I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
September 22, 2015
Don’t be sad that summer is behind us– Fall is my absolute favorite season in Tennessee, largely because there’s so much to do and see in the area over the next few months. Enjoy the beautiful weather with this fall guide I’ve put together for my family and yours.
From haunted historic mansion tours to fainting goat festivals to cheap and free classes for kids, here are 50 different things to do with your family in and around Nashville this fall!
Watch history come alive at the 19th Century Trades Festival at Travellers Rest Plantation. From 9am-2:30pm on September 22 and 23, 30 talented artisans and re-enactors will show you what life was like in the 19th century, through trades like blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, and flintnapping (whatever that is!). Kids can try out 19th century chores, toys and games as well.
Visit Port Royal State Park, just 45 minutes outside Nashville, and walk on the actual Trail of Tears. Fall is a beautiful time to walk this historic trail, but before you go, read this little-known backstory about what happened there– It will make the experience much more meaningful to your family. You might even opt to wait until late November when the leaves have fallen and it’s cold outside, to experience conditions similar to what Native Americans had to endure on the trail.
Ride bikes on the Harpeth River Greenway and picnic on the banks of the river. Nashville has miles and miles of greenways, but our favorite is the Harpeth River Trail. There are plenty of points to access the river and enjoy a snack or picnic lunch.
Get up close and personal with the night skies at a Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society Star Party. Autumn star parties will be offered on the evenings of September 27th at the Adventure Science Center, October 17th at Warner Park, and November 14th at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center and I can’t emphasize how much these events will rock your child’s world. You and your family can gaze at the stars and planets through the gigantic telescopes of several society volunteers, who’ll explain to you what you’re seeing and why it’s significant. We went to one over the summer and got to see the rings of Saturn, an amazing up-close look at the moon, and several star formations. My children still talk about it!
AND! There’s a lunar eclipse on Sunday, September 27th and starting at 7pm at Warner Park, experts from Warner Park, Adventure Science Center, Sudekum Planetarium and the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society will be on hand with telescopes to walk you through it. Fun!
Take a free guided bicycle tour of Murfreesboro’s Stones River Battlefield. I’ve been saving this one for fall and can’t wait to do it with my family- Tours are offered every Saturday morning at 9am through October 31st. Rangers say bikes are the best way to view this historic battlefield, where a major Civil War battle took place in late 1862 and early 1863, killing more than 3,000 soldiers and injuring more than 16,000. The tour lasts an hour and along the way, the ranger will stop to talk about the major military actions affecting the battle’s outcome.
And, if you’re going on the bicycle tour, you might as well spend the day in Murfreesboro– It’s filled with fun family destinations. From historic Cannonsburgh Village to the Stones River Greenway to the new Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History, you’ll find plenty to do. And be sure to stop for lunch at the city’s hobbit-themed restaurant- Everyone will love it! For details on all these locations and more, check out my Murfreesboro Day Trip post.
Start the season off right with Fall Fun Day at Bowie Park in Fairview.
You say “Hay ride.”
I say, “I’M IN.”
Get all the details here.
Sign up for one of the incredible nature programs at Warner Park. The fall schedule is out and it includes all kinds of hikes, demonstrations, and adventures. Be sure and register the day registration opens- These programs fill up fast.
Learn the fine art of hog calling at Spring Hill’s Country Ham Festival on October 3rd. I am a sucker for fall festivals, y’all, and this looks like a good one. It includes HOG CALLING. MONSTER TRUCK RIDES. HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES. Plus, all the usual festival fare, like live music, kids’ events, arts and crafts, and food trucks.
Personally, they had me at hog calling.
Do Destination Homework. When the weather cools down, I like to put together a snack picnic and take the kids somewhere fun to do their homework after school. We’ve gotten our work done at Cheekwood, Warner Park, and even the zoo!
Get artsy at the TACA Fall Craft Fair at Centennial Park. There’s something for every budget at this massive arts and crafts fair, as well as music, kids’ activities, and plenty of food trucks. We go nearly every year- The fall weather makes it especially festive. This year’s fair is September 25-27.
It’s just not fall in Nashville without a visit to Gentry’s Farm. Go on a hayride, play in the barns, pick out a pumpkin, and enjoy the day at this historic family farm. This experience is particularly good for small children. The weekend season runs September 26- October 31 on Saturdays between 9am and 5pm, Sundays between 1pm and 5pm, and Monday mornings from 9am-noon.
Spend a weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains. There’s no end to the family activities there, from horseback riding and helicopter rides to hiking and ziplining to indoor waterparks, Dollywood, and much, much more. I wrote a post with 30 fantastic ideas on what to do, where to stay, and where to eat while you’re there– Check it out!
