Don’t let the summertime blues get you down — There are plenty of things to do with kids in Nashville this summer! Here’s my annual list to get you started. I guarantee there’s something here for everyone, no matter your age.
Tell me this has happened to you, too — All year long, you come across tons of great ideas for things to do with your kids once summer rolls around — Yet when school finally ends and the day comes along when everyone is free… You can’t think of anything!
I’ve been there more times than I care to admit- and that’s why I started making this list each year. Now, I have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever I need them. And so do you!
1. Pick your own strawberries at Nashville’s Green Door Gourmet. This Nashville farm, located just off the Old Hickory Boulevard exit on I-40 in Bellevue, has made a grand occasion of strawberry picking by including a tractor ride and live music to and from the strawberry fields. Once you’ve picked all you can hold in your basket, stop in the Green Door Gourmet market for local and regional vegetables, meats, cheeses, honey, and more. We LOVE this place. Strawberry picking is open Tuesdays through Sundays in May, 9am-1pm. For more information, as well as some AWESOME strawberry recipes, check out this post.
EDIT: We went back yesterday (5/26) and could hardly find enough strawberries after over an hour of searching to fill one basket. My advice is to go early in the season, go right when the fields open for picking, and go on a weekday, when the place won’t be overrun with people.
2. 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– The last time we were there, they were only accepting cash, so be sure and call ahead to find out if their credit card machine is working; the nearest ATM is 20 minutes away! 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.
3. Spend the night at the Nashville Zoo! The zoo’s twice-annual Zoofari Slumber event is an unforgettable experience– We did this a couple of summers ago and it was worth every penny. Roast hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire, watch live animal shows, play in bounce houses, ride the carousel, and sleep in tents beneath the stars. This summer’s Zoofari dates are May 27 and September 2.
4. 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.For more information on hiking Radnor Lake with kids, read my post about it here.
5. 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.
6. 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 402 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.
7. Relive the 16th century at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival. This popular festival runs each weekend in May and everyone I know who’s gone ends up returning year after year. Here, you’ll find live jousting, Celtic music, comedy shows, crafts, food and drinks, free tours of Castle Gwynn (a real castle under continual construction by a private owner since 1970!) and some very interesting people watching!
8. 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!
9. Take a scenic train ride to Watertown and watch out for bandits! This train ride runs twice a year (the next one is May 20th) through the Tennessee Central Railway Museum and it’s been on my family bucket list for a long time. We actually had tickets last year and had to miss it at the last moment! Prepare for the train to be held up by Wild West bandits on the way to Watertown. Once you arrive, you’ll have time for lunch and shopping — and a gunfight in the center of town between the US Marshall and the Mackle-Wilson gang– before heading home. It’s one train ride your kids will never forget!
10. 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, and take it to Barnes and Noble to redeem for your FREE book! There is a special section of books to choose from, but they’re all good and kids are welcome to choose from any reading level. We do this every summer and it makes for a great FREE treat on a hot summer day.
11. Don’t despair once strawberry season is over in May– Go to one of the many pick-your-own-fruit farms Middle Tennessee for blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and more. Something’s always in season until fall! My kids LOVE doing this and for us, it’s a great way to get them to try new fruits. See a complete listing of pick-your-own farms here.
12. Visit historic Granville on Heritage Day. If you love old-timer small towns, it doesn’t get any better than Granville – and the best day to visit is on the town’s annual Heritage Day, May 27th. On this day, there will be historic home tours, a historic boat tour on the Cumberland River, a fiddling contest, a pioneer village, a Civil War living history demonstration, bluegrass music, a magician, children’s rides, a petting zoo, and a whole lot more. This is a small town festival to end all small town festivals, and it’s less than two hours from Nashville.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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!
16. 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! Find your nearest participating bowling alley at the Kids Bowl Free website and register your child now to participate. Plenty of area bowling alleys are participating.
17. Hike the many breathtaking trails at Fall Creek Falls State Park, a natural wonder that 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, at the kitschy hotel, or on the campgrounds.
18. 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.
19. 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 and answer questions.
20. 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. This summer’s offerings include The Lego Batman Movie, Sing, Trolls and more. Go early to get a good seat and ALWAYS choose the PG option. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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. Check the library event schedule to see which puppet show is being performed each week.
23. Introduce your children to the joys of the pupu platter at the Omni Hut in Smyrna. This beloved tiki restaurant has been open for more than 50 years and features a blend of Polynesian, Asian and Hawaiian recipes. Loyal customers love it for the food, the attentive service, and the retro feel. Make reservations in advance — This place is very popular with locals!
24. 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.
25. Get lost in the massive Tennessee State Museum, where admission is ALWAYS FREE. Housed in the basement of TPAC, it’s one of downtown’s best-kept secrets– and I’ll bet you had no idea that this is one of the largest state museums in the nation! Exhibits cover 15,000 years of Tennessee history and feature fossils, a covered wagon, civil war artifacts, A MUMMY (that on its own is enough to get my kids interested!), and much, much more. Enhance the experience for your kids by following one of these online lesson plans, provided by the museum. And check out my full post on the wonders of the Tennessee State Museum (I’ll freely admit I’m obsessed with this place) here.
