The Best River Towns in America: Nashville, Tennessee

Nashvillians have always spent weekends getting wet

Music City, a.k.a Nashville.     Photo: Radius Images/Corbis

The Stats

Nashville, Tennessee
Population: 601,222
(metro area: 1.5 million)
Media Age: 33.9
Median Annual Salary: $45,063
Median Home Price: $169,100
Unemployment Rate: 7.3 percent
Votes Received: 2 percent

When you think of Nashville and water, you think of the 2010 flood that lifted the Cumberland River 12 feet above its flood stage, filling the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway and drowning Brad Paisley’s guitars. But Nashvillians have always spent weekends getting wet—boating and bass fishing on Center Hill, Percy Priest, and Old Hickory reservoirs and paddling the Harpeth and Caney Fork rivers. Now the town is extending its longtime conservation spirit—witness the Land Trust for Tennessee’s 75,000 preserved acres—into restoration along the Cumberland River. Two examples: the city recently opened the new downtown Cumberland River Park and offers primitive camping in its 808-acre riverfront Bells Bend Park, in the heart of a 18-square-mile undeveloped swath of working farmland within the city limits. There are plans for 22,000 more acres of protected open space (including 3,000 acres of metro parks), three times the number of working farms, double the downtown tree canopy, and 25 miles of greenways—all in the next 10 years. “We’ve embraced the river,” says reader Stephen McClure, “and keep adding greenways and bridges, boat access, and view corridors.” As resident Rebecca Selove points out, “Thanks to organizations like the Cumberland River Compact, there are opportunities to participate in protecting our watersheds and celebrations like the annual Dragon Boat Races.” (Rebecca, don’t forget the Catfish Rodeo!) Of course, the Cumberland is still home to more barges than boats, but Nashville, as McClure says, “keeps getting better.” You can stalk carp on Old Hickory, cycle the leafy Natchez Trace, track down Yayo’s O.M.G. food truck for tacos, ride horseback through 2,684-acre Edwin Warner and Percy Warner parks, and, as reader Dustin Ogden puts it, “slip out to 1,700-acre Beaman Park, only 15 minutes from my house, and hike seven miles of nice, densely wooded trails.”

BEST PRO-KAYAKER ENDORSED DAY TRIP: Paddling the Caney Fork River, home of Jackson Kayak founder Eric Jackson. “Our family traveled for eight years, scouring the best outdoor places,” Jackson says. “Our first choice was the Caney Fork.” His prescription: fuel up at the Rock Island Market, paddle and fish all day—“the bass, walleye, and muskie are incredible here”—and finish off with trout and a Calfkiller on draft at the Foglight Foodhouse.

ON THE TOWN: Music is the heart of Nashville, and you can still catch Justin Townes Earle at the Ryman, boot-scoot at Robert’s Western World, and take in serious banjo picking at the Station Inn. “It’s a local institution in a cinder-block building surrounded by high-rises and bars for the beautiful people,” says local realtor Bill Bainbridge. “If you like bluegrass and cold beer, it’s hard to find a better spot in a big city.”

WHAT YOU GET FOR $15: Admission to Friends of Warner Parks’ Full Moon Pickin’ Parties, which bring out a constellation of pro and amateur bluegrass musicians for monthly autumn jams. Only $5 for pickers who bring “an approved bluegrass instrument.”

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