5 Great Hikes With Your Dog In Franklin
I have a Jack Russell Terrier mix with more energy than even he knows what to do with. To curb said energy before it is channeled into chaos, my dog Groot and I love to hike around Middle Tennessee. He’s always a little more gung-ho at the beginning of the hike than the end—but it’s a great opportunity for both of us to enjoy the sunshine and explore the beauty of our state. Having a pet, in my opinion, makes hiking all the more fun. These five spots in Williamson County are frequent stops for my pup and I on the weekends, and all provide different wildlife and scenic experiences. A few ground rules before we start our hike together: All dogs in these parks must be leashed to keep themselves, other pets, and local wildlife safe. Please don’t spoil the fun for someone else! Owners must also pick up after their pets to help keep trails clean. Alright—let’s get moving!
Old Natchez Trace Garrison Creek Loop
If you have half a day and a hankering to see some pretty Tennessee views, I would recommend taking a trip to the Natchez Trace Parkway outside of Leiper’s Fork. The Garrison Creek Trail begins behind the restrooms (a key fact to note) and takes hikers straight into a wooded ridge. With a canopy of old trees, twittering birds, colorful insects, and plenty of lush foliage, it’s a stunning nature hike that my dog loves to sniff his way through. The trail is only 1.3 miles long, which makes it manageable for families with kids. After a steady, steep incline, you can sit a spell on a bench and take in a view that overlooks the parkway and a picturesque farm. Visit in the fall for spectacular foliage. Horses are allowed on several nearby paths, so you may encounter riders. Occasionally you’ll come across manure, so keep your dog close if he/she likes to roll in new smells.
For a longer there-and-back hike, continue straight on the path at the fork—following signs for the Old Trace Parking Area—instead of looping around. You’ll come to a monument for the War of 1812, which is the turn-back point. This version of the trail is a little over three miles, but you and your pup will have to climb around (or, jump over, as my dog is prone to do) several felled trees. While Garrison Creek is often dried up—we have yet to come across it during a wet season—other hikers have reported ankle-deep, flowing water as an added aesthetic bonus to this trail. Be sure to bring your bug spray to ward off mosquitoes and stay on the path to avoid ticks.
The Ridge & West Slope Trails at Westhaven
In the middle of one of Franklin’s prettiest subdivisions, you’ll find nine miles of trails divided up into seven hiking paths: East Slope, West Slope, Buchanan Trail, Gray Trail, Heartbeat Trail, and Ridge Trail. Find the map here. Starting the hike may feel odd—you’ll access the trails through the Wild Elm or Grassmere trailhead seemingly out of place in the middle of the development—but bring the map and you’ll quickly find yourself working up a sweat. It took some wandering for us to figure out the trails on the first go-around. We start at the Grassmere trailhead, jump onto the Ridge Trail (marked in red on the map), and then hike southeast to connect with the West Slope Trail, which loops around back to the Ridge Trail (there’s a small connection with the Heartbeat Trail). Here’s a good guide to follow. It’s a moderate hike with your pup that provides ample shade, lush greenery, and variance in incline. This stretch of trail is about 4.5 miles total and always gets our heart rates up.
If you’re not a Westhaven resident walking to the trails, you’ll have to park on the street. We don’t often come across others on our hikes; it’s a good spot if your pet is nervous around other dogs. But, don’t take that to mean that it’s always quiet—expect some construction and neighborhood noise. And, a bonus of hiking in Westhaven is that you can enjoy a post-hike drink on the dog-friendly patio at Scout’s Pub.
The Blue Trail at Marcella Vivrette Smith Park
My pup and I walked several times at Marcella Vivrette Smith Park on the Smith Park to Split Log Trail—connections to the many paved Brentwood paths—before realizing that there are actually hiking trails buried up on the other side of the park. To find the trails, take a right at Ravenswood Mansion toward the arrow that says “Trailhead.” There are four trails for hikers to choose from: the Green Trail (1.36 miles), the Blue Trail (2.25 miles), the Red Trail (1.48 miles), and the Black Trail (1.6 miles). My dog and I usually hike the Blue Trail for length, which overlaps in several sections with the Red, then Green, then Black Trails. It’s a big loop—here’s a map. The trail is fairly rocky and pebbly in spots with areas of steeper climbs (the Red Trail overlap is tougher), so it’s more challenging than just a leisurely stroll through the woods. We often see other dogs and hikers admiring the wildlife and views on the path.
The trails are marked in tenths of a mile and the path is relatively shaded, which makes it a good hike on sunny days for dogs who get tired easily. This also, however, makes it a trail we avoid after a long rain—it tends to get muddy. Pro Tip: When you get to the 0.4-mile mark on the Red/Blue overlap, take a detour on the Red Trail; it dead-ends around Enid’s Eyrie Point with a scenic overlook. Snap some photos, then double-back and continue left on the Blue Trail. For its convenient location smack in the middle of Brentwood, well-marked trails, public restrooms, and ample parking (some on the other side of the mansion with a shortcut through the trees), Marcella Vivrette Smith Park is a must-stop.
Stephen’s Way Trail at Sarah Benson Park
If you’re looking for a local hike through the forest with some good elevation, try Stephen’s Way Trail at Sarah Benson Park, formerly known as Thompson’s Station Park. At 2.2 miles roundtrip, it’s the longer trail of the two in this trail system—the other being the 1.4-mile Alexander Trail—with plenty to observe. Pay attention to the map, as the trails cross paths in the middle and it can be confusing. On Stephen’s Way Trail, we’ve seen deer, rabbits, small snakes, frogs, and several fuzzy caterpillars, much to the delight of my dog. There are a few steep climbs, with a gradual elevation gain of over 300 feet. As you hike, you’ll find abundant shade with benches and “rest areas” along the route that make it family-friendly in all seasons. (In this writer’s opinion, it’s prettiest in spring.) At the top of the hill, there is a beautiful overlook onto farmland with an old Civil War marker.
Because it’s a favorite spot for locals, the trail can get a little crowded. Also, at times, it can be a bit noisy with the nearby school, sounds of a growing city, and neighboring ball games. But, it’s a fun hike for a Sunday afternoon and Groot loves to zoom up the path. A tip for pets who enjoy sticking their noses into plants: When you park, make a pit-stop in the Mars Sensory Garden just up the hill. It’s a little walk-through garden with different plants and herbs, like mint and lemongrass, designed to engage your four-legged friend’s senses. You’ll find Groot with his whole head in the mint leaves.
Crockett Park Loop
While not officially a hike, I’d be remiss not to add the Crockett Park Loop to the list as a favorite dog-walking spot. The two-mile loop has paved paths—great for kids, walkers with strollers, and those with accessibility needs—and runs through a shaded forest area with a nearby creek. There are easy slopes along the loop and a few little bridges that make it a relaxing, scenic walk. Several entries and exit points allow for the trail to be as long or short as you and your dog desire. It’s not always quiet; the loop goes around several athletic fields that can be relatively noisy on a tournament weekend. But, there is plentiful parking, public restrooms, and numerous trash cans situated around the route to dispose of waste—a big plus for this dog mom.
Carve out a few hours this weekend to do some exploring and hiking around the area. You won’t regret the views, your dog’s excitement, or the beautiful Tennessee greenery!