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.
May 23, 2018
Between my two stepdaughters and my own two children, I’ve been finding things to do in Nashville with kids for a long, LONG time! We’ve tried just about everything you can think of in and around Nashville and I’ve included the very best of the best on this list. From quick outings to day trips to affordable overnight vacations, it’s all here — Bookmark it and I promise you’ll never run out of fun things to do!
Pick your own fruits and vegetables. We’ve picked strawberries, apples, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and more over the years — It’s one of our favorite summer activities! Here in Nashville, Green Door Gourmet is a great place to go for pick-your-own strawberries. We also love Batey Farms in Murfreesboro, Shade Tree Farm and Orchard in Adams, and the Bee Sweet Berry Farm in Lewisburg. Here’s a listing of even more pick-your-own farms in Middle Tennessee.
Float down the Buffalo River in a canoe or kayak. Tired of the crowds on the Harpeth River? Drive an hour and a half to Linden, Tennessee for a serene 2-3 hour float down the beautiful Buffalo River. We just went for the third time just a few weeks ago and have always used Flatwoods Canoe Base for our kayak rentals– Unfortunately, it looks like they’re closed this season. Try Buffalo Bud’s or Billy’s Kayak Adventures instead. On your way there or back, stop at the Amish-run Country View Market in nearby Charlotte for some of the best sandwiches you’ve ever tasted.
Keep cool with Hawaiian-style shaved ice and a shady game of mini-golf. We just discovered a winning combination of summer fun right across the street from the Opryland Hotel. Cotton & Snow has fabulous Hawaiian-style shaved ice in many inventive flavor combinations, locally-sourced ice cream, and an organic cotton candy bar!
Just behind Cotton & Snow, you’ll find Grand Old Golf, an intricate mini-golf course built on a hill that’s covered in beautiful hardwood trees. We can’t wait to come back this summer for a game of golf and shaved ice afterward. Grand Old Golf also has go karts, indoor bumper cars, and an arcade.
Check out this amazing view at Harpeth River State Park. Located just outside Nashville in Kingston Springs, the short but steep Bluff Overlook trail will take you straight to this amazing view, which makes for a fantastic photo opp.
When you come back from the overlook, take the ½-mile Pattison Forge Trail nearby to see this amazing man-made tunnel, built by slaves back in the 1800s. Not only is it a great spot to cool off, it’s also chock-full of local history. Check out this post to read the story behind Pattison Forge and learn more about these two trails and how to get to them.
Hike the forest trails at Radnor Lake State Park, which are filled with birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. On our latest visit, we spotted songbirds, hawks, geese, deer, turkeys, turtles, and lizards. We like the Lake Trail, a 1.3 mile flat trail that goes all the way around Radnor Lake. Canoe floats led by a ranger are offered several times a week in the summertime, generally at sunrise or sunset. Kids ages 10 and up can attend. Also, be sure to check out the park’s aviary for birds of prey- It includes a 550 foot boardwalk and aviary complex and houses four non-flighted raptors and one non-flighted American Bald Eagle.Here’s even more information on hiking Radnor Lake with kids.
See some incredible fossils at Earth Experience: The Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History. This small but mighty Murfreesboro museum was the brainchild of MTSU professor Alan Brown, who wanted to share his extensive fossil collection with the public. Here, you’ll find everything from dinosaurs to crinoids, with a heaping helping of fossils, rocks and minerals found right here in Middle Tennessee. Did you know red pandas and rhinos used to roam our state? It’s true, and this museum has the fossils to prove it! Your kids will love this place, and admission is just $3 for kids, $7 for adults.
Visit Nashville’s secret West Meade Waterfall. Did you know that there’s a city-owned waterfall in the heart of a West Meade neighborhood? Drive to 404 Hathaway Court in Nashville and see it for yourself! We recommend you go the day after a big rain for best results. This pocket park has even more surprises- You can check out my full post on the West Meade Waterfall here.
