words: Marla Cantrell
images: Courtesy Shelby Farms Park
Shelby Farms Park sits in the center of Memphis, Tennessee, covers 4,500 acres, and is one of the largest urban parks in the nation. It doesn’t cost a dime to enter the park (though some activities inside do cost), is open from sunrise to sunset, and is a sustainable property, meaning they do things like use recycled materials to build their facilities. More than one million people visit each year, making it a must-see tourist destination. If you’re having a hard time visualizing just how big it is, consider this: You could replicate Central Park seven times over within this space. There are twenty-three lakes, forty miles of trails, a world-class playground, 200 species of birds, and wildlife galore, including minks, muskrats, foxes, beavers, and deer. There is also horseback riding and a fifty-acre pasture where buffalo roam.
Since Memphis is just under five hours from Fort Smith, Arkansas, it’s a relatively easy drive, and this place has something for everyone in the family.
IN THE AIR
Go Ape Treetop Adventure
If you’re ten or older, Go Ape Adventure could be just the ticket. Visitors can zip, swing and climb through the trees. The course borders Pine Lake, and is set within a pine forest. Equipment includes harnesses, pulleys and carabiners. There’s a thirty minute safety training before you’re allowed on the course.
According to the website, instructors are always on hand, regularly patrolling the forest. The course is made up of six individual sections, each section taking you higher into the forest. There are more than forty crossings/obstacles which include rope ladders, net bridges, Tarzan swings and six zip lines.
It takes approximately two to three hours to complete; however, there is no time limit, as long as everyone is off the course before the sun sets.
Book in advance to make sure you have a spot.
Ages 16 and older: $57 (plus tax)
Children ages 10-15: $37 (plus tax) Children must be supervised by a participating adult. An adult can supervise two children.
Other course requirements: Minimum height of 4’7” and maximum weight of 285 lbs (subject to a harness fit).
Hours of Operation (weather permitting):
June – August | Open 7 days per week | 9:30am – 3:30pm
September – October | Saturday-Sunday | 9:30am – 3:30pm
March – May | Saturday-Sunday | 9:30am – 3:30pm
ON THE GROUND
Woodland Park Playground
Before this section of the park was constructed, local children were asked to describe their dream playground. The designer took notes and came up with an area that delights visitors. There are slides and sand, green spaces, and arbors that look like sculptures. It is also an example of innovative green design. The National Guard donated old boots that were ground up and recycled for the surface of the tree house mat. In other areas of the playground, the surfaces are made from old, ground-up Nike® tennis shoes. These make for softer landings for little feet.
There are six play areas, called “nests,” which are age-specific, a winding steel arbor planted with flowering vines and willow trees, innovative play structures, a giant net and tree house climbing structure. Kids can slide, swing, climb, make noise and build sandcastles.
If all that playtime makes you hungry, there’s a food truck, serving healthy choices. (The Woodland Playground is next to the Go Ape Adventure Course and paddle boating/canoeing on Pine Lake, so visitors in each of these areas are close to this food option.)
For kids 12 and under. Opens at 9 AM, closes 1 hour before sunset.
Take a guided one-hour tour through the park on horseback. You’ll need to arrive fifteen to twenty minutes early, and you’ll need to call ahead to reserve your spot. Rides begin at 9:00 AM and end with the last group, which departs at 4:00 PM.
Ages 8 and older (Anyone under the age of 18 must have a waiver signed on premises by a parent or legal guardian. Persons under the age of 16 must wear a riding helmet.)
Weight limit: 250 lbs
$30 per person: cash only
Outback Dog Park
There are trails, lakes and ponds, and your dog can run free in this part of the park. Just remember that in all other areas of the park and on the Greenline, your dogs must be on a leash. You’ll see bikers, hikers, horses and runners. The Outback features a water fountain with a doggie bowl and a dog wash station.
There are forty miles of trails, and there are street and mountain bikes are available to rent. Here are three popular routes:
Chickasaw – 2.75 miles
This path meanders through pine and hardwood forest areas, past three lakes, and through the Woodland Discovery Playground. Walkers, joggers, cyclists and inline skaters are allowed on the Chickasaw Trail.
Shelby Farms Greenline – 6.7 miles
This route takes you to High Point Terrace. There, you will find High Point Pizza at High Point Pub, 477 High Point Terrace, thehighpointpub.com. The pub has been around since 1947, and offers shuffleboard and fifty-seven kinds of beer.
Cheffie’s Restaurant, 483 High Point Terrace, cheffies.com, is a farm-to-fork diner, featuring dishes like the Cuban Chicken Sandwich and Nicoise Salad, with mixed greens, lemony tuna salad, kalamata olives, hard boiled eggs, and cherry tomatoes.
Finally, at the end of the Shelby Farms Greenline, you’ll find Republic Coffee, 2924 Walnut Grove Road, republiccoffeememphis.com, where you can get breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. One of their specialties is their all-day breakfast platters, which include cheese grits or hash brown casserole. Try the Allentown, three scrambled eggs with toasted red peppers, spinach, mushrooms, and two slices of smoked bacon.
Tour de Wolf Trail – 5.79 miles
This loop travels through the northeast portion of the park and is an excellent trail for hiking, running and mountain biking. This route takes you by the Outback, a 120-acre off-leash dog park, the largest in the nation. If you bring your dogs, they’ll be able to romp to their hearts’ content.
Mon-Fri: noon – last bike rented at 5 PM
Sat/Sun: 8 AM – last bike rented at 5 PM
More Info: 901.493.4799
If you forget to bring your equipment, you can buy discs at the Boathouse on Pine Lake near the Woodland Discovery Playground. You can also pick up score sheets and maps of the course, or buy refreshments. This is an eighteen-hole course.
ON THE WATER
Shelby Farms Park offers paddle boating, kayaking and canoeing. You can even try stand-up paddle boating during the summer months. Pine Lake is a fifteen-acre scenic lake.
Tuesday – Friday: 1:00 PM – last boat rented at 6:00 PM
Saturday: Noon – last boat rented at 6:00 PM
Sunday: 1 PM – last boat rented at 6:00 PM
Subject to weather conditions. Call 901.219.4831 for more info.
All twenty-three lakes offer fishing. You’ll need a Tennessee fishing license, but those are readily available at Walmart or Bass Pro Shops. You’ll find catfish, stripers, crappie, brim, and large and small-mouthed bass in the lakes at Shelby Farms Park.
Striped Bass: limit 2, minimum length 18 inches
All other Bass: limit 5, minimum length 14 inches
Catfish: limit 5, minimum length 12 inches
A few tips before you set out on your trip:
Take a change of clothes for everyone in your party, and towels, since you’ll be playing out of doors. You can also pack a picnic if you’d like. Finally, the park does get busier on the weekends, so if that’s a concern, plan your trip for a weekday. Enjoy!