Harpeth River State Park
While this park lies slightly outside of the city proper — it is about a 30-minute drive west from downtown — the moment that you arrive at Harpeth River State Park, you’ll understand why the extra commute was worth it. This park is unique for a number of reasons: firstly, it is a linear park that spans 40 miles along the Harpeth River. Additionally, it offers something for everyone, whether your ideal nature escape involves kayaking, canoeing, fly fishing, hiking, or picnicking. While the park’s sheer size makes it difficult to experience it all in one trip, first-time visitors should start at the Narrows of the Harpeth. From here, you can take the short walk down to the river and see the historic 100 yard tunnel — today recognized as an industrial landmark on the National Register of Historic Places — built by prominent Tennessee 19th-century businessman Montgomery Bell. You can then make the short climb up to the overlook that offers a sweeping panoramic view unlike any other in Nashville.
The first thing that you will notice about Radnor Lake is its stillness: gazing out at the lake under the canopy of densely-packed trees, it is easy to forget that you are mere miles away from the heart of downtown. In addition to a number of different hiking and walking trails, this 900-acre park is home to a wide variety of different plant and animal species — don’t be surprised if you see a deer or two amidst the trees during your walk. For its dedication to protecting, preserving, and promoting Radnor Lake and its surrounding land, the park even won the award for Tennessee Park of the Year in 2015. Those invested in the preservation of Radnor can volunteer for Friends of Radnor Lake by joining one of their once-monthly Volunteer Days, but you don’t need to volunteer to enjoy the majestic beauty of this park. Even if you have only a free afternoon, make your way down to Granny White Pike and take a daytime hike or leisurely stroll around the lake. In just twenty minutes, you can find respite from the bustle of the city.
Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood may be best known for its concentration of trendy, always-bustling restaurants and coffee shops, but head down 12th Avenue far enough, to where 12th becomes Granny White Pike, and you will find Sevier Park, one of the best green spaces in Nashville. This park offers two different playgrounds as well as covered picnic areas — making it the perfect destination for families — and the space itself is steeped in history. Atop the rolling green hills of the park sits a yellow Grecian-style home called ‘Sunnyside’; built in 1852 by Mary Childress Benton, this home once fell between Union and Confederate battle lines during the Battle of Nashville in 1864 and still exhibits marks of the damage incurred. (Today, Sunnyside is now home to the Metropolitan Historical Commission and Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission.) In addition, Sevier Park boasts a recently completed community center with a gymnasium, fitness center, and meeting space; the center also offers a variety of classes including ZUMBA and yoga.
Collectively, Edwin and Percy Warner Parks cover over 3,100 acres of land, making Warner Parks the largest municipally administered green space in Tennessee. Located just nine miles southwest of downtown Nashville, you could spend days exploring these parks and only scratch the surface of the natural beauty that they have to offer. Warner Parks is impressive in size and also offers a nearly-exhaustive array of activities — visitors to the park can take a free class hosted by the Warner Parks Nature Center, visit one of the park’s many historical landmarks (including a World War I memorial), hike across one of the 12 miles’ worth of trails, or even horseback ride on the 10 miles of riding trails (Warner Parks is currently one of only two Metro parks in Nashville with horseback riding trails, but note that you must bring your own horse). No matter what you choose to do, a visit to Warner Parks will remind you of just how calming and restorative time spent in nature can be.
In a city with as many great parks and green spaces as Nashville, it is nearly impossible to narrow them down to a ‘best of’ list. So if you’re looking for even more opportunities to align yourself with nature, be sure to check out: