Winter 2021 has been one of the coldest on record for Memphis. There’s no doubt most of us are counting the days for the temperature to rise and the days to get longer. When it’s time to break out of hibernation, make sure to add these outdoor destinations to your spring and summer bucket list to breathe some fresh air and get in touch with nature.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
I rarely venture out to Millington, but when I do, it’s to escape to 12,539 acres of woods, trails and waterways. If you’re into hiking, Meeman-Shelby Forest features more than 20 miles of trails and a selection of routes to fit anyone’s preferred intensity. The park also offers several outdoor activities such as camping, kayaking and bird-watching. If you’re an arbor enthusiast, you’ll appreciate that the park has 10 state champion trees and two national champion trees. In layman’s terms, they’re really big!
Big River Crossing
I was very excited when the Big River Crossing pedestrian bridge opened in 2016. It’s the longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge in the nation, and it connects to more than 10 miles of additional trails on the Memphis and West Memphis, Arkansas, sides of the bridge. You can catch some of the best angles of the Memphis skyline from its center. If you’re on a bike or venturing on a long walk or run, continue into Arkansas’ trails for a quick escape from the city bustle, which will take you to stopping points for more picturesque views of the city. Visiting this bridge is one my favorite Saturday activities during Memphis summers, and I usually make it a point to bring friends and family when they visit.
The Ghost River
What used to be one of the Mid-South’s best-kept secrets is now a frequented destination for those looking for outdoor adventure. The Ghost River is a section of the Wolf River that has been mostly untouched by human development. It’s also never been channelized, meaning you’re rowing through true nature. It’s only a few miles east of Shelby County, near La Grange, Tennessee, and there, you can rent a kayak or canoe. The six-hour journey may be challenging as you maneuver through obstacles and fallen tree branches. Speaking from experience, it will test your relationship with your rowing partner. However, it’s completely worth it when you pass through five distinct ecosystems and discover the original beauty of this river.
Fletcher Creek Greenway
If you grew up in Memphis, the municipality of Bartlett is often the target of many jokes, and I would know because that’s where I grew up. But one thing that Bartlett is doing well – and I wish they had done this when I was young – is improving their public park systems, starting with the construction of the Fletcher Creek Greenway. Though only its first phase has been completed so far, it serves as a connector between neighborhoods and offers locals a safe destination to escape from the madness of Stage Road and walk, run or bike through the woods in peace.
Shelby Farms Park
I’m an East Memphis resident now, so I can’t forget Shelby Farms. This is my favorite getaway when I don’t want to travel far or if I only have an hour or two to kill. It’s the best balance of connecting with nature and being in an urban center. For leisure strolls, I recommend hitting the recently updated Hyde Lake Park, which is about 2.25 miles of paved trails and features a variety of plant and tree species. (Pro tip: Visit at dusk to capture some of the best sunsets in the city.) Shelby Farms, which stretches more than 4,500 acres, also offers a variety of outdoor activities such as biking, kayaking, horseback riding and ziplining. On your way out, don’t forget to say hi to the herd of buffalo roaming the park.
The Mid-South offers a range of activities to enjoy the outdoors. This is no surprise since we have relatively comfortable weather about nine months of the year. So, next time you’re feeling bored because “there’s nothing to do in Memphis,” all you have to do is simply go outside. The options are endless!