Take an underground boat ride in the Lost River Cave. We finally knocked this one off our family bucket list last summer and I can enthusiastically recommend it! Located just an hour and 15 minutes from Nashville, Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky is definitely worth the drive and makes for fun-filled day trip. The boat tour itself isn’t too long, so it’s perfect for short attention spans (don’t worry, you only have to bend over like this at the very start of the tour!) and you’ll also take a guided tour of the beautiful woods outside, where there’s a butterfly house and a mysterious blue hole. The Lost River Cave also has one of the best gift shops I’ve ever visited, so don’t forget your credit card!
Check out a loaner backpack at Warner Park’s Nature Center and hit the Hungry Hawk Trail. Be sure and pick up a Hungry Hawk guide at the trailhead before you set off on your journey. The backpacks are filled with all kinds of things to make your child’s hiking experience fun and informative. We’ve hiked the Hungry Hawk Trail since my children could walk and its bird blind and animal tracking station never get old!
Join the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program and get free books for your kids. It’s soooo easy: Download the Summer Reading packet, fill it out (this year, your kids need to read and record eight books), and take it to Barnes and Noble before September 3rd to trade it in for your FREE book! There is a special section of books to choose from, but there are some excellent ones available and kids are welcome to choose their free book from any reading level. We do this every summer and it makes for a great FREE treat on a hot summer day. Books-a-Million also has a kids’ summer reading program. Read four books from its summer reading list, fill out the reader journal, and redeem for a cool Mo Willems pencil case and pencils.
Visit a cedar glade, one of the world’s rarest ecosystems. Believe it or not, Middle Tennessee is home to an ecosystem unlike anything else in the world. It’s called a limestone cedar glade and a number of them are managed and protected by the state in Lebanon and Murfreesboro. Cedar glades are home to dozens of extremely rare plants and flowers, including the Tennessee Coneflower, which was thought to be extinct until a Vanderbilt ecologist re-discovered them in 1968. Read my full guide to visiting the Tennessee Cedar Glades here.
See the Grand Ole Opry and go on a backstage tour. The Grand Ole Opry isn’t just for tourists– I took my 12-year-old and two of her friends this year and they LOVED it — and none of the girls were country music fans! The show is fast-paced enough to keep older kids entertained and the backstage tour after the show adds to the overall experience. For more information, check out my post about the Opry and what to expect on the backstage tour.
See a moonbow at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky. We spent a night at Cumberland Falls State Park’s incredibly charming DuPont Lodge last summer and took a guided raft ride to the base of the falls on the night of a full moon, where we actually got to see an incredibly rare ‘moonbow.’ It was an experience I will never, ever forget. This is actually the only place in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbow is visible, and it’s just 3 1/2 hours from Nashville! You can also take a raft to the base of the falls during the day time and I highly recommend you either way. For a very reasonable fee, an experienced guide will take you right up to the base of the falls — It’s incredibly thrilling and a great family adventure. Read more about our experience here.
Rent a pontoon boat with a slide and spend a day on the lake. Now that our kids are getting older, this particular option has made it onto my family summer bucket list. At Fate Sanders Marina in nearby Mt. Juliet, you can rent a pontoon boat with a slide and spend the day on Percy Priest Lake. The boats hold up to 12 people, so if you get a few families together, the rental cost is very affordable.
At the brand new Twin Creeks Marina on Tims Ford Lake in Winchester, TN, you can rent a pontoon boat, bass boat, or jet skis for the day. I really can’t think of a better way to beat the heat in Tennessee than out on a boat or jet ski!
Hike the wooded trails at the little-known Timberland Park. We’ve come to love this brand-new Williamson County park, located on the Natchez Trace Parkway just past the turnoff for Highway 96. With three miles (and growing) of trails through lush forest, it’s a great place to keep cool on a summertime hike. For added fun, check out a hand-whittled hiking stick at the park’s nature center before you get started. I wrote a detailed post about visiting Timberland Park with kids here- Check it out!
Sign up your kids for the Kids Bowl Free program and they’ll be eligible for two free games of bowling every day (until 6pm), all summer long! You can find your nearest participating bowling alley on the website and register your child(ren) now to participate. Plenty of area bowling alleys are participating.
