It’s summertime in Nashville. An onslaught of tourists crowd downtown, flocking to the “It City” portrayed via network television soap opera and country-boy radio single.
The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau even offers out-of-towners a “Do What The Locals Do” vacation package, encouraging patronage at local establishments.
But there is an escape from the bustle, a collection of places and sites that can’t be found in a brochure on Broadway. The sound of this Music City doesn’t involve instruments or writers’ rounds, but still demands careful listening.
It’s the rustling of trees in the wind or the gentle sound of a paddle in water.
We set out to find spots within the city limits that offer a respite from city life. These places rarely see the crowds that can pack Radnor Lake or Centennial Park on the weekends. Oh, and there’s no cover charge or parking fee.
This is the other wild Nashville.
On a pretty day, the drive up Clarksville Highway to Joelton in northwest Davidson County is unrivaled. Nashvillians are mostly subjected to life in a valley, so a trip up into the lush hills feels like a getaway.
While other outlying areas of Nashville have experienced suburban boom, Joelton retains its rural charm through mom-and-pop restaurant Big Mama’s Kitchen and, of course, Marrowbone Lake.
The lake, which is hidden at the end of several curvy country roads, is a great place for folks to cast a line in the water. In fact, that’s about all visitors are permitted to do.
Marrowbone Lake is operated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, so fishing licenses are available on-site in a convenient bait-and-tackle shop. Land dwellers can fish from the banks with a $5 day-only fishing license.
The TWRA also rents out small boats on Marrowbone Lake for $8 a day. If you want a trolling motor ($20) or swivel seats ($7), the cost could go up. But the price is still reasonable for a small group outing.
The lake has a variety of fish for catching, including bluegills (rumor has it that a recent fishing trip hauled in 160 in one day), catfish, trout, bass and crappie.
Experienced fisherman can enter the yearlong Marrowbone Lake Tournament that takes place every other Sunday. Top point winners from those tournaments meet in November for a fish-off that comes with cash prizes.
Marrowbone Lake used to be a creek until a point was dammed more than 80 years ago. The dam also created a smaller lake next to Marrowbone, which used to be owned by Lee Swain’s grandfather. Swain has a portrait of Marrowbone Lake hanging over the doorway at his family-owned hardware store on Joelton’s main strip. He told The City Paper that the smaller lake used to be named Ray’s Lake, after his grandfather. Like Hidden Lake, the smaller lake was once home to a resort, from the 1940s to the 1960s, hosting World War II veterans from Fort Campbell, among others.
That portion of the lake is now private property.
Location: Marrowbone Lake Road in Joelton. Follow the brown and yellow signs off Clarksville Highway.
Best activities: Fishing, boating.
What to do nearby: Big Mama’s Kitchen, which is located just off Clarksville Highway, serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday — which makes for a great stop before or after fishing. The restaurant offers a traditional meat-and-three option during lunchtime. Don’t forget a piece of pie to go. On the way back south on Clarksville Highway, you’ll pass the tourist destination Fontanel Mansion (Barbara Mandrell’s former home, with a restaurant and amphitheatre), which can easily accessed by taking a left on Lloyd Road and a right on Whites Creek Pike.
The most popular spots on Percy Priest Lake tend to be public access areas with boat drop-offs, swimming and faux beaches. But the best spot for a lake getaway is the Day Loop Trail at Long Hunter State Park, which is tucked just inside the Davidson County line in southeast Nashville.
The tranquil four-mile hike displays the best of forestry, foliage and views of Percy Priest Lake. For the first two miles of the hike, the lake can be seen through the trees. One of the highlights of the Day Loop Trail is a lone bench that sits on the river.
The trail then winds up to a series of bluffs overlooking the lake from new angles.
Unlike most parks in Nashville, Long Hunter State Park offers several camping areas, including one at the end of the Volunteer Trail, which extends from the Day Loop Trail. In all, the hike to the campgrounds is roughly six miles. Campers need to notify the park office of any overnight stays.
In addition to the Day Loop Trail, the nearby Couchville Cedar Glade State Natural Area provides spectacular views of rare flowers, including the endangered Tennessee coneflower. The natural area is off of South Mt. Juliet Road.
Long Hunter State Park gets its name from “long hunts” that American settlers used to take into western territories in the 18th century. The products from the long hunts were traded with Native Americans in the area around Percy Priest Lake, according to Tennessee Conservationist magazine.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the large J. Percy Priest Dam in the 1960s, former small towns were eventually engulfed by the lake. The reservoir covered more than 14,000 acres. The Corps of Engineers leased 2,400 acres of land to the state in 1972 for development and management by the state parks system.
Activities: Hiking, camping
What to do nearby: If you want to couple nature with consumerism, Long Hunter State Park may be a good option. The quickest way to reach Long Hunter State Park from downtown Nashville is to take I-40 east to Mt. Juliet Road. The exit takes you to Providence Place, which has an array of big-box stores and restaurants. If you travel on I-24, the exit for Long Hunter State Park is only one exit away from the new Global Crossings Mall (formerly Hickory Hollow).
Hidden Lakes State Park, officially part of the Harpeth River State Park system, offers unique history in addition to natural beauty and is just barely within the border of Davidson County.
The trail to reach Hidden Lake starts at a gravel lot and winds through a dry field before reaching the woods. The trail features a few creeks that flow into the nearby Harpeth River. The unique lake isn’t apparent until you follow a mildly steep trail up a rock bluff and see it through the trees.
Hidden Lake was formed by a quarry before being converted into a resort in the 1920s. A small board at the park entrance displays an old newspaper article and advertisement about the attraction. Folks would dine, drink and dance while listening to music at the resort, perched above the lake. The marble dance floor is still intact, allowing visitors to re-create the Charleston on their hike.
Hikers can also find stone stairs on the trail, leading a steep walk down to the lake. Look for flat pebbles along the way, so you can try skipping rocks on the lake.
The lake itself, excavated as a stone quarry, was used as a giant swimming pool during the resort days. The resort facility burned down in the 1930s, and the property was vacant for many years. The state purchased the land, along with nearby acreage for the Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, in 1992.
Location: Off McCrory Lane near the intersection with Charlotte Pike in western Davidson County.
Best activities: hiking, rock-skipping.
What to do nearby: After a visit to the lakes, continue west on Charlotte Pike to the small towns of Pegram (in Cheatham County) and White Bluff (in Dickson County). Pegram has a park with a playground, along with a red caboose and information about the railroad that cuts through town. White Bluff, which is about 11 miles down Highway 70, is home to Carl’s Perfect Pig, which was once named one of the 10 best barbecue restaurants in the U.S. by the Wall Street Journal.
The land that makes up Beaman Park encompasses more than 1,500 acres on the Highland Rim, just 13 miles north of downtown Nashville. The area is hilly and vast, providing trails for hikers of all skill levels.
A 0.6-mile walk from the nature center leads to a two-mile hike on the Henry Hollow Loop. When hikers reach the ridgeline, there is the option to continue along on the one-way 2.1 mile Ridgetop Trail, which could potentially add another 4.2 miles to the hike. However, a “short-cut” trail creates a shorter loop that connects back up with the Henry Hollow trail.
While the ridge provides excellent views, the hollow portion of the trail allows for a more up-close experience with nature. The gently flowing Henry Creek provides a peaceful setting. Rock bluffs provide a few nooks for (careful) climbing.
It’s best to save some energy for the end of the trip, as the climb back up the trail to the nature center is steep.
Metro Parks has incorporated Beaman Park into a number of educational programs. Scheduled programs include old-time bluegrass jams, family hike nights and even a presentation about the history of illegal liquor called “Moonshine, White Lightning, Hooch and Mountain Dew.” The porch of the nature center is popular for yoga — and Metro Parks holds several classes a month for $8 each.
The land that Beaman Park sits on was once owned by a group of doctors who used it as a private hunting ground. The land was purchased with the help of a donation from Sally Beaman in 1996. The park was named after her husband, Alvin G. Beaman, who served on the Metro Parks board from 1955 to 1963.
The park expanded in 2007 when Mary O’Neil and Catherine Grose donated the nearby Proctor Family Farm.
Earlier this year, Beaman Park was officially designated as a state natural area due to its unique plant species and wildlife. The only other such area in the Metro Parks system is Hill Forest State Natural Area near the Warner Parks.
Location: Take a right at the Scottsboro gas station on Ashland City Highway; Beaman Park is on the left off Old Hickory Boulevard.
Best activities: Hiking, yoga
What to do nearby: The Lewis Country Store, at the intersection of Old Hickory Boulevard and Ashland City Highway, is more than your typical gas stop. The store serves up fresh food, including sandwiches, and has an array of local history items in the dining area. Bells Bend Park, which is south on Old Hickory Boulevard, provides more outdoors options.
Peeler Park is easily Metro’s most versatile park. At first glance, the paved greenway looks pedestrian (pun intended), but the park has a lot to offer.
This is the most family-friendly park on our list. While you could work up a sweat walking up and down the valleys, Peeler Park is has smooth, paved paths that are handicap-friendly. The 1.9-mile paved path follows along the banks of the Cumberland River. Walkers and cyclists are blocked from the river by brush and trees, but several small paths along the trail lead out to river overlooks.
A boardwalk toward the end of the trail along a loop leads over wetlands and flood plains.
The equestrian trailhead is located just before Overton Road, prior to reaching the end of Neely’s Bend Road, where the pedestrian entrance is located. For safety, hikers are urged to stay off the equestrian trail, but there is an additional mile of primitive trail located off the paved greenway.
Need a new hobby for the summer? Peeler Park provides one of the area’s few remote-control plane airfields. (Edwin Warner Park has one, too.)
A boat ramp is also available near the main trailhead for easy access to water activities on the Cumberland River.
Euston N. Peeler owned most of the acreage where Peeler Park is now located. The land was previously home to dairy cows and row crops, according to Metro Parks. A small portion of the park was once the site of the Sun Valley Swim Club.
The property was held in trust for future development for more than 30 years before finally opening to the public in 2007.
According to signage at the park, “the old swim club buildings, long vacant, will be reused in the future for nature programming and maintenance operations.”
Location: At the end of Neely’s Bend Road.
Activities: Walking, biking, equestrian trails, boating, model airplane flying.
What to do nearby: A visit to the Amqui Train Station’s platform in Madison could provide a good setting for a picnic or shaded relaxation.