Go back in time at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum’s Music & Molasses Festival. This is one of my favorite fall festivals- There’s bluegrass music, food trucks, crafts, games, pony rides, and- best of all- all kinds of hands-on demonstrations that teach kids how Tennesseans lived 100 years ago. This year’s festival is October 17 and 18 at the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville.
Spend a weekend hiking and riding bikes at Fall Creek Falls State Park. I can’t think of a more beautiful time to visit Fall Creek Falls than autumn, when the trees are changing colors and the mosquitoes have gone for the season. Two hours from Nashville, this state park has to be the most beautiful spot in all of Tennessee. You can either camp out, reserve a cabin, or stay in the park’s hotel.
Got book lovers like I do? Take them to the University School’s annual Fall Book Frenzy fundraiser on September 26th, which features thousands of books and nothing over $2! Can’t. Wait.
Sign the kids up for a Junior Chef cooking class at the Green Hills Williams-Sonoma. On Saturday mornings, Williams-Sonoma teaches kids ages 9-13 everything from how to make pasta and pizza dough from scratch to creating delicious on-the-go breakfasts. Advance registration is required. See the website for upcoming classes.
Younger ones will love Goblins in the Garden, a Tuesday morning trick-or-treating event at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Dress up your tots and enjoy trick-or-treating and arts and crafts on October 27th from 10am-12pm. This is a very popular event with parents of young children- and I always got my best Halloween photos here when the kids were small.
Celebrate Tennessee’s famous fainting goats at the Goats, Music and More Festival in Marshall County October 9 and 10! According to the festival website, “The Goats, Music and More Festival aims to honor goats, particularly Marshall County’s famous native “Fainting” goat and the Boer goat. Fainting goat and Boer goat shows are the core of the festival; but visitors will also find a full slate of planned fun including and arts & crafts show, food vendors, children’s activites and acoustic, bluegrass, country and rock and roll music.” Fainting goats, for the curious, actually become rigid and fall over when startled.
Here’s another item on my must-do list for fall– Learn all about the Amish (and buy their wares) on an Amish Wagon Ride Tour in Ethridge, TN. Fall is a perfect time to take a wagon tour– An Amish guide will take you down the backroads of Ethridge to several Amish farms, telling you the history of the Amish and letting you stop to meet the families and buy from them if you’d like. The tour lasts several hours and gets rave reviews- Bring cash, because the Amish don’t take credit cards!
If you don’t want the official tour, just stop by the Amish Welcome Center for a map of the area and check out the farms on your own. Before you leave, be sure and stop at Shaffer Farms Texas BBQ for lunch, which is just a few minutes away. Believe me when I say that this is the BEST barbecue I’ve EVER HAD- and I’ve had a lot of barbecue! I can’t wait to go back.
Check out the many fun activities planned for fall at The Wilderness Station in Murfreesboro. All kinds of events are planned this fall, from family kayaking to hayrides on the Stones River Greenway to overnight family campouts to guided hikes for kids and families. Find the full schedule of events here.
Hunt for fossils in and around Nashville. Now that the weather’s cooled off, it’s a GREAT time to take the kids fossil hunting- You’d be amazed at all the places you can easily find them in Nashville if you know where to look! Even the smallest child can collect them without trouble. Here’s a post to get you started.
Make a paper bag Nature Journal and collect your favorite fall leaves. I did this with the kids when they were small and it was one of their favorite activities. We also made a leaf wreath by cutting the center out of a paper plate and hot gluing fall leaves all around the rim. I really liked the way it turned out and it made for a great fall decoration.
Get your read on at the Southern Festival of Books, October 9-11 at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. This festival attracts thousands of book lovers, as well as hundreds of authors from across the country. This year’s event is free, and it includes a children’s stage. See a full schedule of events and list of attending authors here.
Spend an afternoon watching horse races at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Sure, the Kentucky Derby is fun, but did you know the horses also race at Churchill Downs on Fridays-Sundays September 11-27th and Wednesdays-Sundays November 1st- November 29th? Fall is a great time to take the kids to the races- The stands are pretty empty and it’s easy to get a front row seat somewhere along the track. Family Adventure Day on September 27th looks like fun. Be sure and stop by the Kentucky Derby Museum while you’re there!
Catch Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape at Cheekwood before it ends November 1st. This seasonal installation is stunning, but before you take the kids, be sure to read this post to them. My daughter and I got a chance to tour the gardens with the artist himself and hearing his inspiration behind each sculpture changed the way my daughter views art. I wanted to be sure other children had the same opportunity so I shared all we learned in this post. You can view the sculptures by day or by night– Cheekwood will be open every Friday night in October until 10pm. Enjoy!