Visit SplashTown, an elaborate public pool with waterslides and splash pads in Smyrna. With two big water slides, several water play areas, and a large swimming pool with its own drop slide, I’m convinced this is the best public pool in Middle Tennessee. $5 ($4 for kids 12 and under) is all it takes for a full day of fun! The pool quickly fills to capacity on weekends, so opt for a weekday trip if you can — My kids have already made me promise to take them here with friends this summer!
Hike the many breathtaking trails at Fall Creek Falls State Park, a natural wonder no Tennessean should miss. Located on the eastern top of the Cumberland Plateau, it includes amazing waterfalls, cascades, gorges, and uncut virgin forests. Just a little over two hours from Nashville, Fall Creek Falls makes for a great day trip or overnight trip if you can swing it. Stay in one of the park’s cabins or on the campgrounds.
Head downtown for a free guided tour of the Tennessee State Capitol. We finally got around to doing this and I’m now convinced our Capitol has to have one of the most interesting backstories of any Capitol in the nation! Two men are actually buried in the walls, and they were mortal enemies. Why? You’ll have to take the tour to find out! Tours run Monday through Friday at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m., beginning at the Information Desk on the first floor of the Capitol, located on Charlotte between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
Go on a fossil hunt. You don’t have to leave Nashville to find excellent 400 million-year-old fossils that are yours for the taking– In fact, they’re so easy to find that even your preschoolers will be filling their pockets after just a few minutes of searching. Read my post on fossil hunting in and around Nashville to learn where to go— This has become one of our favorite activities!
Take your fossils for identification to a Fossil Finders meeting at Fort Negley in Nashville, held on the second Saturday of each month from 10am-12pm. Geologists and other experts are on hand to help guide your search through Fort Negley’s own rich pile of fossils and answer any questions you might have.
Spend a day (or two!) at Holiday World. We rarely let a summer pass without a day or overnight trip to Holiday World in Indiana. Located a little under 3 hours from Nashville, this park is incredibly family-friendly, it has free parking, free drinks, and free sunscreen, and admission includes both an amusement park with tons of great rides for all ages AND a fantastic water park! It’s easy to go back and forth between the two parks, which is one big reason we come here instead of other amusement parks in the region. SO. MUCH. FUN.
Take the kids to see a $1 Summer Movie Express family film, offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am this summer at all Regal Cinemas. G-rated and PG-rated films are both available and the options are always awesome. Daycares and camps often make use of these movies and they generally opt for the G-rated movie, so the PG option is going to be less crowded and quieter. See the full listing of movies and find the nearest Regal Cinema near you here.
AMC is offering its own version of this program for kids every Wednesday at 10am. For just $4 per ticket, your child gets admission to a popular movie AND a Kids Pack, containing popcorn, a drink, and fruit snacks. Tickets are available only at the box office.
Teach your children about one of the darkest days in Tennessee history by walking the Trail of Tears. Port Royal State Park isn’t far from Nashville and it includes a documented stretch of the actual Trail of Tears, where thousands of Cherokee Indians lost their lives on a forced march westward, away from their homes. Be sure and tell your children the backstory before you go- What we uncovered surprised us. You can read the full story about Tennessee’s Trail of Tears and what to expect at Port Royal State Park here.
Take the kids to the downtown library Tuesday or Wednesday at 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30 for the best Storytime EVER. There’s a reason our library’s children’s programs have the top attendance in the country– Weekly storytimes are a MUST among Nashville Moms. They include puppets, songs, juggling, and stories, and they’re totally free! On Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 or 11:30, head to the downtown library for a free weekly marionette show, featuring puppets from Tom Tichenor’s extensive collection. Be sure and park in the library parking deck and get your parking ticket validated in the library lobby so that your parking cost will be minimal.
Visit the awe-inspiring Cumberland Caverns. We took a day trip to see Cumberland Caverns for my birthday last summer and I’m so glad we did — This is Tennessee’s largest cave system (32 miles of cave discovered so far) and it’s not to be missed! Walking tours depart on the hour seven days a week between 9am and 5pm. Go during the week in the afternoon (after the field trips have gone for the day) and you’re likely to have the guide to yourself! Be sure and read my post on Cumberland Caverns before you go— The history of these caves is fascinating and not easy to find online. I did some digging and found great information I wish I’d known ahead of time.
