I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
October 11, 2019
Cooler weather is (finally!) here, which makes it the best time of year for weekend family field trips. I’ve always had two ulterior motives when planning weekend activities for my family — No matter what we do together, I want my kids to get active or I want them to learn something. Fortunately, there are tons of options in and around Nashville and many are in Rutherford County. Check out this list of some of my favorite family field trips near Nashville and you’ll never run out of ideas for things to do with your kids this season!
Barfield Crescent Park is worth the drive to Murfreesboro all on its own. This gorgeous park has more than 7 miles of paved and unpaved trails that will take you through limestone sinks. cedar glades, and flower-filled meadows and alongside the Stones River, and it’s perfect for families.
Stop first at the park’s awesome Wilderness Station for a map and check out nature backpacks for the kids from one of the employees — They can choose either wildflower, bird, tree, or insect-themed packs for their walk and I can tell you from experience that a nature backpack makes kids a whole lot more excited about a family hike! Call 615-217-3017 for more information.
Did fall even happen if you didn’t visit at least one farm with your family? Two of Middle Tennessee’s most popular fall farms just happen to be in Rutherford County. Lucky Ladd Farms in Eagleville is an agrarian wonderland that includes a petting zoo, hayrides, slides, a tractor train, a tire mountain, a corn maze, a toddler maze, duck races, a pumpkin patch, a playground, and much more. Walden Farm in Smyrna also has a pumpkin patch, hayrides, a pumpkin train, farm animals, a play area, a corn maze, a hay mountain, and more. Either way, you can’t go wrong — The fall farm experience was one our absolute favorite things to do when our kids were small.
One of my favorite stealth mode moves to get my kids interested in local history is to research ghost stories about the places we’re visiting. Many of them play into major events that took place there, and the kids are a whole lot more interested in learning about a battle or historic event if they know old Horatio McFeathers III might make a ghostly appearance while they’re there. Not long ago, I turned up some great ghostly tales about Murfreesboro and Rutherford County. Downtown Murfreesboro in particular is loaded with ghost stories — (The totally true story about the Murfreesboro courthouse is a doozy — You’ll never look at it the same way again!) Spend an autumn afternoon finding the ghostly sites and telling their tales and you’ll be teaching them quite a lot about how Americans used to live in the process! Check out my ghostly guide to Rutherford County here.
You might not have known Middle Tennessee is home to a globally unique, almost desert-like ecosystem known as a limestone cedar glade. Here, cacti, rare and endangered wildflowers, and succulents thrive and a vast network of caves lies just beneath the rocky limestone surface. These glades exist only in the central eastern United States– Most are in Middle Tennessee a short drive from Nashville, and ours are different from any on earth. In fact, they’re so special that Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro has a Center for Cedar Glade Studies entirely devoted to them! Check out this list of protected glades open to the public, research them with the kids ahead of time, and then check them out for yourself — You’ll be amazed at the things that grow there! And be sure and check the event schedules of Long Hunter State Park and Cedars of Lebanon State Park — Both offer seasonal guided tours of the glades and they are fascinating.
Rutherford County has managed to save many of its most important and interesting historic structures by simply moving them to a central location. That’s the idea behind Cannonsburgh Village, an outdoor village in the heart of Murfreesboro where you can explore an actual 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 interest. The structures are open to the public between May 1 and December 1 and you can either take a free self-guided tour or pay a small fee for a guided tour. I absolutely love taking my children to this place — It’s filled with all kinds of historic artifacts and odds and ends that have been donated to the county over the years and the number of structures keeps kids from getting bored while they learn.
We regularly make the trip to Murfreesboro to ride on its amazing Stones River Greenway. The 13-mile greenway takes you alongside the Stones River, past the Stones River National Battlefield, over bridges, past playgrounds, and through forests and there are 13 trailheads, so you can explore different sections at different times if you like. I love this greenway, so I was excited to see that a Greenway 100 Club has been created. Join the club, log 100 miles of riding your bike on the greenway (this may sound like a lot, but I regularly ride 12 miles in about an hour on my clunker bike, so it’s not an impossible goal over time!), and earn a t-shirt, coffee mug, and car decal for your efforts. If you’ve been trying to inspire your family to get healthier, this is one great way to do it. For more information on joining the Greenway 100 Club, call 615-217-3017 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the kids are too little for this activity, don’t worry! Print out this greenway scavenger hunt and explore the greenway on their level. You’ll also want to check out the stretch of greenway near Murfreesboro’s Gateway Island — Thanks to an Eagle Scout project, this section now features several Little Free Libraries, which are boxes filled with free books you can borrow and return, all donated by members of the community.
