Best Outdoor Activities in Memphis

Going All Out(Side) In Memphis: The Best Spots To Explore

Memphis residents are truly fortunate; we enjoy outdoor activities almost year-round, thanks to our temperate weather. Whether it's hitting the links, the trails, or family-focused attractions, Memphis is a stellar choice for outdoor enthusiasts. Biking and hiking, of course, don't really have seasons, per se, and dedicated year-round athletic types enjoy plenty of smooth and scenic trails, from the Wolf River Greenway to the challenging trails at Shelby Farms. For families, the Farms is a must-hit, as is the Memphis Zoo, where you can talk to the animals and their keepers almost every day. When it comes to nature walks, there's no better bet than Lichterman Nature Center, while the spectacular gardens at the Dixon or Memphis Botanic Gardens are rich with splendor, color, and smell.  You can add a bit of history and lore into a visit at the Mud Island River Park, where a scale model of the Mississipi River entices kids and adults alike to dip their toes in the hot summer months. Whether Memphis has more than enough outdoor pursuits to satisfy serious athletes, dedicated joggers or just those of us who love a great picnic al fresco, our list will help you plan a great day outdoors in the Bluff City.


A 50-acre wonderland of history and exploration in rural northwest Tennessee is the best way to describe Discovery Park, the brainchild of a local philanthropist. Located in Union City - the county seat of the agricultural Obion County - Discovery Park features indoor and outdoor exhibits and areas to explore, including natural history and regional museum areas, scientific and transportation areas, and pioneer and agricultural areas. Uniting everything about the Discovery Park is one thing - hands-on exploration. 50,000 square feet of exhibits inside and 50 acres of park-like grounds outside provide literally hours of exploration - for kids and adults alike. The park is closed on Mondays with the exception of Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Discovery Park's massive grounds are the best choice for an all-day adventure outside the city.

Sally's expert tip: Those who live within an easy drive of Discovery Park will want to invest in the unlimited pass; at $25 for kids and $50 for adults, it's a screaming deal.

Read more about Discovery Park of America →

Dixon Gallery and Gardens
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Since 1976, this museum has housed a spectacular Impressionist collection including Degas, Monet and Pisarro, and the collection of art is rivaled only by the gorgeous gardens surrounding what was once one of Memphis' finest estates. The late Hugo and Margaret Dixon willed the house and grounds to the people of Memphis in order to establish this museum. The original Dixon collection included works by French and American Impressionists. Traveling exhibits are usually exquisite collections based on a certain theme or time period, and while small in scope are rich with offerings. Special concerts and picnic opportunities are offered from spring through fall in the gardens, many with no admission required.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Dixon is small but mighty in terms of its gardens, and offers solitude and beauty both inside and out.

Sally's expert tip: Tuesdays are pay what you can days, with visitors setting their own admission prices for entrance between 10 am and 2 pm.

Read more about Dixon Gallery and Gardens →

Taking advantage of an island that sprang up in the Mississippi in the early 20th century, this park offers a variety of attractions. Among them are the Mississippi River Museum, which tracks both the river's development and the culture and towns that grew up along its route. Along the island, the River Walk, a scale model of the Mississippi's path, allows visitors to follow the Big Muddy from its start in Minnesota to its final destination, the Gulf of Mexico. The flow of the model river mimics that of the real one. The Mud Island amphitheater attracts top names in music, a monorail offers fun overviews of the area, and bike and pedal boat rentals provide energetic folks the chance to venture further afield. Restaurants and gift shops are also available on the 52-acre island.

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Set on 65 acres in East Memphis, the Lichterman serves as an education center and escape from the city, with lake, meadow and forest; and the plants, birds, and animals associated with this biodiversity. A certified arboretum, Lichterman features a Backyard Wildlife Center with live animals and hands-on explorations; a beautiful boardwalk winds through the forest reaching heights of two stories for a canopy-height view of the woods. There's an underwater viewing area allowing a peek into the life of the lake, and an excellent visitors center with exhibits detailing the constant metamorphosis of the center's habitats. Three miles of accessible trails wind through the center, with plenty of places to rest or simply take in the natural beauty.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Lichternman's paths and exhibits are a great bet for family fun, especially when you need to entertain the kids.

Sally's expert tip: Check out a family discovery backpack at the visitor's center,which features the tools and gear needed for an in-depth exploration of the flora.