Take the Ghost and Lantern Tour at Manskers Station on October 23th. From 6pm-7:45pm, you and your family can weave through the grounds of the Bowen House by lantern and listen to tales about what may have happened on the grounds of Mansker’s Station. Manskers Station events are always really fun and educational. I recommend this one for all ages. Limited tickets are available- Get yours at www.GoodlettsvilleParks.com.
Take the family to the National Banana Pudding Festival, October 3 and 4 in Centerville, TN. Go down the Puddin’ Path and sample ten different kinds of banana pudding! Compete in the National Banana Pudding Cook-off! Witness the crowning of Miss Banana Pudding 2015! Check out the farmer’s market, local vendors, and live entertainment! I MUST GO to this festival and you must, too! (And let’s hope they’re selling t-shirts!)
Tour the creepy Bell Witch Cave and cabin in Adams, Tennessee. Daytime and night time candle-lit tours are offered, allowing you to get a real-life look at the setting of Tennessee’s most famous ghost story. If the cave tour is too spooky for you, go see the play about the Bell Witch instead. Spirit: The Authentic Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee is performed each fall on the lawn of the Bell School in Adams, on the same property where the Bell Witch haunting occurred. Bring blankets to stay warm while you watch and save this play for older children- It’s a little long for the younger crowd. The play is part of a month of fun Bell Witch Festival events. Check out the schedule here.
Play in the leaves. It doesn’t get much more fun in the fall than raking up a big pile of leaves and letting the kids jump around in them. If you don’t have enough leaves of your own, head over to the big trees in front of Warner Park’s Nature Center- It’s a very popular leaf-jumping spot.
Take your tweens and teens to Nashville Comic Con September 25-27 at Music City Center for a weekend of costumed fun, celebrity sightings, and special events. Speakers include Lou Ferrigno, the cast from Dukes of Hazzard, Drake Bell and many more. Don’t forget your camera!
Spend a day (or a weekend) in Chattanooga. We spend so much time in Chattanooga, it feels like our second home. It’s just 2 1/2 hours away from Nashville and it’s chock-full of family-friendly places and activities. Fall is my favorite time for a visit- Check out this gorgeous view from the top of Lookout Mountain and you can guess why. I made a list of 30 fun things for families in Chattanooga– Check it out!
PRO TIP: We always Priceline a 3-star downtown hotel when we visit and we’ve never been disappointed- We generally end up in one of the downtown area’s beautiful historic hotels, which are so fun to explore. This is our little secret to scoring a great rate and a great place to stay!
Head to historic downtown Franklin on Saturday, October 24th for its super-popular Pumpkinfest. This day of fun includes live entertainment, a costume contest, free kids’ activities, more than 75 arts and crafts booths, and of course, downtown Franklin’s fabulous shops and restaurants. This is a can’t-miss festival- but get there early- Traffic and parking for Pumpkinfest can be a you-know-what.
Celebrate Halloween safely at Boo at the Zoo. This is one of our absolute favorite fall events. October 16-18, and 23-25, and October 29-30, the zoo stays open late for trick-or-treating throughout the zoo, carousel rides, inflatables, games, and the absolute best hayride in town. My advice? Go on a Sunday night, when the crowds aren’t quite as large as they are on Friday and Saturday nights.
Go on an Owl Prowl at Owl’s Hill Sanctuary in Brentwood. Children ages 9 and up will enjoy this October 27th or November 11th evening of supper in the Russell Gathering Pavilion learning about Tennessee owls, then a night hike in the woods featuring naked eye astronomy and the calling of wild owls. Your meal is provided and advanced registration is encouraged. The cost is $20 per person. If that price is too steep, take advantage of one of Owl Hill’s monthly Free Hike Days, offered October 3rd from 1-3 (guided hikes will be available) or November 8th from 1-4pm (Owl Day, with lots of special owl programs). My husband recently took our kids to a free hike day at Owl’s Hill and they both thought it was amazing.
Celebrate Native American heritage at the Tennessee State Pow Wow and Fall Festival, October 16-18 at Long Hunter State Park in Nashville. Watch traditional Native American dances, try foods like Indian tacos and frybread, enjoy storytelling and demonstrations, compete in a drum contest and shop for Native American jewelry, art, and pottery. Awesome.
Celebrate Oktoberfest in Nashville’s historic Germantown October 9th-11th. This festival includes live polka dancing, children’s activities, vendors, food, three music stages, a battle of the bands, a 5k fun run, arts and crafts, and of course, beer. 100,000 people are expected to attend this extravaganza.