Right behind the Discovery Center, you’ll find one of Middle Tennessee’s most fascinating city parks. A raised boardwalk takes you over the Murfree Spring Wetlands and this protected natural area is absolutely teeming with wildlife. You’ll see all kinds of birds, fish, and other animals, including a family of raccoons that lives inside a tree hollow and a large and active beaver population. This is a fantastic spot for your kids to learn about wetlands and spot interesting wildlife. Also be sure to check out Murfree Spring, while you’re there, which is right behind the Discovery Center building. Park in the Discovery Center lot to access both (free!) areas.
The Oaklands Mansion tour in Murfreesboro is fascinating and it’s a great family field trip option if you have older kids. The family that lived there was a little different from other wealthy families in their day — They reserved the opulent front rooms of their home for their guests, but lived very simply themselves in the back rooms of the house. The differences between the two sets of rooms are really interesting. The Oaklands staff also has done an excellent job of seamlessly weaving the truth — that the mansion was built and maintained by the family’s slaves — into the narrative. For added fun, consider visiting the mansion on one of its upcoming Flashlight Nights — Bring your own flashlight and explore the mansion in the dark! Outside the mansion, be sure to take the wetlands trail down to Maney Spring. It’s a local favorite.
Confederate soldier Sam Davis was only 21 when he chose death by hanging rather than giving information to Union troops. He famously said, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend” before he died and the story of his brief life is truly fascinating — My kids aren’t that into history (YET!), but they were totally fascinated by the Sam Davis story. It led to some interesting family discussions after we toured his family home. Admission to the Sam Davis Home in Smyrna includes a guided tour of his home and its grounds as well as admission to a museum built in his honor. Be sure and watch the short film in the museum before you take the tour.
If you haven’t taken your kids to the Stones River National Battlefield yet, it’s time. Grab a map from the Visitors’ Center and take a self-guided tour or take one of the many free guided tours offered on Saturdays and Sundays. You can opt for a walk through a section of the battlefield with a ranger or a ride in a car on a guided caravan drive (the battlefield is huge), but I’ve heard the best way to experience it is on one of the Saturday morning bicycle tours, which are offered in the summer and early fall.
Across the street at the Stones River National Cemetery, Hallowed Ground Lantern Tours are offered seasonally. Carry a lantern through the cemetery at dusk and listen to re-enactors reading actual letters from and about some of the soldiers buried there.
The battlefield holds LOTS of special events and historic reenactments, which can be a great way for your kids to learn about the Civil War. Check out the upcoming events schedule here.
Can’t think of anything to do? Let Outdoor Murfreesboro provide the inspiration! Every time I look at its list of upcoming events, I want to sign my family up for every one of them. Right now, for example, there’s a guided family float down the Stones River coming up, an overnight family camping trip at Barfield Crescent Park, and homeschool classes at the Wilderness Station. Other regularly-scheduled activities include guided hikes for families and adults, stroller walks with other moms on the greenway, ‘Wild Things’ classes that teach children about animals and nature, night hikes, kayak floats, festivals, and more. Check out Outdoor Murfreesboro’s Facebook events page to keep up with all that’s going on.
100 years ago, the little-known Bradley Academy Museum in Murfreesboro was a school for African American students. Today, it’s a museum showcasing the school’s history as well as local Civil War history and exhibits on some of Rutherford County’s earliest settlers. The museum doesn’t get many visitors, but those who’ve visited say you can learn a lot about slavery and segregation in Middle Tennessee here — definitely a history all of our kids could benefit from learning more about. Tours are available Tuesday through Saturday from 10am – 4pm.
This interactive children’s museum is simply the best, and I found it to be much more manageable (and less intimidating to my kids) than Nashville’s Adventure Science Center. At the Discovery Center, you’ll find tons of activities for every age and stage here from toddlers up to about age 11. Run your own city in Tiny Town! Learn about the human body in the Five Senses exhibit! Go down the 2 ½ story super slide! Climb aboard the fire truck! Create art in the Creation Station! Participate in one of the special programs that take place each day! Check out one of the center’s rotating temporary exhibits! There’s plenty to do here and I can guarantee your entire family will love it.
Many people out there still don’t know that Murfreesboro has the only natural history museum in Tennessee, and that’s a crying shame. Earth Experience showcases the vast fossil collection of MTSU professor Alan Brown, who digs with his students for dinosaur bones in Montana every summer. It’s also filled with rocks, gems, minerals, and archaeological relics, many of which are from Tennessee. Earth Experience is open Thursday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. Special classes for kids are also regularly scheduled — Call (615) 900-8358 to find out what’s happening.
Everyone who’s been on the Nissan tour tells me it’s fascinating, and it’s definitely on my bucket list of family experiences. You’ll ride a motorized vehicle through the plant and learn how cars are made. Kids ages 10 and up are allowed on the tour and they love it! Tours are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations are required and should be made at least four weeks ahead of your visit. To request a tour, call (615) 459-1444, or email email@example.com.
This post was written in partnership with the Rutherford County CVB.