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.
September 2, 2014
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 40 different things to do with your family in and around Nashville this fall!
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.
Take the family to the Tennessee State Fair September 5-14. There is SO MUCH to do and see at the state fair, including beauty pageants, a kids’ ice cream eating contest, rides, games, a milking parlor and petting zoo for kids, live entertainment, pig racing, animal shows– and yes. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to enjoy your own BEEF SUNDAE.
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.
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!
Watch Monsters, Inc under the stars at the Nashville Zoo’s Zoovie Night on September 12th. Bring a picnic supper and lawn chairs and enjoy the movie, as well as inflatables, a DJ, face painting, carousel rides, and games.
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 26-28.
Watch history come alive at the 19th Century Trades Festival at Travellers Rest Plantation. From 9am-2:30pm on September 23 and 24, 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.
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 27- October 26th and the farm will be open Monday mornings from 9am-noon October 6th through the 27th.
Get held up by old-fashioned bandits on a train ride to Watertown on Saturday, October 4th. I have always wanted to take this once-a-year, day-long historic train ride to Watertown– On the way, thieves hold up the train and once passengers arrive at their destination, the bandits raid the city of Watertown! Expect it to end downtown with a shootout between a US Marshall and the robbers. LOVE IT.
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 18 and 19 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 Tennessee.
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 29th 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 10 and 11! 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.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sold on this event.
Learn to kayak. Naturalists from The Wilderness Station in Murfreesboro will have kayaks in supply at the Stones River’s Manson Pike Trailhead from 12-3pm on Friday, October 10th so that you and your family can learn the ropes of kayaking before you head out on your first kayaking adventure. This is a great chance to learn the basics without pressure.
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 10-12 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. Authors speaking at the festival include Pat Conroy, Joshilyn Jackson, and Rick Bragg, among many, many others.
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 5-28th and Wednesdays-Sundays October 26th- November 30th? 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. Be sure and stop by the Kentucky Derby Museum while you’re there!
Take the Ghost and Lantern Tour at Manskers Station on October 24th. From 6pm-9pm, 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.
Take the family to the National Banana Pudding Festival, October 4 and 5 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 2014! 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!)
Go to Harvest Days at the Nashville Zoo. Harvest Days celebrates the history behind the zoo’s Croft House and it’s another one of our favorite fall festivals. Your children can learn all about life on the Croft House farm 100 years ago with live demonstrations and crafts. The house is also open for tours. This year’s Harvest Days festival is September 27 and 28.
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.
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.
Head to historic downtown Franklin on Saturday, October 25th 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 Ghouls at Grassmere. This is one of our absolute favorite fall events. October 17-19 and 23-26, 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. Older children will enjoy this October 16th evening of dinner 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. Dinner is provided, registration is encouraged, and children must be nine years old or older to attend.
Celebrate Native American heritage at the Tennessee State Pow Wow and Fall Festival, October 17-19 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.
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. 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 Tales of Terror event. We did this last year and the kids LOVED it. I mean, they LOVED it. We listened to ghost stories in the old school house, then went on a night time scavenger hunt, where ghosts dressed in period costumes told us about their lives and gave us clues to get to our next station. It was super fun and don’t worry- it’s not too scary for little ones.
Spend a weekend in Gatlinburg and save a day for Dollywood. Gatlinburg is absolutely stunning in the fall and with kitschy family attractions like the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum and the amazing Ripley’s Aquarium (which rivals the Chattanooga Aquarium for family fun). Dollywood is best in the fall, I think- It’s nice and cool outside, the lines for rides are practically non-existent, and the surrounding mountains make for a gorgeous autumn backdrop.
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 Saturday, October 18, 2014, from 7:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. with admission of $5.00 per person.
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.
Build a house in Fairyland. On Sunday, November 2nd, come to Owl’s Hill Sanctuary in Brentwood and construct your own fairy house. Participants are invited to collect natural materials from the orchards and meadows of Owl’s Hill or purchase special items with “fairy gold” at the Gnome Depot. Pick a spot around Fairyland and create a dwelling fit for a fairy or elf. While visiting, stroll through our Storywalk® trail and read a story as a family while enjoying the natural beauty of the woods. Advance registration is required.
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.
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.