Slurp down a milkshake at the Reeves-Sain Soda Shoppe. It’s not often that you find a soda shop inside a drug store these days, but the one at Murfreesboro’s Reeves-Sain Drug Store is still going strong — and locals say they have the best milkshakes in town, as well as chess squares that are to die for. The Reeves-Sain Soda Shop also serves soups, salads, sandwiches, and other old-fashioned desserts like pies, banana splits, and ice cream sodas. YUM.
Bike the beautiful Cumberland Bicentennial Trail in nearby Ashland City. Summer is the perfect time to ride this mostly-shaded 7-mile bike trail, which was converted from an old railroad track and is straight and flat enough for beginning riders. This is my absolute favorite Middle Tennessee bike trail.
Enroll your kids in Camp Creativity at any Michael’s store. Starting in June, these two-hour craft sessions feature a different craft every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am-noon and cost $2 per child for ages 3 and up, $5 for ages 6 and up. The crafts are really fun and give you a great opportunity for some down time while the kids craft away– Parents must remain in the store, but do not need to be in the craft room with your kids, so this is a great opportunity to get some work done or just read a book. YAY. Go here to learn more or check out your local Michaels calendar of events.
Take the Nissan Tour and learn how cars are made. Smyrna is home to the highest-volume Nissan Vehicle Assembly Plant in North America, producing up to 640,000 vehicles a year, and the company offers motorized tours of its plant every Tuesday and Thursday for anyone age 10 and up. I’ve heard this tour is incredible — You actually get to see how a car is manufactured, assembled, and tested out — and although it’s free, you need to make reservations to do it at least a month in advance — It’s that popular!
Hike the Fiery Gizzard Trail, ranked as of the most beautiful trails in the nation. Located on the Cumberland Plateau in Tracy City, the entire Fiery Gizzard Trail is a very difficult 12 miles. Two sections of the trial are perfect for families, though — We hiked the Grundy Day Loop and took the spur trail to Sycamore Falls and it was absolutely gorgeous. It included several waterfalls and swimming holes. On the other end of the trail, the Foster Falls Small Wild Area Loop is 1.6 miles and takes you to the stunning Foster Falls, as well as rocky outcroppings that are very popular with climbers. Both trails are best for families with older kids. Check out a map of the Fiery Gizzard trails here.
Give your children a kids’ eye view of the historic Battle of Franklin with a tour of the historic Lotz House. Of all the historic home tours in Franklin, I recommend this one for your kids because three children lived inside this house at the time of the Civil War and much of the tour is told from their perspective. I took this tour with my 11-year-old daughter and she could not stop talking about it afterward- She’s heard about the Battle of Franklin, many, many, many times, but because children figured into the Lotz House story, she was able to put herself in their shoes and really listen and GET IT. Awesome!
I would recommend this tour for kids 10 and up- some of the descriptions of the battle and aftermath are graphic and may trouble younger children. Also, the rooms are small and the antiques are priceless and very breakable- If you have a wiggleworm like my 8-year-old, you might not want to take your chances! Don’t have time for a tour, but want a cool Civil War souvenir? The Lotz House gift shop has actual Civil War bullets found on the battlefield for just $5 each! I bought one for each of my kids and they are now among their most prized possessions!
Explore the quirky Historic Cannonsburgh Village in Murfreesboro. Located a block from downtown Murfreesboro, Cannonsburgh Village represents approximately 100 years of early Tennessee life, from the 1830s to the 1930s. The village includes a gristmill, school house, telephone operator’s house, the University House, the Leeman House, a museum, a caboose, the Wedding Chapel, a doctor’s office, a general store, a blacksmith’s shop, a well, and other points of pioneering interest, as well as a stream to splash around in and a nearby walking trail. And yes, all of the structures are authentic– Rutherford County solved its dilemma between land development and preserving historic buildings by simply moving many of its historic buildings to this location! Self-guided tours are free- Pick up a tour brochure inside the visitors center.
