Shelby Farms Park is less than half an hour from downtown Memphis, making it an easily accessible oasis when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s one of the largest urban parks in the United States, covering 4,500 acres of forests, wetlands, and wildlife (including a bison herd!). There are two lakes at Shelby Farms that are open to paddling, and you can rent any equipment you might need right there. Bonus: the land is publicly owned and co-managed between the county government and the nonprofit conservancy that runs it.
What Makes It Great
Shelby Farms Park was recently renovated in 2016, and the brand new buildings offer stunning views of the park and the lovely lakes. The park itself has more than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore, as well as a couple lakes and a pond for fishing, and two lakes for for paddling.
Hyde Lake and Pine Lake are your two paddling options at Shelby Farms. There are boathouses on both lakes that rent out canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards for most of the year, so you don’t have to hassle with your own equipment if you don’t want to.
At Pine Lake, the boathouse is next to the Woodland Discovery Playground. If you’re bringing your own paddleboard, kayak, or canoe, putting in on the west side of the lake is best. You will find two big boulders that make the most ideal access spot easy to find, but what you won’t find is a dock, bank, or rocks between shore and the water, so expect to get dirty (or muddy) on your way in.
On Hyde Lake, you’ll encounter all the same rental options as Pine Lake. This boathouse is nestled on the north side of the lake not far from the main entrance of the park. Hyde Lake does have a launch ramp, which makes getting in and out a little easier and a little cleaner, but sometimes you’ll have a wait.
Shelby Farms Park is open every day from sunrise to sunset, so it’s a great place to catch a view of the sun making its rounds at either end of the day.
Who is Going to Love It
Beginners are really going to love the easy paddling on Pine Lake and Hyde Lake. Conditions can get choppy in extreme wind of course, but it’s nothing like river paddling or navigating rapids, so Shelby Farms Park is a great place to learn or to get more secure in your skills before moving on to more challenging situations. However, everyone loves a good, relaxed paddle session every now and then, so no matter how experienced you are, a chill paddle session at Shelby Farms is a great way to spend a couple hours.
City dwellers will also enjoy this spot: it’s located just east of downtown, offering a quick nature fix without having to leave the limits of the city.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center can be found at 6903 Great View Drive North, Memphis, TN 38134. From downtown Memphis, take I-40 east to the Walnut Grove Road exit, turn left at Farm Road and keep right to get into the park.