The Ultimate Summer Bucket List: Your Definitive Guide to Seasonal Fun in Franklin
Y’all. I may be biased, but if you have to spend your summer anywhere other than the South—bless your heart.
You may be saying: But Madison, what about the humidity? What about that? And to you, I say: Take it up with Mother Nature and God. We’ve got fly fishing, strawberry picking, rock skipping, craft beer drinking, concert-going, and BBQ eating to do!
Whether you’re ready to soak up as much Vitamin D as you can, or you’re serious about that whole humidity thing (and you’re already thinking about where you’re going to cool off), there’s a Williamson County activity perfect for you and your seasonal bucket list.
Kick off your shoes—we’re jumping in.
Name something more American than eating a hot dog after a day on the water. (Okay, sure, baseball, but humor me here.) Launching alongside—and into—Westhaven Lake this year, Paddle Dog rents stand-up paddleboards out to those looking for a weekend adventure. Then, once those adventurers have clambered back up onto its patio, ready to chow down, Paddle Dog serves them Chicago-, New York-, and Kansas City-style hot dogs.
IFLYFISH. That’s the license plate number that was proudly screwed onto the back of my mom’s Ford Explorer for the early years of my life. Wading into crystalline waters and watching your line float through the air was a rite of passage in my family. And, despite the fact that I haven’t picked up a rod since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, it’s just as soothing to watch someone else tie a fly.
That’s where Franklin Fly Fishing Co. comes in. Offering one-on-one lessons, wading excursions, and float trips (plus pleasure cruises for the vegetarians among us—hello), the company invites seasoned fisherman and newbies alike to join them on the river, whether it be the Harpeth or the Caney Fork.
Not needing to pedal when riding a bike through Tennessee usually means flying down a mountain. That’s not the case with Pedego. Their electric bikes allow you to glide along city streets without moving a (leg) muscle. Guided tours are also available, taking you past historic homes through Leiper’s Fork or part of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Drive down I-65, and you can’t miss it—a soaring wooden structure, little figures up among the ropes, day and night. Boasting multiple levels of difficulty and 110 climbing elements, you’re sure to satisfy your adrenaline addiction at SOAR Adventure Tower.
P.S. Putt-putt isn’t just for beachgoers. In addition to its tower, this land-locked attraction is home to a music-themed mini-golf course.
You’ll be the picture of small-town charm when you spread out a blanket in Pinkerton Park to catch a free movie. Already a staple hangout spot, Pinkerton becomes even more popular when the steamy summer air begins to cool and a film starts rolling at sunset. Past showings include Frozen II and Hotel Transylvania 3. Oh, because food trucks will be on-site, there’s no need to pack a picnic.
I know what you’re thinking—and it’s true. The summer season isn’t complete without a picnic or two. Thankfully, local farmers agree. Here are three farms across the area where you can have a picnic or grab the supplies you need to plan one. (Plus, one farm that, while not known for its pastoral picnicking, is known for something that we think you’ll find equally exciting.)
Awash with color, the Menkveld Farm in Nolensville is a picturesque spot to pick flowers, picnic, or have a photoshoot (or all three). Known for its uPick events—its lavender field standing out among the blooms—Menkveld encourages visitors to hang out for a while after they’ve collected a bouquet. Photo session, farm tour, and event tickets are also for sale. Previous events have included a Picnic Date Night featuring charcuterie, sunflowers, and live music.
If you need some shade after your frolic through the flower fields, travel five minutes down the road to Morning Glory Orchard. Here you can spread your checkered blanket under an apple or peach tree. Self-guided tours are available for $5, and the orchard asks that visitors stop by the farm store before venturing out. Once you’ve learned the lay of the land (and restocked your basket with local honey, preserves, and, of course, fresh fruit), you can carry one of their signature Cider Slushes out to your preferred picnic spot.
Let’s be honest, you’re more likely to find your family flouncing about on the Splash Pad than peacefully passing a perfectly plated pasta salad—and you know what, that’s okay. Lucky Ladd Farms has something for everyone. Picnic lovers can spend their day picking quarts of strawberries or in its Farm Market Country Store, shopping for fresh country eggs, gourmet pickles, and baked goods (not to mention hand-dipped ice cream). The rest of the gang can run off to the Petting Zoo, Tree Tire Swings, Tractor Displays, Gem Mining area, or one of the many other attractions this popular Eagleville property is known for.
Maybe you’ve seen us mention Mistletoe Farm once or twice. And why would that be? Oh, just because this Franklin favorite is home to a herd of alpacas. And in the early summer months (May and June), before it gets too hot for our furry friends, you can schedule a meet and greet with them. If you’re also averse to the heat, but you love summer classes and anything alpaca, you can book one of the farm’s weaving, felting, and spinning lessons.
Now that you’ve hoofed it across counties searching for the most bucolic spaces, it’s time to head past the rolling farmlands, over the hills, and into the woods.
While driving past the farmlands, hills, and woods along the Natchez Trace Parkway, you may have looked over to the tree line and seen glimpses of hikers and horseback riders flickering in and out of sight. Now it’s your turn to pull into one of the trailhead parking lots dotting the Highland Rim section and join them on a serene gem: the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.