Have tea at High Garden. Surprise your kids by taking them to this whimsical East Nashville tea room and apothecary, which looks like something straight out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to order — The staff will happily help you pick out just the right brew.
Play in a waterfall at Fall Hollow. This little-known waterfall is just over an hour from Nashville on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Park in the Fall Hollow parking area and you’ll find a paved walk to a platform overlooking a large waterfall. Keep going down the steep dirt path and you’ll encounter several more waterfalls, including one that’s perfect for small children to play in. It’s a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. For more information, read my full write-up on Fall Hollow here.
Take the kids to Adventure Science Center. Climb the Adventure Tower, check out the human body exhibit, or go on a Space Chase. There’s enough to do here to fill an entire afternoon. (See the entry below on the Nashville Library’s Summer Challenge to find out how to get free tickets — This is how we get our tickets each summer.)
Enjoy beautiful views and explore ‘ancient’ civilization on Nashville’s Hidden Lake Trail. I call this the Best Trail You’ve Never Heard Of– and when you walk it, you’ll see why. Located just off I-40’s McCrory Lane exit, the Hidden Lake Trail takes you high up on a ridge that circles a beautiful quarry lake with a rich history- It used to be the biggest swimming pool in the world! Today, the area has returned to nature, but evidence of its 1930s-era glory days still remains, making it fun for kids (and adults!) to explore. Here’s more on Hidden Lake Trail and how to get there.
Experience another time and culture on a wagon tour of Amish farms in Ethridge, Tennessee. Of all the things I’ve done in Tennessee, this is honestly right up there at the top. Head to Granny’s Amish Welcome Center & Wagon Tours and sign up to go on one of their tours of local Amish farms. The tour guides are colorful and very knowledgeable and they’ll give you an inside look at an entirely different way of life, just an hour and a half from Nashville. IMPORTANT: Bring cash- You’ll want to buy things at the farms you visit. Go in the morning, the evening, or on a cooler day- You’ll be in a covered wagon, but it gets hot in those fields. Bring plenty of water. And on the way home, stop and eat at Shaffer Farms Texas BBQ in Summertown, absolutely the best barbecue restaurant I’ve ever been to.
Participate in your library’s Summer Reading program. I highly recommend the Nashville Library’s Summer Challenge — Adults and kids can participate and earn free passes to one of several great participating Nashville destinations, which means another day of summer fun, financially COVERED. I usually use our Summer Reading certificates for a day at Adventure Science Center.
Tour the historic Sam Davis Home in Smyrna. 21-year-old Sam Davis was a Confederate soldier who chose to be hanged rather than give information to Union troops. He’s famous for saying, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend,” and his story is truly riveting. You can tour Smyrna’s Sam Davis Home and visit his grave as well as a museum built in his honor, and it’s an experience I highly recommend — My children were fascinated by Davis, both because of his youth and his loyalty. His story can spark some great conversations with your kids. Do note that the house is not air-conditioned — In the summer, you’ll want to tour it in the morning or on an overcast day.
Hike Nashville’s rugged Beaman Park for a more challenging trail for kids. If your kids are getting older or need to burn off a whole lot of energy, Beaman Park is a great place for a day hike, especially in summer, when its crystal clear limestone-bed creek is a perfect place to splash around. Beaman Park has a great 3.5 mile loop trail through beautiful forest, as well as a small Nature Center with kid-friendly activities. Read more about hiking Beaman Park with kids here.
See a whole lot of cool, crazy cars at Nashville’s Lane Motor Museum. You don’t have to be a car lover to appreciate this museum- Everyone I know who’s been has loved it. You’ll see nearly 400 cars, including the world’s smallest street-approved car as well as a car that’s the size of three semis parked side by side. You’ll see a wooden car, flying cars, and floating cars, and there’s even an indoor playground for little ones. Admission’s not bad, either– Adult tickets run $12, but kids ages 6-17 are just $3 and kids under six are free!
Learn about the Stones River Battlefield on a Saturday morning bicycle tour. On certain Saturdays in the summer time, you can take a guided tour of the Stones River Battlefield with a Park Ranger– ON YOUR BIKE. Those in the know say the bike tour is the best way to see everything on this important Civil War battlefield, where stories include “the fighting in Slaughter Pen, the desperate stand of the Union army along the Nashville Pike, and the 43. terrible climax to the battle that bloodied the banks of the Stones River.” The tours are free, but you do need to call ahead to make a reservation. Check the schedule to find out when the next tour is taking place.
Rent canoes or kayaks from Foggy Bottom in Kingston Springs and enjoy a lazy 2 or 4-hour float down the very tame Harpeth River. This is a perfect first canoe ride for young children– In most places, the river is only a couple of feet deep and there are plenty of spots to stop for a swim, plus there’s a chance you’ll see some amazing wildlife. It does get extremely crowded on the river on weekends, so try and carve out a weekday for this float if you can.
Take a day trip to The Discovery Center, an interactive children’s museum in Murfreesboro— It’s well worth the drive. Your kids can look at animals, learn about tadpoles, do all kinds of arts and crafts and play at countless indoor learning stations. My children absolutely LOVE this place. Check the Discovery Center’s schedule online to see what kinds of special programs are happening. Be sure and take the Wetlands Walk outside while you’re there to see an actual wetlands ecosystem.
Take the kids to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home. We’ve got a lot of historic sites in the city to choose from, but The Hermitage one of the best in the country. To add to the fun, The Hermitage now has a new, interactive multimedia tour for kids that’s synced to play along with the adult tour. It includes touch-screen photos and games/activities at tour stops and when we went last spring, my then 11-year-old daughter LOVED it. Both the kids’ and adults’ audio tours really add to the experience and are definitely worth the extra cost. Save The Hermitage for older kids — Tickets are on the expensive side and older children will get far more out of it than younger ones. Also, don’t miss the interpretive walk through the woods to the field where the slave quarters used to stand. It’s our favorite part of the experience.
Climb to new heights at SOAR Adventure Tower in Franklin. There’s something for everyone at this massive four-level climbing tower, which has 110 different climbing elements. Got smaller kids? Not to worry- The ground level features a special section built especially for kids ages 4-7, with 19 different elements. People are raving about this new attraction- I can’t wait to check it out!
Spend a day on the Natchez Trace Parkway. There’s so much to see on the Natchez Trace Parkway, and much of it is an easy drive from Nashville. We’ve been as far as the Meriwether Lewis gravesite on our day trips, and encountered all kinds of interesting stops along the way. Since we live very close to the Parkway, I’ve done a LOT of research on it and recently wrote a guide to all of the places worth pulling over for. Check it out before you make the trip!
Visit Bison Meadow, a tiny park at the intersection of Hillsboro Pike and Tyne Boulevard in Nashville. Bison Meadow is located on an old terminal branch of the Natchez Trace, which was once used by bison and elk to travel to a salt lick on the Cumberland River. Today, nine topiary bison roam the fields and native prairie grasses are planted in memory of a landscape that used to be common in Middle Tennessee. It’s a fun place to read books, roam the pathways, and talk about the way things used to be in Tennessee. Learn more about Bison Meadow here.
Take a night-time lantern tour through the historic Stones River Cemetery in Murfreesboro. These free, guided tours take place a few times a month in the summer time, and they’re so popular that reservations fill up almost as soon as they open. You’ll follow a ranger through the cemetery and hear soldier and civilian re-enactors read letters written by some of the cemetery’s most notable residents. This tour is best for older children and it is unforgettable. Go here for information on tour dates and reservations.
Give the kids a close-up look at the stars and planets at a BSAS Star Party. The Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society holds public star parties throughout the summer all over Middle Tennessee. BSAS members bring their ginormous telescopes to the events so that anyone can look through them and get an explanation of what they’re seeing. We went to one last summer and saw Saturn! Both kids have been begging for their own telescope ever since. This activity is free and I consider it a summer must-do. For a complete listing of upcoming star parties, go here.
