With so many summer events canceled and countless attractions closed or limiting offerings, you may fear there is nothing to do this summer.
But I’ve been working hard to come up with a list of affordable seasonal fun that will prove you wrong.
The Ms. Cheap Guide to Summer is a little different this year, but there are still plenty of free and affordable things to do, like hikes and walks, biking opportunities, free fishing, summer reading, DIY tours, history outings, virtual experiences and some water fun, too.
I hope my guide will help you make the best of your summer days. And whatever you do, please be sure to comply with the “Tennessee Pledge” guidelines about masks and social distancing.
Take a hike
Middle Tennessee is blessed with hundreds of hiking options through its state and local parks. Just go to tnstateparks.com and click “Find a park.” Check local parks, too (nashville.gov/parks). If you want to hike in a group, there are free hiking “meetup” events at meetup.com/nashville-hiking where you can find day and night hikes, as well as paddling opportunities and volunteer events. It is free to join.
Check out a drive-in movie
With many traditional movie theaters still closed, there are a couple of places to see a movie and step back in time with the drive-in experience. Area drive-in move theaters that are open include the Moonlite Drive-In in Woodbury and Stardust Drive-In in Watertown.
Concert In Your Car: Is drive-in music headed to Nashville?
The Franklin Family Entertainment Center in has free games of bowling for kids ages 18 and younger all summer through its “IncredaBOWL” program.
The program where children can sign up to bowl two free games every day at participating alleys should be up and running in Nashville later in the summer.
Hands On Nashville offers an easy way for anyone to get involved. It pairs volunteers of all ages with projects in all segments of the community. Volunteer opportunities are limited to groups of 10 or less.
Details: hon.org or 615-298-1108
Walk or bike the greenways
Nashville has almost 100 miles of greenway trails for walkers, joggers and bikers.
The Shelby Bottoms Greenway, part of which is along the Cumberland River, connects to the Stones River Greenway’s Percy Priest Trailhead. Richland Creek Greenway offers several bridges over Richland Creek, as well as multiple views of the McCabe Golf Course. The MetroCenter Levee Greenway hugs the Cumberland River and offers great river views.
There has been a heightened interest in biking from families and individuals for its natural social distancing. For good routes, see walkbikenashville.org or greenwaysfornashville.org for printed or online maps, or download NashGR for free on your smartphone for a pocket version of Nashville’s Greenway Trail System.
Murfreesboro’s 13-mile greenway system includes Lytle Creek Greenway and the Stones River Greenway, which goes by Cannonsburgh Village and the Stones River National Battlefield.
Details: murfreesborotn.gov/185/Greenways-Wetlands or 615-893-2141
Explore on your own at one of the four Metro Parks nature centers: Warner Park, Shelby Bottoms, Bells Bend and Beaman Park. The centers are closed, but hiking trails and creeks are open and ready for you to make your own adventure.
The staff is offering an array of ideas and activities through creative posts on the center’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. They’ve shared everything from a ghost story telling and a how-to on tying knots to snake identification photos and campfire snack recipes.
Take your own walking tour
For a downtown tour, start with a stroll across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, which offers a spectacular view of the city (and a good photo op) and an up-close look at the Cumberland River.
Take a virtual tour
With many attractions closed or partially open due to policies surrounding COVID-19, almost every local and national attraction is now offering virtual experiences: storytimes and puppet shows from the library, virtual tours of the latest exhibits at the Frist Art Museum and The Hermitage, interactive experiences at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Adventure Science Center, virtual concerts featuring the Nashville Symphony, webcams at the Nashville Zoo and more. A great resource is the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp’s roundup at visitmusiccity.com/covid-19/virtual-nashville-experiences.
If you are interested in history, the Metro Historical Commission has 21 Nashville history tours that you can enjoy from home on nashvillesites.org.
Get in, or on, the water
State park beaches at Montgomery Bell in Burns (615-797-9052), Rock Island (931-686-2471) and Long Hunter State Park (in the Bryant’s Grove area of the park) near Hermitage/Mt. Juliet (615-885-2422) all have swimming beaches that are free and will be open to the public this summer with CDC-recommended social distancing protocols which encourage groups not to gather with more than 10 people.
