Fall is such a spectacular time of year. The cooler temperatures beg you to lace up those hiking boots, put on that cute new vest, grab a warm drink, and get outside! According to smokymountains.com, middle Tennessee will be experiencing its fall foliage peak between October 14th and October 21st. Of course, we encourage you to check before you hit the trails to make sure there haven’t been any changes. Read on for our list of family hikes near Nashville that you shouldn’t miss!
Heading southeast from Nashville, the scenic drive to Rock Island State Park is one of my favorites for fall. They have clean restrooms at the visitor’s center where you can also pick up a Jr. Ranger Adventure Guide. These guides are so much fun to do with friends, wonderful learning tools, and a great way to keep your child engaged throughout the hike. And they can even earn a badge! Rock Island offers short 1/2 mile hikes to 3 mile loops, beautiful waterfalls, a wonderful area to fish (if you are under 13 years old no fishing license required), and if your kids like rocks (like mine do), there are plenty to climb. We haven’t kayaked or canoed here yet, but I bet that would be a beautiful fall family adventure!
Another beautiful state park, very near Rock Island but a slightly further drive, is Fall Creek Falls State Park. It has a variety of activities that are sure to please everyone in your family. Not only does it have beautiful hiking trails, it also offers several ways to experience Tennessee’s fall foliage—such as biking, horseback riding, a golf course, and (my favorite) zip-lining! I have not done this particular zip-line yet, but it is definitely the most adventurous on my list of ways to see the bright fall canopy. Most trailheads start near the Nature Center. Woodland Trail is a family favorite. It even has a swinging bridge! It also has a great overlook of the falls. Base of Fall Creek Falls Trail is a short trail and offers an amazing view of the waterfall—but can be a little slippery and steep for the little ones.
Edwin and Percy Warner Parks are what you are looking for if you just want a short drive or want to stay close to Nashville. They are fabulous for small children too because they offer playground and picnic areas in addition to trails where you can enjoy the changing leaves and cooler weather. These are also a good choice if you want to bring your pup along as well. Edwin Warner even has an off-leash bark park.
If you want to head a little further southwest of Nashville, Natchez Trace State Park is amazing. Our family hasn’t yet visited this park, but this is where we plan to be during peak foliage this year. Y’all, they even allow horses and wagons! How neat is that?! They also have boating, hiking, and fishing. Make sure you take the roads less traveled to visit this one. Back country roads usually offer the best viewing and eating you can find!
This is the last one my list, but I know there are so many more trails near Nashville. (Please feel free to post your favorites in comments!) These greenways are wonderful if you want to stay close to home (or work). They offer wonderful views of the Cumberland and Harpeth Rivers and the gorgeous foliage that surrounds it. Just check the website and pick a trail that suits you and your family.
A Few Tips for Your Hikes:
- Always be flexible. The unexpected is bound to happen, so don’t be married to a specific timeline or plan.
- If you know your kid might get edgy or fidgety, then bring along a distraction such as a scavenger hunt. I did this once with a paper bag; I wrote things like “heart shaped rock” and “feather” and “acorn” on the outside of the bag. The kids collected their items in the bag as we walked. For older kids, nature journaling is a lot of fun. Just scour Pinterest for amazing ideas!
- Bring more water than you think you will need—and have extra in the car.
- Bring plenty of snacks. (These sometimes fall into the distraction category—don’t judge!)
- Sunscreen and bug spray are a must.
- Probably my most important tip? (Ahem.) Pack toilet paper. I have given up my socks once. Lesson learned!
- Finally, do not forget your camera! Try to get posed shots early in the hike before they get granola crumbs stuck in their hair and dirt on their clothes—although sometimes those are the best shots! I have even given each of my daughters (who are tweens) a camera and have been wowed by what they discover through their camera lens!
- Remember to enjoy the time spent together. This is the only fall of 2016 you will get. Go outside, discover a new trail, climb a rock, spend a little extra time admiring the changing season. Enjoy the moment with the ones you love the most (squeezed in between football games of course)!