The Ultimate Outdoor Guide to Memphis

Home of blues, soul and rock n’ roll, Memphis is a southern destination known for its live music scene and delicious BBQ. But right around the corner from all of the sites and sounds are amazing urban outdoor gems. Get lost in the Hosta, meet pandas and a herd of buffalo, cross a river that spans states and take a walk in one of the largest urban parks in the country. These are the top outdoor adventures in Memphis.

Memphis Botanic Garden

Memphis Botanic Garden.
Memphis Botanic Garden. Photo credit: Andrea Zucker.

It’s easy to spend hours wandering the 96-acres at Memphis Botanic Gardens. With 31 specialty gardens, there’s a piece of nature for everyone. Highlights include the Hosta Trail – one of only two trails in the south with a certified Hosta collection – the Iris Garden and the Conifer Garden, where a large Weeping Atlas Cedar is an eye-catching favorite.

Overton Park

This is where Memphis goes to connect with nature. Overton Park boasts 342 acres of public space with trails for biking and walking, peaceful formal gardens, a 126-acre Old Forest State Natural Area, playgrounds, a dog park and a golf course. And with its location next to the Memphis Zoo, the park is the perfect launch point for a full day in nature.

Memphis Zoo

Memphis Zoo.
Memphis Zoo. Photo credit: Troy Glasgow.

Memphis Zoo is sure to bring out your wild side. Around 4,500 animals call the zoo home. Among them are many “must-sees,” including giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le (one of only three places in the U.S. to see these gentle giants), cheeky meerkats and fascinating porcupine puffer fish. Top off the zoo day by hand-feeding a giraffe or taking a camel ride. It’s a wild time you won’t soon forget.

Big River Crossing

Big River Crossing.
Big River Crossing. Photo credit: Craig Thompson.

There’s almost nowhere better to go for iconic views of the river and Downtown Memphis’ skyline. The walk over the Mississippi River on the Big River Crossing bridge is surprisingly serene. Boats drift underneath the bridge and trains pass along in the distance. The bridge connects two states – Tennessee and Arkansas – going from Memphis’s vibrant urban culture to rolling flood plains and farmland in Arkansas. Serious cyclists can take on the Big River Trail – more than 70 miles of riverside trails traversing the Mississippi’s levee system.   

Shelby Farms Park

Shelby Farms.
Shelby Farms. Photo credit: Allen Gillespie.

When we say Shelby Farms Park is big, we mean BIG. At a whopping 4,500 acres, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the country (for context, that’s five times the size of New York City’s Central Park!) The park is famous for its buffalo herd (yes, a full herd) and a whole plethora of family-friendly activities. Zip line at Go Ape Treetop Adventure, rent kayaks and paddle one of the lakes, take a horseback tour of the area and so much more.  

On the River

Kayaking the Mississippi River.
Kayaking the Mississippi River. Photo credit: Logan Young.

The Mississippi River might be the most prominent natural feature of Memphis, providing commerce, natural beauty and fun times. River adventurers can rent a kayak or canoe and take a guided tour complete with a picnic stop. Or, hang riverside at Mud Island River Park. Grab a hammock for relaxing riverfront views, let Fido enjoy the dog park and be blown away by the Mississippi’s size after seeing (or playing in) the scale replica of the Lower Mississippi River, which passes through six states and ends in a million-gallon pool that represents the Gulf of Mexico.

BBQ with a View

BBQ Nachos.
BBQ Nachos. Photo credit: Alex Shansky.

As the official cuisine of Memphis, BBQ is a big deal and the city boasts over 100 BBQ joints to choose from. Lucky for us, many of those BBQ spots sport patio seating for a potent one-two punch of intense tastes and city views. For classic Memphis flavor, try Central BBQ. Their pulled pork sandwiches and barbecue nachos are perennial hits and you’ll know why their BBQ sauce is award winning after your first bite. If you make it beyond BBQ (and we wouldn’t blame you if you don’t), there are hundreds of patio spots serving up everything from artisan tacos to fine dining to local craft beer.

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Photo credit: Allen Gillespie.

Ok, this location isn’t actually outdoors, but the indoor cypress swamp and 32-story observation deck certainly don’t feel like being indoors. At Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, spot alligators, fish and waterfowl in the cypress swamp and live duck aviary. The Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center takes a deep dive into ducks with some of the world’s highest quality artifacts. And if you find yourself looking for more to do, there’s always the rows and rows of outdoor gear to peruse. Outdoor enthusiast to first timer – there’s definitely a little something for everyone.


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