If you want to get on the water, you could rent a 24-foot pontoon (anywhere from $285 for a weekday half day to $360 for a full day from Elm Hill Boat Rentals) and spend some time on Percy Priest Lake.
You could also rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboards for $22 an hour at Cap’n Dave’s Water Sports at Percy Priest Lake. Canoe and kayak rental outfitters, like Foggy Bottom and Tip-A-Canoe on the Harpeth River, have reopened with limited group outings by reservation.
Free fishing week is June 6-13, where anyone 15 or younger can fish without a license for free on any public lake. Free fishing day for all ages, no license required, is June 6.
Libraries all over Middle Tennessee are offering engaging summer reading programs for all ages. The Metro Nashville Library locations may be closed, but you can register on the Summer Reading Challenge website and download the app to get started.
Then any time spent reading, writing, storytelling or listening to stories counts toward minutes. The more you read, the better your chance is to win some great prizes.
Visit Fort Negley
The 156-year-old Civil War fort’s Visitor Center at 1100 Fort Negley Blvd. is closed, but a self-guided tour can be taken almost any time. There is a nice walkway around the fort and a great view of downtown from the top. Plus, the outdoor hands-on fossil collection site where visitors can dig for fossils is a fun activity.
Visit Cannonsburgh Village
Cannonsburgh Village is a living history museum of early Southern life, located at 312 S. Front St., Murfreesboro. The visitor center is closed, but the grounds are open Tuesday-Sunday. You can see an authentic gristmill, a one-room schoolhouse, a town hall, a log home, a general store and other reminders of pioneer times. There is also a creek and trail.
Details: murfreesborotn.gov or 615-890-0355
Radnor Lake State Park, at 1160 Otter Creek Road, will be offering some programs for 10 or fewer people soon. The park’s Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center is offering guided programming for small groups, rather than being open regular hours.
Details: radnorlake.org or call 615-373-3467
There are 6 miles of mostly beginner mountain bike trails at Bells Bend Park, 8 miles of intermediate and advanced trails at Percy Warner Park, 11 miles at Hamilton Creek, 8.5 miles of beginner and intermediate trails at Cane Ridge and 3.5 miles of intermediate trails at Cedar Hill Park.
You could also enjoy a bike ride at the Lock 4 Bike Trail in Gallatin, where there’s a 9-mile USA Cycling-sanctioned base course and a 3-mile kids course (615-822-2512). Long Hunter State Park (615-885-2422) has 5 miles of trails in two loops. Montgomery Bell State Park (615-797-9052) has more than 20 miles of mountain bike trails.
Tour Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park
This 19-acre downtown state park, which is next to the Tennessee State Museum, offers a self-guided walking history lesson with its Tennessee history timeline. There is also a 200-foot granite map of the state, a World War II memorial, a 95-bell carillon and a Pathway of History. The fountains will not open this summer, and the Visitors Center and restrooms are temporarily closed; but the park is hoping to offer guided programs for groups of 10 or less soon.
Stones River National Battlefield
Stones River National Battlefield, 3501 Old Nashville Highway, Murfreesboro, is open for limited day use and self-guided tours on foot or on bike every day.
Details: nps.gov/stri or call 615-893-9501
Although Metro Parks golf clubhouses are closed, five of the golf courses — McCabe, Ted Rhodes, Percy Warner, Harpeth Hills and Two Rivers — are open. There are no restrooms, no carts and no tee times, but play is free seven days a week.
Metro Parks Frisbee golf courses are also open at Cedar Hill Park, Two Rivers Park and Seven Oaks Park.
Details: nashville.gov/parks or 615-862-8400
Go berry picking
Dozens of Middle Tennessee farms grow berries and allow you to pick your own in the summer months. It is fun and a great way for kids to see where their food comes from. Plus, you get to enjoy some real home grown flavor and support our local farmers at the same time.
To find a list of pick-your-own farms, go to picktnproducts.org. Click on “Pick Your Own” on the top navigation bar and then select which fruit you want for a county-by-county list.
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