Starting our three-mile hike along the park's Woodland Trail, we were surrounded by red buckeye and sweet-scented wild blue phlox.
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Exploring Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

Twenty-nine minutes.

That’s all it took to drive from my house, RV in tow, to Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park.

You don’t expect to arrive at the nearly 14,000-acre wilderness when you start the trek, which, in our case, whizzed right past downtown Memphis.

But before long, the scene turned green. Hilly. With stands of yellow wildflowers and wild blue phlox grounding the forest.

Inside the park, wildflowers bloom in thick stands, roadside bouquets and climbing trails like this cross vine.

The forest floor was covered in these leafy umbrellas, some sheltering the white may-apple flower.

We selected a site in the Dogwood Ridge Campground, where RV and tent camping sites, as well as a primitive camping area, are shaded by a verdant canopy washed here and there with the snow-white swaths of towering dogwoods. (The park also rents cabins.)

Towering dogwood trees like this one pop amid the verdant canopy of Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park.

More than 20 miles of trails twist through the park, but we found a drop-in to the three-mile Woodland Trail just behind our campsite. The entry was even and colorful, with walls of red buckeye and a floor of that lavender phlox. The color never relented, but the trail gave up fast on staying flat – dipping us down into the ridge and up again, crossing wooden bridges and a few fallen trees along the way. For all the ups and downs, however, there were steps built into the terrain, and we completed the route with two old dogs and three children ages 5 and under leading the way. The trail was marked and maintained well with ample parking at its head, and we shared it with plenty of other eager hikers – families, collegiates on spring break, dog-walkers. (We found the park’s designated bicycle/hiking trail to be similarly inviting: Its five miles are shaded, edged with periodic picnic tables, and paved for use by walkers, bicyclists and stroller- and wheelchair-users.)

Starting our three-mile hike along the park's Woodland Trail, we were surrounded by red buckeye and sweet-scented wild blue phlox.

Bridges, fallen trees and plenty of ups and downs made the trail fun but do-able for our all-ages crew.

Check out this surprise we found alongside the trail's end.

You can do five miles on the park's designated bicycling trail, and add the park roads for a longer ride. Beware the strenuous hills on the park road leading from Dogwood Ridge Campground to the river ramp. I think I left a lung on the roadside.

You can fish for largemouth bass, bream and catfish in two fishing lakes inside the park (you can even rent a johnboat or launch your own – as long as it isn’t gas-powered – and you can get a special fishing permit at the park, too). But Meeman-Shelby Forest sits on the Mississippi. At the least, you should drive to the boat ramp and take in the mighty view. We spotted a couple at ramp’s end playing a watery game of fetch with their two dogs.

From the park, the Mississippi looks entirely different from the river you know in downtown Memphis. Contrasting its swift movement, the riverside here is positively pastoral.

Much as I love cooking in our RV’s thimble-sized kitchen, I was excited to learn that Shelby Forest General Store, located just outside of the park, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. They sell everything a park-goer might need, too, from firewood to ice cream to golf discs for the park’s two courses. But it’s the patina that sells me. The place has been around since 1934. There’s a four-piece bluegrass band playing as softly as the wind blows outside. There’s a rooster named J.J. hanging out on the front porch. It’s the kind of place whose soul Cracker Barrel wishes it had. And the cheeseburger really is as good as Justin Timberlake says it is.

Just outside the park, Shelby Forest General Store sells everything a park-goer might need and serves three meals a day, seven days a week.

You know the burger's going to be good when it doesn't even need a plate.

Will we come back? Absolutely. Memorial Day through Labor Day (or so), the park operates a pool, nature center and Sunday “deep swamp” canoe floats. Plus, every Friday from 6-9 p.m. is steak night (with live bluegrass) at Shelby Forest General Store.

Where are your favorite places to camp in Tennessee? Tell me and I could select your favorite spot for my family’s next trip!

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

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    Susan

    LOVE this! Shelby Meeman was my favorite place to hike with our dog when we lived in Memphis. I would always see the General Store but never ate there…now there’s something to add on my list for when we visit! Thanks!

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    Amanda

    The hiking is great and the horse trails are a must for the equestrian. I live nearby and go to the park almost every weekend and sometimes during the week. Shelby Forest General Store is also a favorite… especially on steak night.

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