This path dips and dives into the woods and then back along the historic road making its way from the Northern terminus, Garrison Creek, to the Southern terminus down in Mississippi. You can do it on this out-and-back trail, whether you’re looking to take on a short jaunt up a switchback to an overlook or a longer stretch—skipping rocks and wetting your feet in cool creek crossings.
Variety is the spice of life. So, if you want to shake things up on your next hike, strap on your boots and head to Marcella Vivrette Smith Park. You can choose between one of four trails, varying in difficulty and scenery. You’ll see people hiking alone, hoping to see some wildlife, or out and chatting with a friend. Beware, if you’re a twosome, you may have to make a pact to stay silent until you’ve reached the top of one of the park’s inclines to save your breath (not speaking from experience or anything.)
Also offering a myriad of woodland walks, Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary is the place to be if you want to pair short strolls through a private preserve with the opportunity to learn about flora and fauna. Its Knee-High Naturalist program is one of these opportunities, featuring crafting and exploration for youngins. Normal Naturalists…err…Sky-High Naturalists…nope…Adult Naturalists (that’s the one!) can attend the sanctuary’s Dinner in the Forest event, known for, among other things, its gorgeous setting, farm-to-fork menu, and Hoot Hill Punch.
Owl’s Hill isn’t the only place with a summer program on the docket. In fact, this season, we’ve got a fun-filled event happening almost every month. If you’re a local, grab your calendar and get ready to plan your summer from start to finish. You’ve got plenty to look forward to if you’re on summer vacation, no matter when you are in town.
As spring turns to summer, many Southern children will find themselves shuffled outside and into the balmy air after dinner to entertain themselves, grass sticking flat to the bottom of their bare feet, the last bit of sun sinking from the sky. Carnton captures this feeling and takes it to the next level, providing the ground to gather on as well as the entertainment—no lightning-bug nets needed. Each year, the historic home’s Sunset Concert Series features food and drinks, free parking, live music, and its lush east lawn, covered in bright blankets and chairs.
Produced by the Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition (FJEC), Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom is more than your average summertime event. It’s your chance to celebrate a federal holiday dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating the emancipation of African Americans, as explained during the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021. Peruse sites such as Juneteenth.com, and you’ll see that this holiday is also a day centered around celebrating the many accomplishments of African Americans.
Considering places such as Carnton, while currently spaces where everyone can mingle, were built on slave labor, this holiday is incredibly important. The FJEC invites you to join them for their second Juneteenth event in downtown Franklin. Last year’s event featured guest speakers, vendors, food trucks, live music, and more.
Before you know it, June will have slid into July as quickly as a kid hurtling down a hillside slip-and-slide. (Bring back some painful memories? You know you’d do it again.) And with the arrival of July comes Franklin Lions Club’s Franklin on the Fourth. Spend your Fourth of July at this festival, checking out antique cars, listening to music, cheering on the children’s parade, and eating classic American fare—the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile may or may not have been present at last year’s event. And I may or may not have texted my friends to inform them of such news, to their delight (or astonishment, it’s hard to say).
You may have read about my affinity for bluegrass (hi again, Justin). If so, it’s no surprise that Bluegrass Along the Harpeth, also known as the Fiddlers Jamboree, struck a chord with me the first time I read its itinerary. Held on the downtown square with its proceeds going to the Williamson County Cultural Arts Commission, this two-day, long-running event is a must-attend. The 2022 lineup includes a day of competitions ranging from Mandolin to Old Time String Band.
Nothing signals the tail-end of summer like a county fair. It’s the cherry (peeking out of the prize-winning pie) on top of the season, the last stitch on a ribbon-worthy quilt, the tipping forward of your seat as you hang at the top of the Zipper and wait for the fall. And the Williamson County Fair is definitely a blue-ribbon experience. Attendees can whirl into the sky on thrilling rides, escape from the mid-day heat by wandering through indoor exhibits, and stick around until nightfall for one of the Friday and Saturday firework shows. Of course, they can also eat funnel cake—but that’s a given.
Dining and Drinking
Before we go wishing ourselves into August for the food, let’s flip back to the first summer day. A time when a host can ask, “Would outdoor seating be okay?” and you won’t have to think twice before responding with a resounding yes. Lucky for us, this question will undoubtedly come, as alfresco dining is abundant in Franklin. Grab an iced coffee on Frothy Monkey’s airy porch or a burger on Americana Taphouse’s flower-filled patio and enjoy.
If picnic tables are more your style, plan to spend some time at Arrington Vineyards. Here you can swirl, sniff, and sip a red or white of your choosing (or slurp a strawberry-flavored frosé). The vineyard is also known for hosting Music in the Vines on weekends and Food Truck Fridays through the summer months.
