Memphis is an outdoor adventurer’s playground! Get wet paddling the Mississippi, go wild and bike/hike/jog/fish/picnic/ogle grazing bison to your heart’s content at the ginormous Shelby Farms Park, or if you like your outdoors air-conditioned, there’s an epic Bass Pro Shops with loads to see and do... and that's just the beginning.
The Memphis Botanic Garden is an incredible space: the 96 acres contain 28 different displays of plant life, including a butterfly garden, a cactus and succulent garden, a holly collection, a hosta trail, a Japanese tranquility garden, a living wall, even a water garden and a sculpture garden! Their children’s garden/playground, called My Big Backyard, is a popular destination for those with kids, as well. If you’re looking to get the most outdoor bang for your buck, add this to your to-do list!
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is a giant glass megastore/amusement park with a Great Outdoors theme. You can settle into a rocking chair, listen to a waterfall and enjoy black bears at play… except the animals are stuffed, there are no pesky insects, and the air is conditioned. The best of both worlds, right? You can also bowl with a giant alligator-eye ball and retrieve it from the shark’s mouth ball return, or stroll a dock over a cypress swamp where 100-foot-tall, moss-draped trees soar above and eight-foot alligators swim below. Still not enough outdoor adventure for you? Visit their 10 aquariums, then take America’s largest freestanding elevator to the 32nd floor, step out onto a glass deck, and soak in Tom Lee Park, Beale Street Landing and the mighty Mississippi below. Even the building itself is a sight to behold, originally built as a 20,142-seat sports arena in 1991.
Memphis has more bike lanes and protected bike paths now than ever. Rent a bike in Shelby Farms Park and take the 6.5-mile Shelby Farms Greenline to Midtown. Back in Shelby Farms, there are four additional paved trails to explore, or you can take the Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge to access even more outdoor fun. The park also has four unpaved mountain bike trails. Shelby Farms Park, which is bigger than NYC’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, has something for everyone. There’s the Go Ape Treetop Adventure, the Woodland Discovery Playground, and trails for biking, hiking, horseback riding and jogging. Drop a line in one of the fishing lakes, see real, live bison, or bring your furry friend to one of the off-leash dog areas. End your day at a picnic area or in a visitor center.
As you hike around the rolling bluffs and swampy Mississippi flood plains of T.O. Fuller State Park, keep your eyes peeled for birds and other wildlife. But, the trails aren’t even the coolest part of this state park that’s located within the city limits of Memphis; it’s also got a really interesting history as well. Originally designated as the first state park for African Americans back in 1938, it was dedicated to a doctor named T.O. Fuller who dedicated his life to advancing the Civil Rights movement in 1942. And, in 1940, when excavating for a pool, it was discovered that the park was located on the site of a prehistoric village occupied by the Chucalissa tribe. Today, you can see a recreation of the village as well as a museum dedicated to the former settlement and the preserved archaeological excavation. There’s quite a bit to see and do here, so it’s a good thing they offer camping (and an Olympic-sized pool to cool off after all that hiking) for those who want to explore it all.
Eat in the urban outdoors at Lunchbox Eats’ lovely patio! This casual, schoolhouse-themed eatery serves up Southern-inspired sandwiches, burgers, and more, with tempting sides and fun-flavored lemonades to top it all off. Add some recess-inspired vibes to your meal by taking your lunch trays outside and relax as you stuff your face with food!
When you think of the outdoors in Memphis, your mind probably goes right to the Mississippi River. The Mighty Mississippi can be seen from many places across the city, and has played a major role in shaping Memphis’s past and present, so an outdoor adventure should definitely include a tribute to the river. Hop on a 90-minute sightseeing cruise at Memphis Riverboats for a tour on the water and some background information on the boats that used to be a common sight on the Mississippi. They even offer dinner cruises and music cruises! Bonus: the riverboats dock at Beale Street Landing, another awesome outdoor space where you can enjoy cool public art, a fun splash pad for the kids, and a lovely little restaurant, if you didn’t opt for the dinner cruise.
Another way to experience the Mississippi is at Mud Island River Park. A peninsula that has been transformed into a multi-use community space, there are tons of things to see and do in the outdoors here. Take the monorail out to Mud Island and explore the 5-block-long model of the lower Mississippi (which includes an acre-sized pool that represents the Gulf of Mexico, complete with pedalboats for exploring), or catch a show at the amphitheater.
Overton Park is another green space that is much beloved by the community. Home to the Memphis Zoo, a golf course, Rainbow Lake, two playgrounds, a dog park, and the Old Forest State Natural Area, there are a lot of ways to explore the outdoors here. A favorite way to experience as much as possible is to rent bikes from a nearby vendor and hit the trails!