Spend the day at the Discovery Center. There’s so much to explore at the Discovery Center in Murfreesboro, both indoors and out- and the interactive kids’ museum has plenty of special offerings in the fall, including Superhero Comic Book Day, when kids can make their own comic books, and Monarch Day, when Monarch butterflies will be tagged and released. Check the schedule for details– Programs include science experiments, craft activities, outdoor nature lessons, and mini-music classes. WE LOVE THIS PLACE.
Find out why history can be terrifying at Travellers Rest’s Twisted Tales event, October 23rd from 5pm-10pm. We love Traveller’s Rest’s Halloween events and go almost every year- We’re excited that they’ve changed up the program this year with some all new scary tales. It’s always fun and don’t worry- it’s not too scary for little ones.
Introduce your kids to the magic of theater with monthly Junior Youth Actors Guild meetings at the Pull-Tight Players theater in historic downtown Franklin. On the last Saturday of each month from 10:30am-12pm, the Pull-Tight Players offer kids ages 6-12 a morning of theater instruction and skill-building games- all for the super-low price of FIVE DOLLARS PER YEAR. Yes. That’s right. FIVE DOLLARS PER YEAR.
What are you waiting for?
Take a spooky Flashlight Tour of Murfreesboro’s Oakland Mansion. Guides in mourning attire will be stationed through-out the mansion to answer questions about unusual mourning customs and creepy superstitions of the Victorian era as you explore the dark corners and creepy cupboards of this mysterious historic home. For your safety, please bring your own flashlight. This special evening opening of the mansion will take place on Friday, October 23rd and Saturday, October 24th from 7:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. with admission of $5.00 per person.
Alternately, the Mansion is offering two cemetery tours at 6pm and 7pm on October 16th. Advanced registration is required, tickets are $15 apiece. This might be interesting to older children.
Enjoy arts and crafts with the whole family on Saturdays at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Every Saturday morning this fall from 10am-2pm, Cheekwood’s art center offers a different craft that your entire family can enjoy making together. It’s free with the price of admission to the gardens. You can also enjoy storytime in the Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden from 10:30-11:00am on Saturday mornings, and live bluegrass music in the herb garden from 10am-1pm. It’s a nice little afternoon of fun!
Celebrate autumn at Lucky Ladd Farms. I haven’t yet been to Lucky Ladd Farms in Eagleville, but it is definitely on my parenting bucket list. This place looks FREAKING AMAZING- There are slides, tractor rides, a pumpkin patch, mazes, pony rides, a petting zoo, and a whole lotta other stuff. Lucky Ladd Farms is open until November 1st- Check days and hour here.
Go to the playground. Fall is really the best time to spend an afternoon at the playground- Why not head to one in a different part of town for a new-to-you experience? Our favorite playgrounds can be found at Red Caboose Park in Bellevue, Dragon Park (otherwise known as Fannie Mae Dees Park), Centennial Park, and Parmer Park on Leake Avenue in Belle Meade.
Make your own pancakes at the Pfunky Griddle. This Berry Hill staple has got to be the most fun breakfast spot in town- Tables feature their own griddles, where you and your family can make your own pancakes, choosing from different batters and toppings. Fall is a perfect time for this special treat.
Spend a night in the totally haunted Newbury House B&B in Rugby, Tennessee. Stay on a weeknight and there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourselves- We actually rented out the entire house (inexpensively-This town is in the middle of nowhere) for my stepdaughter’s 16th birthday one October! Ghost stories abound in the rooms’ guestbooks and the town is alive with history- Be sure and take a guided tour of Rugby the next day before you leave- the place has a fascinating history.
Enjoy the ‘off-season’ at outdoor attractions like Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and the Nashville Zoo. We have memberships to both places and we tend to go often on sunny days in late fall, when the crowds disappear and we pretty much have the place to ourselves. We run around in our warm coats and pretend like we own the place.
Thrill your little (and not so little) Pokemon fans with the Nashville Symphony’s October 9th performance of Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions. Visuals from the cartoon will be projected on a big screen as the symphony plays. AWESOME.
Watch the leaves change (and stop for family photos) on the Natchez Trace Parkway. There’s no better place in Nashville to see fall leaves than on the Natchez Trace Parkway- Go on a peak day and you’ll see dozens of families pulled over on the side of the road, taking photos of the kids with a beautiful autumn background. The Parkway is filled with interesting stops along your drive, from hiking trails to waterfalls. Check out the Parkway map for details and make an afternoon of it.