It’s no big secret that while I love every corner of my state, Franklin has always been one of my very favorite parts of Tennessee, ever since I was a small girl. Back then, we went regularly for sports tournaments—and Cool Springs Galleria; hey, I am female after all—but as an adult, I love it for the elevated food scene, the historical memorials that are so tastefully done and the outdoor activities that seem to be around every corner in this hidden gem outside of Nashville. There’s nary a place I’d rather be than Franklin in the summer.
What to Do in Franklin in the Summer
Bike Out to Leiper’s Fork with Pedego
There are few things that SVV loves more than getting into the outdoors at a slower pace than a drive-by. Add in two wheels, rolling Tennessee countryside, sprawling estates, and an electric trigger to pedal the wheels of the bicycle and he’s close to achieving nirvana and in danger of winking out of existence.
This Pedego affiliate, right in the heart of downtown Franklin, is your go-to source for touring the surrounding area in comfort. Owners Bob and Kem Harris have developed a unique system of guided excursions that address groups interested in scenery, history, architecture and a combination of all three.
In addition to being a retailer of the electric-powered and pedal-assisted revolution sweeping the country, they also offer familiarization tours of the region with knowledgeable docents that light a fire in the imagination of the history of this pivotal nexus of control during the Civil War.
We hopped on the 30-mile, round-trip tour to Leiper’s Fork, which was hilly in parts, but exactly where the pedal assist comes in handy. I’m not going to lie: I tried to use my legs as much as possible, but on the way back, I settled into cruise-control mode.
We left from Pedego’s downtown location, pedaled along the greenway and out Highway 96, crisscrossing its arteries as we went. Antebellum homes, farms and verdant land dot the landscape like jewels of American Exceptionalism so if you’re into this sort of thing, take this tour!
For those who don’t have as much time to spare, there are also 90-minute historic homes and Downtown Franklin tours offered regularly, as well as the option to rent a bike and go at your own pace. Whatever you do, you must see this slice of Tennessee heaven from the seat of a Pedego. Just think: You’ll earn your beers—and whiskey—with all that cardio! Check out all available tour options here.
Play on the ropes at SOAR Adventure Park
If you think there’s an adventure park within a 30-mile radius and I’m not going to do it, well, then you don’t know me at all. Fellow fitness lovers out there, can you relate? I can’t help but love any excuse to act like I’m 12 again and scamper all along a huge tower like the one at SOAR Adventure Park. Again, IT’S CARDIO. (That’s my excuse at least.)
Started by a fellow professional mascot (yes, that is indeed a career!), SOAR is located right off of I-65 and has four levels comprising more than 110 elements. Even cooler is the fact that the team there swaps out a few elements each season, so it’s always-changing.
With a mini-golf course, trampolines, ropes course and a new bar with adult beverages, this destination in Franklin hits all the sweet spots of DINKs and DEWKs, and is a fun trip all around. The upper level parts of the course are legit challenging for even the most athletic in the family and are harnessed by a unique system of clips that make it impossible to be in danger of falling at any point. The kids course, at ground level, is designed for intro-level climbing and scampering while the mid to upper levels require real skill to complete.
Great for corporate bonding, birthday parties and all manners of celebration, the facility hosts groups for retreats and adventure activities on a regular basis.
Go for a Stroll in Owl Sanctuary
Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary, created by Huldah and Walter Sharp in 1959 around the same time that they gifted the Cheekwood estate to the city of Nashville for use as a public garden and fine arts center, is dedicated to the preservation of indigenous plants and animals. The story of Huldah and her husband building their home along the ridge of this expansive 150-acre property is a study in how environmental protection can be harmonious with development.
In the late 1990s, an Eagle Scout helped transform the land into a veritable mecca of local flora and fauna and the legacy of the Sharps lives on to this day. The sanctuary houses 2,000 species, including seven species of owls, and boasts a network of trails to hike that paint the picture of landscape in Tennessee before colonization. The owls alone, several right there in protective cages, are wonders of predatory life that prowl the night in our woods, but in addition, the property is a fantastic representation of the inherently wild lands that we inhabit here in Tennessee.
Drive Out to the Natchez Trace Bridge
One of the most striking photo opps near Franklin is from below the concrete, double-arch Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge spanning Birdsong Hollow. Stretching 1,572 feet long above State Route 96, the bridge is located at milepost 438 and was completed in 1994.
You can take photos from beneath the bridge by driving out Highway 96 from downtown Franklin and parking in one of the many spots just beneath it, alongside the grassy field that spans the bridge’s undercarriage. Or you can drive atop the bridge and look down from the windy Natchez Trace Parkway itself. Note: If you’re a videographer or photographer, this is considered national park territory so drones are not permitted. While it’s stunning awash in greenery, the bridge is one of my very favorite spots in Franklin to visit in fall during peak foliage, as well.
