Exploring Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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!