Just try to resist barreling down these slides at Shelby Farms Park's Woodland Discovery Playground. The arcs you see in the background are part of the arbor, its trees and vines still coming in,  that winds through the playground's various segments, Photo by Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

Choose your own adventure at Memphis’ Shelby Farms Park

My husband and I have been known to turn date night on its head. No offense to candlelight and rom coms, but who needs ’em when the sun’s kissing the city (and the city’s giving you a come-hither look)?

We’ve made several memorable rendezvous this way – running the ups and downs of Stanky Creek side-by-side; trying to out-pedal each other along the Mississippi, past Cotton Row to the South Main Historic District; and most recently, riding the Shelby Farms Greenline to Shelby Farms Park for a stand-up paddling lesson.

The Shelby Farms Greenline stretches 6.5 miles from Midtown Memphis to Shelby Farms Park, with several entry points along the way. We bring our own bikes and park at Republic Coffee for easy access to the Greenline’s Tillman Street entrée and the promise of good food following our ride, but it’s just as easy to start at Shelby Farms Park and rent a bike (helmet included) therein.

Wherever you drop in, the Greenline is a pedestrian’s paradise: paved, wide, shaded much of the way and outfitted with safe crosswalks in the few spots it intersects streets. I think it’s the coolest way to cross town, knowing that just beyond the verdant walls that define the trail, the city’s buzzing by, and I’m taking things just a little bit slower, a little bit greener. Plus, there are neat surprises like the zing of blooming flowers and this mural en route:

The Greenline leads you right into Shelby Farms Park. Covering 4,500 acres, it’s the largest municipal park in North America – five times larger than NYC’s Central Park, in fact – which makes being inside it something like being inside a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Wander around and you’ll find a dog park, disc golf course, picnic areas, horseback riding stables, miles of paved and unpaved trails and the most awesome playground you’ve ever seen (seriously – Shelby Farms’ Woodland Discovery Playground is not only a marvel of environmental sustainability, it’s got slides so tall and a see-saw and swing so nouveau and climbing nets so expansive, you’ll want to play, too).

Besides bikes, you can rent paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and fishing boats with trolling motors inside the park, home to 28 bodies of water and catfish, crappie, brim, bass and rainbow trout. Bring your own equipment – and license if you’re over 13 – to fish from a variety of banks and piers. And don’t leave without looking for the park’s resident bison – if you don’t spot them among the wildflowers in the front of their pasture (across from the park visitor center), you might glimpse them from the Chickasaw Trail where they like to cool off in the lake, especially in warm weather.

Just try to resist barreling down these slides at Shelby Farms Park’s Woodland Discovery Playground. The arcs you see in the background are part of the arbor, its trees and vines still coming in, that winds through the playground’s various segments. Photo by Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

The boathouse on Shelby Farms Park’s Patriot Lake offers paddle boats, kayaks, canoes and fishing boats with trolling motors for rent. Photo by Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

If you don’t immediately notice the park’s resident bison in the pasture across from the visitor center, follow the Chickasaw Trail (especially in warm weather, these guys like to chill out in the lake viewable from the path). Photo by Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

For our date night, we chose a stand-up paddling lesson with SUP Memphis, which operates a kiosk on Patriot Lake near the park visitor center. The lesson quickly gave way to our paddle as the sport really is as easy as everyone says it is. (Frankly, I feel guilty describing what we did that night as a sport. Drifting around the lake to the sound of your paddle mingling with the water and the sight of the lowering sun is about as relaxing as it gets. But you’re welcome to power-paddle out here, too. And if you already know what you’re doing, SUP Memphis will rent you the equipment without the instruction.)

It really is as easy as everyone says it is. For the most relaxing way to work out, ask about SUP Memphis’ sunset paddles.

Post-paddle, we traced the Greenline back to our car and dinner at Republic Coffee. Republic’s food is always a treat, but never so much as when you’ve just biked 13-some miles and powered yourself around a lake for 30 minutes (no matter how slow you chose to go). “The King,” a ciabatta sandwich heaped with house-smoked chicken and from-scratch coleslaw, is a fine example of Republic’s delicious attention to detail; a cookie shared from its bakery case makes a sweet ending.

p.s. Shelby Farms Park is full of events, too – everything from races and charity walks to food truck rodeos and “yappy hours.” Mark your calendar now for Bands, Bikes + Block Parties on Oct. 13, a free second birthday fete for the Shelby Farms Greenline. If you come all the way down the Greenline to celebrate, you’ll find a big block party at the High Point Terrace access and an even bigger party once you reach Shelby Farms Park (aptly titled “Park After Dark”).

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




    Great article! I love Republic Coffee’s smoked tofu sandwich. You’re right, their from-scratch cole slaw that comes with it is awesome. Who knew that Shelby Farms offered paddle boarding? Now I do! Thanks.

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