Nashville Parks & Canoeing Guide

Percy Warner & Edwin Warner Parks

A few miles from downtown Nashville, the largest municipal park in Tennessee offers a span of wilderness that is an easy drive from anywhere in the city. In fact, you can have lunch at the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue, and within half an hour, be alone on a rock-strewn hiking trail in search of a Scarlet Tanager. Percy Warner and Edwin Warner Parks are the premier parks of Nashville. Adjoining one another, they create a green space of 2,681 acres of fields, forests, clear-running streams, picnic areas, scenic drives, hiking trails, golf courses, playgrounds, shelter areas, bridle paths, and a beautiful steeplechase.

Constructed by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, the Percy Warner steeplechase is the only race track ever built by the Federal government. One of Nashville’s most popular annual events is held here every spring: the Iroquois Steeplechase occurs on the second Saturday of May and offers Nashvillians and visitors a chance to picnic while watching nationally-ranked riders compete for the Iroquois Steeplechase trophy (and a handsome purse.)

Percy Warner Park

Percy Warner Park is located at 2424 Old Hickory Boulevard and Edwin Warner is located off Old Hickory Blvd. at 50 Vaughn Road (below is a map to both parks).To get trail maps, a calendar of events, and more information about programs offered at the park, visit the Warner Park Nature Center (located near the intersection of State Route 100 and Old Hickory Boulevard in Edwin Warner Park.

Even if you prefer the great indoors to working up a sweat on a hiking trail, you can enjoy middle Tennessee’s loveliness by taking one of the scenic drives through Percy Warner Park. Entrances to the scenic drives can be found at the end of Belle Mead Boulevard, on Chickering Road, on Vaughn Road, and on Highway 100 at the Deep Well Picnic area. We recommend the last entrance to begin your scenic tour; drive past the picnic tables on the right and follow the one-way road as it climbs a steep hill to the right. Keep your eyes open for wildlife and joggers and cyclists. The trees surrounding you include hackberry, black walnut, eastern red cedar, northern red oak, persimmon, hornbeam, pawpaw, black locust, white ash, sugar maple, sassafras, American beech, tulip poplar, and American sycamore. At the first fork in the road, you may go left (curves back and will exit at Percy Warner’s main entrance on Belle Meade Boulevard, or you may go right and eventually exit at either Chickering Road or Old Hickory Boulevard. Since the roads within the park are one-way, if you simply keep going you will eventually come to an exit.

Canoeing the Harpeth River

One of the most attractive aspects of middle Tennessee is the natural beauty of the area. Within minutes of leaving downtown Nashville, you can find hiking trails that will remind you of those of the Great Smoky National Park. You can rent a canoe and paddle a gently moving stream, that will, on occasion, give you a “rush” as it speeds and falls over class 1 rapids. You can watch birds, look for wildflowers, walk your dog, jog, cycle, and barely rub elbows with a soul in the process. Few cities in America have as lovely a park system, located so near its metropolitan area, like Nashville. Explore one of these parks, or start closer to civilization with a visit to the Nashville Farmer’s Market. Each spring, you can read weekly updates and see photographs of emerging spring wildflowers at the Guide to Tennessee Wildflowers.

If you are interested in taking a canoe trip, you’re not too far from the Harpeth River. Roughly between the first of March and the end of October (opening and closing dates vary according to water level, air temperature, and water temperature), you can rent a canoe to float the Harpeth. Here are a few outfitters you can contact for more information:

Canoe Music City: 615-952-4211
1203 Hwy 70 South
Kingston Springs, TN 37082

Foggy Bottom Canoe Rental: 615-952-4062
1270 Highway 70
Kingston Springs, TN 37082

Tip-A-Canoe: 615-254-0836
Highway 70 at the Harpeth River
Schacklett, TN 37082

These canoe outfitters are all located on Highway 70, near Kingston Springs, Tennessee.

Here’s an excerpt from 1979, A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Tennessee, by Bob Sehlinger and Bob Lantz, that will give you an idea of what is remarkable about the Harpeth River:

Hard in the heart of middle Tennessee, the Harpeth offers a change of pace for the thousands of metropolitan residents who know enough to walk out their back doors and cart their gear to the nearest neighborhood put-in. The Harpeth is a State Scenic River within Nashville’s Davidson County. It is also a stream with over 100 miles rural miles of Class 1 floating . . . the Harpeth means history! The farther downstream you travel, the further back in time you reach. This major historical conduit will float you through the disastrous Frankling battlefield of the Civil War; then take you further back to an outlaw time along the Natchez Trace; and finally, you’re in the heart of a pre-Indian culture circa AD 1200. . . at river mile 33, (you’ll find) Mound Bottom, a bend in the river now owned by the state, with ceremonial and burial mounds dating to prehistoric times. A petroglyph “scepter” appears on a bluff on the other side of the river overlooking the ceremonial sites. . . The Harpeth system is generally pastoral with a few solid Class II rapids thrown in to wake the paddler up.

Before you take that hike or canoe trip, you may want to stock up on some grub. Check out the BlueShoe’s Guide to the Farmers Market for suggestions.

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