Spend a day at the horse races. Churchill Downs is just 2 1/2 hours from Nashville and the horse racing season runs through early July. The stands are MUCH less crowded on normal race days than on Derby day- It’s easy to get a thrilling front row seat or to keep cool in the shaded seats- The choice is yours. Check the Churchill Downs schedule for more information and be sure and take the museum tour while you’re there if you have time.
Find a creek and let the kids cool off in it. We’re partial to the one at Belle Meade Plantation- In fact, I like this spot so much, I wrote an entire post about it! Find out where it is and how to visit it for free here.
Spend a fascinating few days exploring historic Rugby, Tennessee. Older children will be fascinated by the story behind this preserved Victorian village atop the Cumberland Plateau — Its history rivals anything you’ve seen on Downton Abbey! Stay at the historic (and very possibly haunted) Newbury House and if you time it right, you’ll have the entire place to yourselves. I wrote a post with everything you need to know about Rugby— You owe it to yourself to visit at least once. (We’ve been three times!) And while you’re there, be sure and have a fried bologna sandwich at R.M. Brooks General Store — My kids are STILL talking about that sandwich and have inspired me to make my own version!
Cool off at Nashville Shores, a fantastic water park the whole family can enjoy. But be sure to read my tips about the park before you go — They’ll save you money and help you make the most of your visit!
Sign up the kids for a free 3-day coding camp at your local Apple store. Apple offers a free coding camp each summer for kids ages 8 to 12! Campers choose one of three tracks and spend 1 ½ hours each day for three days at a local Apple Store learning more about their subject of choice. Parents need to remain in the store during camp — It’s a great opportunity for a little downtime! Sign up here to be notified when the Apple camp schedule is posted – and when you get the e-mail, respond quickly! These spots go fast!
Keep cool and challenge your seasoned hikers on this five-mile hike at Montgomery Bell State Park. Now that my kids are older, they’re up for longer hikes, and we found a perfect one at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson. This park is filled with dense forest, which keeps things on the cool side even on the hottest days. The five-mile loop we discovered takes you past historic sites, over creeks, and past plenty of great stops for snacks or a picnic — and I’ve even found some pretty great fossils both times we’ve made this hike. Check out this post for full hike instructions, and do buy a map at the visitor’s center before you start- It’s easy to get turned around.
Go downtown to Cumberland Park by the riverfront in downtown Nashville, which includes a creative play experience for kids and adults like you’ve never seen before. Features include play equipment for children, spray-grounds and water jets, bridges, climbing walls, and unique paths winding through landscaped gardens.
Ride bikes along one of Nashville’s gorgeous greenways. This has become a favorite family activity for my family. The Harpeth River Greenway is our favorite by far. We like to start at the Exchange Club Trailhead and ride to a perfect turnaround deck on Morton Mill Road. Check out Nashville’s greenway maps to choose the one that’s right for you.
Keep cool on a sweltering day at the new Ford Ice Center. Public Skate sessions are offered nearly every day– Adult admission is $7, youth admission is $6, and skate rental is $3. Check the Public Session calendar to decide when to go.
Take a guided 2-hour tour on horseback through lush Tennessee countryside. New on my family bucket list this year is a two-hour guided tour with Natchez Trace Stables. Located less than an hour from Nashville off the Natchez Trace Parkway, this family-owned stable offers guided daytime and night time rides. Visitors rave about the experience and I can’t wait to check it out with my family! Call ahead to make a reservation: 931-682-3706.
Head to Zoovie Night at the Nashville Zoo. Zoovie Nights include games, inflatables, music, crafts and after-hours access to the carousel and zipline! When the sun goes down, the evening’s feature film will play on a large inflatable screen. Zoovie Nights are free for members and just $6 for anyone entering the zoo after 6pm.
On a hot or rainy day, head over to Cheekwood’s historic mansion for an indoor scavenger hunt. Grab directions at the mansion’s front desk (they have an outdoor scavenger hunt map, too) and hunt through the house to find all the items on the map. This can take a good two hours and it’s a great way to expend some energy. The guards love to help out on the tougher ones.
