual Outdoors Inc Canoe and Kayak Race to get your bearings.)

Finally, Hyde Lake in Shelby Farms Park is a large body of water that’s great for exercise and beginner paddlers.

8. Mountain Bike with the Die-Hards

Nesbit Park, more commonly referred as Stanky Creek by mountain bikers, is the mecca for the sport in the Memphis Area. Located in Bartlett, Tennessee, this winding network of trails is home to time trials and several annual events. It’s ideal for the advanced beginner to intermediate rider, but you’ll find the most technical trails in the area here, which means all levels of mountain bikers will find something fun to get on.

Tour de Wolf, a 6-mile unpaved trail through the northern half of Shelby Farms Park is popular for mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, and dog walkers. Mountain biking is so big in Memphis that they changed state law to allow it in the Lucius Burch State Natural Area. The trails here traverse the Wolf River wetlands in Shelby Farms Park.

9. Levitt Shell: Free. Great. Music. Outdoors.

Every summer, Levitt Shell hosts more than 50 free shows.
Every summer, Levitt Shell hosts more than 50 free shows.

Joe Spake

Bring your lawn chair, some drinks, and settle in for one of the 50 free shows at Levitt Shell in Overton Park this summer. This free concert series is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Bands from all over will play at this amphitheater, where Elvis Presley performed his first paid concert. History and a great setting in Overton Park make this venue a must-see.

10. Visit Memphis’ Two Premier Parks

Shelby Farms Park has been mentioned several times already and for good reason. This 4,500-acre park boasts one of America’s largest off-leash dog parks (100-plus acres), a state natural area, hiking/mountain biking trails galore, state of the art playground, a disc golf course, and more. Check out this map to see Shelby Farms, its trails, and its relation to adjacent trails.

Overton Park is the park that stopped Interstate 40. Okay, it just re-routed it from bisecting this treasure of Memphis. Overton Park contains significant old-growth forests protected in a State Natural Area, a nationally-ranked zoo, hiking/biking trails, Levitt Shell, an innovative playground, a golf course, and more. This park is a part of Memphis and U.S. history and citizens of Memphis will do anything for it.

11. Memphis in May

Finally, the festivities in May are all outdoors. It all begins with Beale Street Music Festival on the first weekend, followed by the World Championship Barbeque Contest on the third weekend, and concluding with 901 Fest on the last weekend. This barrage of outdoor events all occur riverside and bring more than 250,000 people to Memphis.

Written by Ryan Hall for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of Tennessee.

Featured image provided by Noah Glenn

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