With the glory of four seasons, adventure sports are a perfect fit for the middle Tennessee. Granted, we don’t have a beach and it’s a bit of a drive to the mountains but there’s a lot to love when you get outdoors.
CLIMBING, BOULDERING & ZIPLINES
Technically Climb Nashville offers indoor adventures based on outdoor adventures. Two massive facilities await to challenge your skills. At the West facility, it’s all about climbing; if you’re into bouldering, head to the East operation. You don’t have to have experience to give it a go but kids under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Those under 18 must have a waiver signed by a legal guardian.
Technically it’s part of Nashville Shores but you can visit it without paying for the waterpark. It tests your nerves with multiple high elements (top photo provided by Treetop) and sends you flying through the trees on ziplines. Top and side photos courtesy of Treetop.
Take to the sky at its two locations. Fontanel , at the former home of Barbara Mandrell, offers a series of ziplines and Kingston Springs/West Nashville offers both ziplines and an obstacle course that incorporates high elements. The minimum age for ziplines is 8 years old; for the high elements course, it’s 12.
Just opened in Summer 2018, the park offers 14 ziplines, climbing walls, obstacles and challenge bridges. It’s located on the grounds of Gordon Jewish Community Center in West Nashville between Belle Meade and Bellevue.
When you look at this place, it probably inspires one of two disparate thoughts: 1) I wanna do THAT or 2) Ain’t NO way I’m doing that. With a variety of challenges oTn each of three levels, there’s plenty to get your adrenalin pumpin’. If you prefer to remain more grounded, they also offer miniature golf. It right off I-65 at the Hwy 96/Franklin exit.
PADDLEBOARDING & KAYAKING
You’ll find paddleboards afloat on the Cumberland River near downtown as well as on the Harpeth River, Percy Priest Lake and Stone’s River.
Climb aboard for a one-, two- or four-hour kayak self-guided excursion with views of both nature and the Nashville skyline. Be warned: ya gotta paddle ’cause this ain’t no Disney ride. It is, however, Nashville from a perspective even most locals have never seen. Children under 7 are not allowed; those 7-10 years old must travel in a tandem kayak with a supervising adult.
Accompanied by a guide with a cooler of beverages in tow, your tour from Shelby Park to downtown Nashville takes 1.5-2 hrs. All ages welcome. Groups as well as bachelor and bachelorette parts can book a private session. Maximum of 15 participants for each trip.
Three self-guided tours are offered. The most popular, the Skyline Tour begins with a meet-up at Cumberland Park adjacent to the Pedestrian Bridge. You catch their shuttle to Shelby Park for put-in and paddle your way back to the park. Simple and serene. They also have a limited number of launches weekly on the Stones River.
Located at Rock Harbor Marina on the Cumberland River west of downtown, they’ll rent you a paddleboard, kayak or tandem kayak. Want more structure? They’re big into fitness classes offering personal training, paddleboard yoga or “boot camp”-style high-intensity paddleboard programs.
If you’ve never paddleboarded, it’s recommended that you enroll in their class before heading out on your own. Options include 60- and 90-minute rentals of boards and kayaks, tandem kayaks, paddleboard yoga classes and you can bring your pup along for the ride for an additional $5 fee. Discount for online registration. Located on Percy Priest Lake, east of downtown.
You can paddle on Stones River and the Duck River but most local folks choose the Harpeth. It’s a bit closer to Nashville than the others, offering a pretty tame current–although a few places are a little tricky. Here’s a map to all access points of local rivers.
The grandaddy of outfitters, I took my first float on the Harpeth with them more than 30 years ago. Make your reservation online to save 20%. They also offer kayaks for rent.
Across the street from Tip-A-Canoe, same song, second verse.
Family-owned and operated. Choose from trips ranging from 2.0-9.2 miles.
Just a couple of miles closer than the others, they offer trips that’ll take you as far as Montgomery Bell State Park.
The only outfitter covering the portion of the Harpeth that runs through Franklin, TN. It’s a good choice if you’re staying near or visiting the town.
Imagine a jet-powered board that lets you soar above the surface of the lake, maybe even turn a flip if you’ve got what it takes. That’s what this company offers the intrepid. Not surprisingly, they offer instruction before they let you blast off. They operate from several area lakes including Old Hickory, Percy Priest and Center Hill.
Don’t like the idea of a hoverboard? These folks will keep you on the water aboard a self-propelled board. It’s like waterskiing–except there’s only one wide ski and no boat. Check out their website to see how they roll…er, surf.
Want to rent a jetski, pontoon boat or ski boat? These folks stand ready to launch you on Old Hickory Lake or Percy Priest Lake.
Safe Harbor Marina
Actually it’s two marinas that share the name: Elm Hill Marina on Percy Priest Lake and Blue Turtle Bay on Old Hickory Lake. Both rent pontoon boats in four- or eight-hour blocks. Tip: Sam’s Sports Bar has surprisingly good food. At either location, please be smart enough to be sober on the water.
Fun fact: Tennessee has more than 10,000 documented caves–20% of all known caves in the U.S. and more than any other state. But we haven’t gotten very commercial about it. Here are those closest to Nashville:
(Adams, TN) The allure here is the haunted history of the Bell farm but the cave was the setting for some of the reported supernatural events.
(McMinnville, TN) Walking tours as well as real-deal spelunking tours. Want to score cool points with your kids or friends? They offer the option of overnight camping in the cave.
(Clarksville) Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy. Children must be 5+ to registration. The tour groups are small so early registration is a good idea.
(Chattanooga) They’re all about wild caving here so you need to be in relatively good shape. You should be prepared to crawl, climb over and under and such. Caving equipment is provided.
(Cave City, KY) More than a dozen tours available ranging from walking tours to belly crawls. One tour is wheelchair-accessible; services for the hearing impaired available with advance notice.
(Park City, KY) One-hour guided tours. Pathways are not handicapped-accessible but handrails are provided where helpful.
(Horse Cave, KY) The standard historic tour is one hour but you can get grubby on tours lasting from two to five hours; advance reservations are required for the grungier treks There’s also a museum, a zipline and rappelling.
(Bowling Green, KY) Kentucky’s only underground boat tour. Sturdy shoes are recommended for your hike to the cave. They also offer a pair of ziplines for your above-ground enjoyment.
Whitewater rafting. If you’re looking for something with a little more adrenalin, try rafting the Ocoee near Cleveland, TN. With Class 3 and 4 rapids, it’s challenging without making you fear for your life. Many of the outfitters have expanded beyond rafts to offer kayak, ropes courses, zip lines and lodging.
The outfitter I know best, they’ve been getting people soaking wet since 1977. They run a tight ship and the guides on the trips I’ve taken have always been pleasant. A few have also been pretty funny.
There are more than a dozen operations offering rafting and I can’t offer any personal recommendations but this list will give you some contact points.
- Ocoee Rafting
- Outland Expeditions
- Ocoee Adventure Center
- Nanthahala Outdoor Center
- Cherokee Rafting
- Ocoee Inn Rafting
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