Go for a leisurely bike ride on the scenic Murfreesboro Greenway System. If you haven’t been on Murfreesboro’s bike trails, you are definitely missing out. Here, you’ll find 12 miles of paved trails that will take you to some of Murfreesboro’s most picture-friendly locations, including Cannonsburgh Village, the Stones River National Battlefield, Fortress Rosecrans, and the Stones River dam. Be sure and stop for lunch at The Green Dragon Public House while you’re on the trail. For a map and more information about what you can see on the trail, check out this online brochure.
Put the kids in swimsuits and head to Bicentennial Mall, where the Rivers of Tennessee fountains will help them stay cool on a hot day.
Once the kids have had their fun, stroll through the Nashville Farmer’s Market next door and pick up local fruits, vegetables, bread, meat and cheese for your family meals. We like to do this several times throughout the summer!
Spend the day exploring at the ginormous Opryland Resort. Walk the many paths through three elaborate atriums, take a riverboat ride, watch the stunning Aqua Fountain Show, feast on ice cream, and explore to your heart’s content. Note– Wait until your children are old enough to walk on their own- This hotel is not stroller friendly! Also, both valet and self-parking are super expensive here. Consider valet parking and getting a meal to share at one of the hotel’s nicer restaurants — (We LOVE Cascades American Cafe’s gigantic burger and fries!)– That way, you can validate your parking ticket at the restaurant and pay nothing.
And for a getaway that’s not too far away, consider spending a night or two at Gaylord Opryland Resort. We did this last summer and I swear, I felt like I was on a vacation miles away from Nashville! We loved the resort atmosphere, the deluxe swimming pool, and all the special Summer Fest activities the resort plans for its youngest guests. From scavenger hunts to ghost story tours to family dance-offs by the pool, there’s lots to do here without ever leaving the hotel! Here’s everything you need to know about the hotel before you go.
Watch Sergeant York with your family, then visit the Military Branch Museum in downtown Nashville, which (among many other things) has an extensive exhibit on Alvin C. York, Tennessee’s most famous soldier. The War Museum is in the War Memorial Building, across the street from the Tennessee State Museum. Other exhibits there cover Tennessee’s involvement in wars ranging from the Spanish American War to the Vietnam War. As for the movie, we watched it with our kids when they were 9 and 12 and they LOVED it. It’s a great historic film, not just for its portrayal of World War I, but also because its release during World War II created patriotic fervor, making it one of the greatest propaganda films of all time. Lots to discuss here!
Take the whole family to a Nashville Sounds baseball game. Tickets aren’t terribly expensive and there’s lots of fun family entertainment between innings.
Visit Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, just an hour and a half from Nashville. It’s enormous and includes a wide range of inexpensive tours that are REALLY fun and interesting. We took the Historic Tour last summer and it was our favorite so far. Your kids will never forget visiting Mammoth Cave, and you won’t either. No need to beat the heat- It’s always nice and cool in the cave!
Take an affordable nature cruise on the Cumberland River with Blue Heron Cruises in Ashland City. Tickets range between $9 and $12 per person, cruises depart from Riverbluff Park three times a day. Captain Jim Steele is the best and will make any tour kid-friendly, but if you can, go on the tour that’s specifically for children. It includes a stop on a sandy bank for some swimming time and other treats your kids will love.
Make reservations to attend a Telescope Night, offered on the second Friday of each month at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory. On these nights, the extremely high-powered Dyer Observatory telescopes are available for viewing and astronomers are on hand to answer questions. What a great opportunity for your kids! Admission is $6.24 per person and can be made up to 30 days in advance. There is also a $5 parking fee. Make your reservations and learn more about Dyer Observatory here.
Discover Bowie Nature Park in Fairview. This park, located just a few minutes outside of Nashville, has miles of wooded hiking and biking trails, as well as a nature center, guided hikes, nature programs, star parties, and an inexpensive summer day camp. Check out the website for upcoming events, or head to the park for a hike on your own.
Got more great ideas? Please share them in the comments!