Paddling Up the Harpeth River
I’ll be honest: On both of our day trips out to Franklin in the past month, we were rained out in what can be typical Southern summer weather: perfectly sunny and dry for a week, followed by scattered, unpredictable rain showers for a few swampy days. I was really looking forward to taking our paddleboards out, but the weather was not on our side—this time. That said, ever since, we’ve had gloriously warm and perfect paddling weather, so if you’re looking for more active things to do in Franklin this summer, this is the perfect idea for you.
photo: Matthew Maxey/Visit Franklin
We own our own set of boards, but for those who are visiting and don’t, you can rent standup paddleboards, canoes or kayaks from Paddle Dog Adventures by the hour. Last winter when I was playing around Franklin for the day, we actually rented boards from Paddle Dog Adventures and did a little SUP yoga out on Westhaven Lake, which is temporarily closed for renovations but where PDA often operates out of.
photo: Matthew Maxey/Visit Franklin
Paddle Dog Adventures also offers two-hour guided tours that take you a couple miles down the 125-mile-long Harpeth River on weekends. Fun fact: For those or you attending Pilgrimage, you can also put your kayak or SUP in the Harpeth River, paddle downstream and arrive right by the festival grounds. There’s a free parking beach where you can lock up your equipment until it’s time to return home again.
photo: Matthew Maxey/Visit Franklin
Where to Stay in Williamson County
While the Williamson County county seat is Franklin, it also comprises Brentwood, Arrington, Thompson’s Station and Leiper’s Fork. You may be familiar with the latter because it houses such celebs as Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, but it’s also a delightfully charming village of sorts with high-end boutiques and antique shops that’s just a 15-mile drive through pastoral Tennessee countryside from downtown Franklin. In other words, it needs to be on your radar.
Leiper’s Fork is unincorporated, meaning it’s technically part of Franklin, but it has a distinct vibe all its own—and there’s no better place to test the waters and get to know the local culture than at Pot ‘N Kettle Cottages. Started by a husband-and-wife team who resided in California at the time, this rental company owns four enchanting cottages in Leiper’s Fork, each one completely unique and also affordable.
We stayed in the Tin Roof Cottage, which could easily have housed my entire family with its three bedrooms and two bathrooms spanning two floors and nearly 1,400 square feet. I immediately fell in love with everything about the decor, but in particular obsessed over the kitchen with its tin-paneled backsplash and red accents. The only downside about our stay was that we were only there one night! It’s such a relaxing space that I needed at least three to catch up on all my reading and lounging.
Pot ‘N Kettle has partnered with Delivery Dudes, who will stock your fridge in anticipation of your arrival. Consider it your local answer to Instacart—but with booze! You can call them 24 hours in advance (or more) before your arrival and place your order.
Where to Eat in Leiper’s Fork
Leiper’s Fork is full of iconic restaurants—I’ve long been a fan of the 51-year-old Country Boy Restaurant for breakfast and, of course, the original 66-year-old Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant for any meal and late-night music—but on this overnight trip, we discovered a new-to-us spot: 1892.
Highlighting traditional Southern favorites—like deviled eggs, which you will never see me turn down, not to mention the short rib mac and cheese—1892 plays up seasonal ingredients and features equal parts game and fish on the menu. In true Tennessee fashion, we sat out on the patio and sipped local brews out of mason jars, and it was just the perfect summer evening.
Upcoming events in Williamson County:
- Arrington Vineyards Harvest Party. Held at the dreamiest vineyard in Tennessee, owner and one-half of country duo Brooks & Dunn Kix Brooks puts on a free show every year. Typically, a few friends surprise him, as well; last year, it was none other than Ronnie Dunn and Reba!
- Great Americana BBQ Festival. More than 60 teams compete in a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned competition, and guests can try it, too. Plus: live music and a Tennessee Distillers Tasting Tent to sample the best spirits from across the state.
- Pilgrimage Festival. One of the state’s best music events, hands down, this two-day music extravaganza takes place at the Park at Harlinsdale Farm, within walking distance to downtown Franklin, and this year features headliners Foo Fighters, Keith Urban and the Killers. You better believe SVV and I will be there!
- Pumpkinfest. Middle Tennessee’s largest family festival lines Franklin’s Main Street to showcase southern makers, foods, drinks, live music, and of course all things pumpkin! Kids (and kids at heart) are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes too!
Have you been to Franklin in the summer? If so, what’s your favorite summer activity?
For more Franklin travel inspiration, start here:
- Masters & Makers: Where to Drink in Franklin, Tennessee
- Exploring Franklin’s Civil War History
- How to Do Downtown Franklin with Your Dog in Tow
- On the Whiskey-Fueled Tennessee Backroads
This post is written in partnership with Visit Franklin. All opinions are our own.