Ultimate Franklin Outdoor Itineraries

The wildflowers are blooming, the temperatures are rising, and we’d hold the natural beauty of Middle Tennessee’s Highland Rim up against anywhere in our corner of the world. Whatever your mode of transit, it’s time to get outside and explore! 

Check out these ready-made itineraries for hiking, cycling, paddling, and other outdoor adventures for all skill levels, sprinkled with some waypoints and landmarks you won’t want to miss.

Hiking Around the Natchez Trace

Some folks don’t realize that we have a National Park in Williamson County, only it’s 444 miles long. As part of the 24-mile Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail that follows much of the original forest path that helped establish America’s western frontier, the nearby Garrison Creek Trailhead offers a couple of options for easy and moderate trails that won’t take up a full day. First is a 1.3-mile loop trail that includes some scenic vistas but little elevation change.

For a more robust hike that is still great for most kids and adults, consider the up-and-back trail to the War of 1812 Memorial. At 3.4 miles round-trip across the ridgeline, the trail runs through old-growth timber and includes a spectacular overlook before you arrive at the monument. 

Tennessee volunteers marched up and back to Natchez, Mississippi, on the Trace and helped confirm America’s independence at the Battle of New Orleans. Traveling hundreds of miles through bitter weather and with few provisions, many succumbed along the way.

The Memorial honors their service and sacrifice, along with the significance of the route they took. Note that parking lots are located on both sides of the trail so that you can start on either end. Horses are also welcome here, and trailer parking is available. 

The best place to access the Trace to get to Garrison Creek is outside Leiper’s Fork, just three miles south of the Trailhead lot. Stop in before or after your hike and meander through a collection of galleries, boutiques, and quirky shops in this “wide place in the road” village, then grab breakfast at the Country Boy or lunch at the chef-driven 1892.

If you’re looking for a quick road snack, get a made-to-order sandwich or slice of pizza at the Leiper’s Fork Market. All of these options offer outside seating and great people-watching.

Another approach to consider: Hop on the Trace at the magnificent double-arch bridge on Highway 96 and hit Timberland Park, which includes three miles of forested trails, an interpretive center, a butterfly garden, and more. Then pull into the Westhaven neighborhood on your way back.

 Scout’s Pub or Front Street Tavern are both excellent choices for lunch or dinner. Find more local trails (including one in Westhaven) here.

Serious cyclists will be equally at home on the Trace – in fact, a 50 mile-per-hour speed limit makes it one of the safest places anywhere to ride, and cyclists are encouraged to ride side by side and use the entire lane. Click here for more information on how best to enjoy the Trace on two wheels.

Bike Tours Around Franklin

Other options range from the tame to the extreme – if you want to cruise around downtown Franklin on a guided or unguided tour, consider the electric bikes available at Pedego. If you’re looking for something more adventurous, bring your mountain bikes… two dedicated parks are located within a short drive of the historic core.

The Franklin Mountain Bike Park is geared more toward beginner to intermediate riders and offers 0.4 and 1.3 loops with light technical features. Williamson County’s Wilkins Branch Mountain Bike Park includes miles of opportunity across seven single-track trails, from beginner to expert, including plenty of downhills, turns, rollers, and jumps for flow.

When you’re ready, head back to downtown Franklin and roam on foot. Take the Historic Homes Walking Tour, peruse the shops and restaurants, and take in the architecture and history. Dining and entertainment choices abound, from pubs and taprooms to fine dining, ethnic restaurants, and more, along with live music. Be sure to see what (or who) is playing at the Franklin Theatre!

Walkers will also love Pinkerton Park’s mile-long paved loop and exercise equipment, plus the impressive playground. If you’d like more history, visit the trails at Winstead Hill Park (0.7 paved miles) and the Eastern Flank Battlefield Park (a two-mile concrete path).

Both of these sites played integral roles in the Battle of Franklin and include interpretive signage and other educational opportunities. Several other Franklin parks include marked and measured trails

Explore the Harpeth River

Then, there’s the jewel in our outdoor crown, the scenic Harpeth River that winds through Williamson County and makes a horseshoe around Franklin. Six public access canoe launches are located within a short distance, and Paddle Dog Adventures can outfit you with a two-hour canoe or kayak floats with pick-up and drop-off service, or they can put you on a stand-up paddleboard or in the aforementioned craft in the Lake at Westhaven. 

The Harpeth is known for smallmouth and redeye bass, and most of the river is shallow enough to wade during the warm months. Check with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for licenses and regulations or book a half or full-day drift boat float or wading trip with the Franklin Fly Fishing Company‘s experienced guides.

They love to introduce beginners to the art of fly casting, and rainbow trout are stocked in the Harpeth December through March, so you never know what you might catch.

For all the history, entertainment, and things to do among Franklin’s built environment, none of it would be here if it weren’t for the soaring forests, fertile fields, and flowing streams the founders were drawn to back in 1799. Get out and discover it yourself!

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Jay Sheridan