26. 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.
27. 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.
28. 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 and cost $5.00 per child — or $12 for three sessions. The crafts are really fun (particularly if your child brings a friend along) and give you a great opportunity for some downtime while the kids craft away– Parents must remain in the store, but you 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.
29. 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.
30. 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!
31. Enjoy a family-friendly outdoor activity at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary. Owl’s Hill events can be pricey ($10 per adult plus one child for many events) compared to similar events in Nashville, but my husband took the kids to Owl’s Hill on a free hike day recently and they LOVED it. There are several trails through beautiful protected land, as well as six non-releasable owls. This summer’s free hike days are May 13th, June 10th, July 15th, and August 12th. Check out all upcoming family events at Owl’s Hill Sanctuary here.
32. 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.
33. 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.
34. Play in a waterfall at Fall Hollow. This little-known waterfall is a little 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 perfect way to cool off on a hot summer day. For more information, read my full write-up on Fall Hollow here.
35. 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.)
36. Learn about underwear at Murfreesboro’s Oaklands Mansion. Oaklands was built in 1815 and was the largest plantation in Tennessee during the Civil War. It served as headquarters for Confederate President Jefferson Davis while he visited Murfreesboro. A skirmish between Union and Confederate soldiers took place on its front lawn and the children of the house are said to have watched the fighting from an upstairs window. My kids could take or leave this information, HOWEVER, starting June 4th, a special exhibit will feature underwear worn during the Civil War period. UNDERWEAR?! If you’ve got kids, there’s never been a better time to go!
37. 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. Check out my full write-up on the Hidden Lake Trail and how to get there here.
38. 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.
39. Participate in a Summer Reading program. I highly recommend the Nashville Library’s Summer Challenge — Everyone who participates (adults included) can get amnesty for their library fines, and so I rely on this program each year to save about $20. (Maybe more. I’m not saying.) You and your kids can also get 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.
40. 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 it in my Beaman Park post.
41. 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 under six are free!
42. 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.
43. Test your courage at the incredibly haunted Octagon Hall. Just over an hour from Nashville in Bowling Green, Kentucky is Octagon Hall, an unusual eight-sided mansion built in 1847 that happens to be one of the most haunted houses in America, according to celebrity ghost hunters. I learned about this place while shooting an episode of I’ll Take That Dare several years ago, and ever since then, I’ve been dying to go back with my kids. Octagon Hall offers daily history tours Wednesday through Saturday and for the truly adventurous (I’m thinking this would be fun for teenagers), the house staff will set you up for an overnight with expert ghost hunters!
44. 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 crowded on the river in the summer time, so try and carve out a weekday for this float if you can.
45. 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.
46. 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.
47. 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!
48. 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!
49. 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.
50. 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. Go here for information on tour dates and reservations.
51. 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.
52. 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. Plus, on Family Adventure Days June 4th and 25th, you’ll find inflatables, a petting zoo, stick horse races, family activities and more! Check the Churchill Downs schedule for more information and be sure and take the museum tour while you’re there if you have time.
53. 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.
54. 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 them!
55. 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!
56. Keep cool and challenge your avid 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.
57. 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.
58. 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.
59. See a moonbow at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky. This is on my family’s summer bucket list — We’re planning to spend a night at Cumberland Falls State Park and take a guided raft ride to the base of the falls on the night of a full moon, when an incredibly rare ‘moonbow’ appears if conditions are right. 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!
60. 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.
61. 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.
62. Head to Zoovie Night at the Nashville Zoo. Zoovie Nights include games, inflatables, music, crafts and after-hour access to the carousel and zipline, and they’re free to zoo members! 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. This summer’s Zoovies take place May 26th (Paddington), June 23rd (Shrek), and September 1st (Zootopia).
63. 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. Note: The house is closed for renovations until June 17th.
64. 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.
65. 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!
66. 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, valet parking is 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.
67. 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 a few weeks ago with our 9 and 12-year-old kids (This $10 DVD has lots of bonus features about the movie, as well as three other great Gary Cooper films*– We bought it!) 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!
69. 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.
70. 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!
71. Enjoy family-friendly Movies in the Park each Thursday evening in June in Nashville’s Elmington Park. Hosted by the Nashville Scene, each event starts at 5pm and includes food trucks, vendors and games. The movie starts at sundown.
72. 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.
73. 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.
74. 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.
75. Celebrate the total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st at one of Tennessee’s state parks. 20 of Tennessee’s state parks will be in the eclipse’s ‘path of totality,’ and those parks are celebrating with special events. Bicentennial Mall in downtown Nashville will be celebrating both the eclipse AND the Italian Lights Festival that weekend — View the eclipse and celebrate with Italian food and wine afterward! It’ll be a day to remember! Or you might choose to head to Cedars of Lebanon State Park — The pool will be open and there will be live music and special eclipse activities. Long Hunter State Park is hosting an ‘Eclipse Float’– Reserve a kayak or canoe and view the eclipse from the center of Couchville Lake!
Got more great ideas? Please share them in the comments!
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