Go from one sprawling space to another. Mill Creek Brewing Company may not be on Arrington’s 95 acres, but there’s certainly plenty of room for you and your friends in its industrial building, branded with the slogan, “Less fuss. More beer.” Order a citrusy Juicy Daze as a nod to the season, and then go for a stroll. Watch someone birdie (a word I knew, but did not know the meaning of) on its golf simulator, then book a round yourself. Or, hang out on the patio with your pup.
I mix my whiskey with sweet tea, so I’m not sure if I’m allowed through the front doors of Leiper’s Fork Distillery. But I’ll tell you, I’ve been on their porch, and it’s a top-notch one. It adorns a 200-year-old log cabin and contains wooden rocking chairs for those who want to relax, plus games—such as checkers and the Bimini Ring Game—for those who don’t. On weekends, you’ll also find their signature cocktails and live music! If small-batch whiskey is calling your name, make a reservation and venture inside the distillery’s buildings for a memorable tour and a tasting.
We’re all about featuring a fun and funky food truck here at Visit Franklin. But now it’s time to focus on one we all know and love from our childhoods. A true summertime classic: the ice cream truck. Based out of Eagleville, Shug’s brands itself a “soft-serve ice cream parlor on the go,” and the lofty chocolate and vanilla swirls it regularly passes through its window confirm its claim. If you’re not into following the four-wheeled frozen treat vendor around town (or waiting to hear the familiar tinkling of a truck in your neighborhood), stop and sit for a while at Hattie Jane’s Creamery, Kilwins, or Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Cooling off in the summer can happen in more ways than one. Surprisingly, some of them don’t even involve dairy. Paletas Tocumbo serves a colorful array of water-based Mexican popsicles in flavors like Key Lime, Watermelon, Coconut, and Tamarindo. And Tchoupitoulas Street Snoballs (another truck!) pours your favorite syrup—whether it be Piña Colada, Blueberry, Cotton Candy, or Orange—over mounds of shaved ice.
Now that you’ve got a brain freeze, you’re probably more aware than ever that the rest of your body is a tad warm. Hey, as I said, it’s the price of admission if you want to spend your summer down South. Thankfully, Williamson County has a variety of indoor activities you can take part in for a much more palatable price. (Our literal price point is flexible when there’s air conditioning involved.)
Aptly located in Cool Springs, The Rabbit Hole VR is a massive virtual reality center where gamers can switch between 30-plus games during a 30-, 60-, 90-, or 120-minute session. Its VR Arcade Games range from something (concerningly) called Pistol Whip (ouch) to more mild games, such as Tilt Brush, Google Earth VR, and Fruit Ninja VR—the latter still involves imaginary swords, so choose wisely. Rabbit Hole is also home to VR Escape Games (taking groups of players into a pyramid in Egypt or a cave in Greece) and a Free Roam VR Arena.
Splicing itself into the indoor-activities scene in February of 2022, Sticks and Stones Axe Co. started as an open-air, mobile, ax-throwing trailer. Now, in its brick-and-mortar location, aspiring lumberjacks can book an hour and have a seat at one of the barrel-based tables lining the lanes. As you wait for your group members to wind up and send their ax flying toward one of the bullseyes on the wooden wall, you can indulge in a local craft beer or a seltzer from the glass fridge behind the front counter.
Say summer shopping is on your to-do list. You’ve got some Gemini birthdays coming up, and you want to buy them the perfect gift. (Say that Gemini is me, and I wanted Sweet Tea Candle Co.’s Blackberry Sage candle from the Made in TN store.) Well, then you’d want to hop in your car and head over to The Factory at Franklin.
Home to restaurants, specialty shops, galleries, theaters, and more, The Factory is also home to Third Coast Clay, a paint-your-own-pottery spot. Creatives can pick from a myriad of vessels and sculptures and spend a couple of hours in the blissful air conditioning customizing their choice. It sounds like a perfect afternoon—and a perfect gift—to us.
Boasting traditional bowling, Cosmic Bowling, and even Highway 66 Mini-Bowling, the Franklin Family Entertainment Center is a timeless way to spend a summer day. I’ll go ahead and say it: Bumpers are available for those of us who aren’t regularly bowling strikes or spares or, let’s face it, hitting a single pin. The center also features an arcade, plus pool tables in its on-site grill.
You might break a sweat while participating in this indoor activity, but technically that’s based on the amount of fun you’re having, so you can’t blame this guide. Putting some bounce in your step, Urban Air is an action-packed park filled with trampolines, climbing walls, its self-proclaimed zip line-like Sky Rider, a dodgeball zone, a ball pit under an obstacle course, a foam pit under a Battle Beam, and more.
So, what did you add to your bucket list? Will you be tapping your feet to an old-time tune during Bluegrass on the Harpeth? Staining your tongue blue while eating a snoball from Tchoupitoulas? Luxuriating in The Factory’s air conditioning during the dog days of summer?
Whatever you decide on, we hope you’ll snap a photo and share it with us @visitfranklintn on Instagram.
And while we may have reached the end of this guide, there’s so much more to discover in Williamson County this season. Keep an eye on our Events Page and sign up for our Newsletter so you’ll always know when to strap your sandals back on, slather on some sunscreen, and head into town.