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Outdoor Interests: It’s Easy to Get Out and About in Nashville

You don’t have to go far to get away from it all in the Nashville Region.

By Cary Estes on September 27, 2021

People walking on a greenway in Nashville TN
Jeff Adkins

Getting away from the hustle and bustle of Nashville doesn’t mean you have to get away from Nashville.

Residents of the region have numerous ways to enjoy an active (or relaxing) outdoor lifestyle, and many of the favorite options are located within a short drive of downtown.

There are more than 10,000 acres of parkland just within the city limits, providing hiking, running, and cycling opportunities. Boaters flock to Percy Priest Lake, and the Duck River and the Harpeth River are favorites for kayakers and canoers. And scenic relaxation is available at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens and Radnor LakeState Park, both of which are less than 10 miles from downtown Nashville.

“Nashville is a beautiful city, with all these green rolling hills,” Cheekwood President and CEO Jane MacLeod says. “And there is something about beauty that just soothes the soul.”

The region has embraced the creation of trails, greenways and open spaces. More than 300 miles of trails spread throughout the area, with many of them connecting to such major water corridors as the Cumberland River and Stones River.

10,000+ acres

of parkland within Nashville city limits

In addition, a 23-mile urban greenway loop system encircling Nashville is under development (nearly 10 miles have been completed). The Parks and Greenways Master Plan recommended an ambitious goal of creating a greenway within a walkable half-mile of every community in the urban core.

“Nashville has so many green spaces, and the city has worked very hard to connect them,” says Tina Corkum, director of the Friends of Radnor Lake organization. “There are green spaces throughout the entire community that people who live here enjoy on a daily basis.”

Cheek Mansion at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville
Jeff Adkins

A Gorgeous Garden

One of the best places to soak up outdoor grandeur is at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, a 55-acre botanical garden located adjacent to the 3,100-acre Warner Parks. In 2019, Cheekwood was named one of the Top 10 Best Botanical Gardens in a USA Today readers’ poll.

“Our vistas are unmarred by any development,” MacLeod says. “You feel like you are far out in the country and removed from the business of everyday living.”

120 species of trees

are housed at Cheekwood’s arboretum

The centerpiece of Cheekwood is the 30,000-square-foot Cheek Mansion that was built around 1930 and sits atop a picturesque hill. The mansion now houses an art museum, with impressive works such as the largest collection of William Edmondson sculptures and paintings by Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth.

Surrounding it are 12 gardens (each with a different theme), an arboretum with 120 species of trees, and a partially paved 1.5-mile sculpture trail that is illuminated for night viewing on select Thursdays.

“We recently opened a 2-acre children’s garden with a turtle pond, a labyrinth, a wishing well, a tunnel and water features,” MacLeod says. “It’s every child’s dream, and by that, I mean kids ages 1 to 101 because adults love it, as well.”

Cheekwood also offers educational programs and camps, including a new Wellness 360 initiative that provides outdoor yoga classes and meditation.

“Every season of the year, there is something beautiful to see and do at Cheekwood,” MacLeod says. “It’s a respite for your body, mind and soul.”

People Kayaking in Nashville TN
Josh Ness

A Great Lake

Another jewel of the Nashville Region is the 1,368-acre Radnor Lake State Park, a protected Class II Natural Area with nearly 8 miles of trails and more being developed.

Like Cheekwood, Radnor is located just outside the sights and sounds of the city (not far from the Nashville Zoo), but it feels farther away.

People boarding a sailboat in Nashville TN
Jeff Adkins

“Radnor Lake provides a place where people can connect with nature, Corkum says. “They can view things here that they can’t see anywhere else in the city, like a great blue heron flying across the lake or eagles sitting on a branch. It gives you a sense of nature that you just can’t experience while driving through the city.”

Deer and wild turkeys are in abundance at Radnor Lake, and Corkum says the number of different species of birds “is astounding.” And that doesn’t include seven birds of prey at the park’s Aviary Education Center.

300+ miles

of walking, biking and hiking trails in Nashville

Radnor Lake also has started a native grassland initiative to create a habitat for ground-nesting birds and monarch butterflies.

“We have significantly increased the presence of monarch butterflies at Radnor Lake,” Corkum says. “On a summer afternoon, you’ll see 100 of them at one time. It’s an amazing sight. When you see that, you completely forget you’re just 8 miles from the middle of the city.”

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