Choose Your Own Adventure: Memphis Riverfront

Sam Crespo | April, 2018
The Mississippi River has been delivering people to Memphis for a long time. Like, a really long time. So when it comes to planning how you’ll experience our mightiest natural feature, you’ll find plenty of advice. So much, in fact, you may need to filter your choices. Just think of Memphis’ riverfront as a choose-your-own adventure novel and jump to what you like. 

A one-of-a-kind walk

The Harahan Bridge was once a busy corridor for cars and trains crossing the Mississippi River from downtown Memphis to West Memphis, Arkansas. On its 100th birthday, the bridge got a new life as Big River Crossing, a rails-to-trails project that unfurled a path for pedestrians and cyclists. At one mile in length, this is the longest pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi. The views it affords are one-of-a-kind too.   

Anything to wear out the kids

Splashing is totally kid-approved, right? At Mud Island River Park, kids can splash all the way from Cairo, Illinois, to New Orleans, Louisiana, following a scale replica of the Lower Mississippi River. We call it the Riverwalk. All told, it’s about five blocks (!) of splashing that ends in a million-gallon Gulf of Mexico, just right for pedal-boating. You’ll pay for pedal-boats but splashing in the Riverwalk is free.
Beale Street Landing has a more traditional splash pad, if you consider running through the belly of a giant catfish traditional. Other features, including a slide, soft-surfaced hills and tubes that shoot water, are designed to keep kids running while you soak in gorgeous views of the Memphis skyline. Also: free admission.

History lesson with a view

The red monorail you see downtown takes you to Mud Island River Park, where the Mud Island River Museum introduces you to native tribes, steamboat-era characters and Delta musicians. Artifacts and exhibits include the Belle of the Bluffs, a replica of a 19th-century riverboat.
 
But you’re in Memphis, remember? You can board an actual riverboat. Book passage with Memphis Riverboats out of Beale Street Landing for a 90-minute sightseeing cruise (available most months). Over the course of your eight-mile excursion, your captain will share river lore and personal stories of running this “Father of Waters.”


Family-friendly happy hour

Memphis is a whiz at imagining the potential of underused spaces. One of our latest projects is reactivating a historic library and two riverfront parks, collectively called the Fourth Bluff. Check their events list or let what you find there surprise you—could be live music, yoga, beer, games, roller-skating, a dance party or just people chilling with their dogs, families and friends.

The best music under the sky

The golden days and glowing sunsets of summer bring more music than ever to Memphis. Beale Street Music Fest, celebrated annually the first weekend in May, is a prelude to the season. In short, it’s 90,000 of your closest friends gathered around four stages in riverfront Tom Lee Park. The 2018 lineup features Jack White, Erykah Badu,  David Byrne and Ludacris.
 
From Tom Lee Park, you notice an island across the river. That’s Mud Island River Park. Its amphitheater hosts an annual summer concert series. It’s just a few shows, but it’s hard to match the atmosphere. The 2018 season features Widespread Panic and Alison Krauss.

Kayak or canoe?

Allen's Kayaking Adventures will prep and outfit you for as much or as little Mississippi River adventure as you want. Want to paddle out just far enough to Instagram a pic of the Memphis skyline? You got it. But Allen’s also has you covered if you want to add in a picnic, stay out for half a day or even overnight. All tours are guided; take your pick of a kayak or canoe.  

Work out (or pretend to)

In spring 2018, Explore Bike Share deployed 600 bikes across 60 Memphis locations. Translation: no matter where you are along our riverfront, you aren’t far from a bike. Beale Street Landing, Tom Lee Park and Big River Crossing are just a few of Explore Bike Share’s riverfront stations.


Where to bike

You’ll find wide sidewalks from quiet Martyrs Park on the south end to Greenbelt Park and the new Wolf River Greenway on the north end. Between, squeeze in some strength work at Riverfit in Tom Lee Park. This series of fitness stations is poised along the river’s edge, guaranteeing you’ll never do a chin-up with a better view.
For more structured sightseeing, check in with City Outpost. The outfitter rents bikes but also offers customized cycling, running and walking tours.
 
The river is calling. What will you choose?