Read more about Lichterman Nature Center →

Memphis Botanic Garden
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With almost 100 acres of gardens set in the middle of East Memphis, there's something for any lover of the outdoors at MBG, including the serenity of a Japanese garden, a huge herb garden and a sensory garden. And there's 'My Big Backyard' - a children's garden / playground that's as popular with parents as it is with little ones. With a myriad of picnic tables and spaces, a natural play structure, a cabin, and plenty of colorful flowers and plants for children to discover, My Big Backyard has become an instant hit with families. And during the holiday season, some nights are extra-special, with a snow machine creating a winter wonderland, and hot chocolate served for all. During the spring and summer, a weekend concert series under the stars brings big names to the gardens, and concertgoers can pack picnic dinners and enjoy the music on the lawn.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Wandering through the gardens at MBG is a wonderful way to spend a day.

Sally's expert tip: Plan a visit for the afternoon of the 'Live at the Garden' performances in the summer; you will be treated to the sound check for that evening's band - a treat.

Read more about Memphis Botanic Garden →

Named for a courageous citizen who rescued 32 people when a steamer went down in the Mississippi in 1925, this park runs along the mighty river, and offers gorgeous views of the river and the city skyline. The park is home to a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including the Beale Street Music Festival in and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest - both key ingredients of the Memphis in May International Festival. When there's not a major festival, parking is available park-side, but the park is also an easy walk from downtown attractions. Wide pathways offer plenty of space for joggers and walkers, while the wide stretch of green space is perfect for a family game of Frisbee or simply relaxing in the sun.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Tom Lee Park is ground zero for all the big festivals in Memphis, but when there's no event, it's a wide, beautiful space to play.

Sally's expert tip: Grab a to-go meal and bring it to the park for a picnic.

Read more about Tom Lee Park →

Memphis Zoo

The Memphis Zoo is consistently rated one of the top zoos in the country, both for its breadth of exhibits in an easy-to-navigate layout, and for the sheer fact that one can get pretty close to the animals in almost every habitat. With giant pandas from China, a Teton ecosystem replete with grizzly bears and wolves, and a Northwest Passage habitat filled with polar bears and river otters, this is a top-notch zoo that will enchant both kids and their parents. During the winter, a skating tent and festive lights bring the holiday spirit to the zoo, and it is open for select evening visits.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: There's no better place than the Zoo to spend a day looking at the animals.

Sally's expert tip: The zoo offers free admission for Tennessee residents on Tuesday afternoons from 2 p.m. through close, from April through February.

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This low-lying park on Mud Island / in Harbor Town offers locals a chance to run, walk, bike or play with the dog right along the Mississippi Riverfront. With open green space, shade trees, and a view of the river and downtown that can't be beat, many folks come here on the weekend and simply set out a blanket or chairs, watching the world go by. The park's northernmost parking lot provides access to the Mississippi River via a boat ramp; nearby, Miss Cordelia's or Cafe Eclectic offer food and beverages to go for a picnic along the riverfront.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: We like Greenbelt Park for its simplicity; the views of the river and a wide green expanse makes for a perfect picnic spot.

Sally's expert tip: There are benches and water fountains scattered throughout the park, if you didn't bring your own chair, blanket or water bottle.

Read more about Greenbelt Park →

Wolf River Greenway runs through Memphis and Germantown, and is part of the longer Greater Memphis Greenline that will eventually connect Collierville to downtown Memphis. The Wolf runs along the Wold River, and includes a wide paved path for non-motorized activity. IN east Memphis, access to the greenway is off Walnut Grove Road and Humphreys Boulevard, across from Baptist Hopsital, or from Shady Grove Road / Shelby Farms Park via pedestrian bridge over the Wolf River. Restroom facilities are along the Humphreys Boulevard side of the greenway, and look for benches and other relaxation spaces throughout this well-designed section of the greenway.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The greenway winds through some of the prettiest urban scenery in town, and offers paved paths, benches and facilities for users.

Sally's expert tip: Dogs are allowed if on a leash.

Read more about Wolf River Greenway →

At five times larger than New York's Central Park, Shelby Farms is a recreational oasis at the far eastern reaches of the city, adjacent to the suburban communities of Germantown and Cordova. The farms are home to the national headquarters of Ducks Unlimited and offer hike and bike trails, paddle boats and fishing, trail rides and horseback lessons, and a shooting range. The Wolf River Greenway connects to Shelby Farms Greenline, creating a path from far east Memphis all the way to Midtown. Seasonal events at the Agricenter include a farmer's market and corn maze, and the on-site arena hosts dozens of equine events annually

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Shelby Farms is a gorgeous public space that's lovingly cared for, and its a fantastic respite from the city.

Sally's expert tip: Early morning is the best time at the park, when the dedicated runners and bikers are about the only folks out.

Read more about Shelby Farms Park →


Meet Sally Walker Davies

Sally Walker Davies is enchanted by Memphis' music, history, and characters. From the artsy South Main Historic District to the grittiness of her favorite live music clubs to the sophisticated...  More About Sally