Exploring Shelby Farms

Explore Shelby Farms

Bike, hike, fish and play at this awesome Memphis park. 

by Allen Gillespie

by Peter Short

Spanning 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms is one of the largest urban parks in the country. At five times the size of New York City's Central Park, it’s a massive green space located in the eastern part of the city just outside the interstate loop. Over the years, Shelby Farms has become a popular destination for locals and tourists looking to spend some time outside communing with nature, accessing the Wolf River, or just hanging out and counting clouds.

Here are a few of the things you can do at Shelby Farms Park:


Sounds simple, but taking a long walk, hike or bike ride may be the best thing you can do at Shelby Farms. The trails are numerous and long enough to feel like you’ve truly escaped modern life. A couple of trails to keep in mind are the Wolf River Trails. The Yellow, White and Blue trails wander through the Lucius Burch Jr. State Natural Area and alongside the Wolf River, which feeds into the Mississippi River. For bicyclists, the Shelby Farms Greenline offers 6.5 miles of uninterrupted pavement, connecting cyclists to Midtown Memphis, while the Chickasaw Trail’s 2.75 miles is a nice option for family bikers. 


A great example of what makes Shelby Farms not your average city park is the Go Ape Treetop Adventure. An outdoor ropes course, Go Ape is a great activity for families, friends or groups looking to have fun while building teamwork and general bonding. The course borders Pine Lake and uses the amazing pine trees to safely guide participants on how to climb, rappel and zip their way through the forest.


First off, when we say boating, we mean the self-propelling kind, not the motorized kind. Shelby Farms has many bodies of water for people to explore, but they’re best experienced via kayak or canoe at a more leisurely pace than, say, with twin outboards. Visitors to the park can rent kayaks and canoes from the boathouse at Patriot Lake. Or they can bring their own kayak, canoe or even the ever-popular stand-up paddleboard.

Shelby Farms Playground
Kayaking at Shelby Farms Memphis
Buffalo at Shelby Farms Park. Photo Credit: Baxter Buck
Shelby Farms Cycling


Shelby Farms is really big. How big? So big that it has a herd of buffalo. In 1989, the superintendent for Shelby Farms brought six buffalo to the park from a safari park outside of Jackson, Tennessee. Ever since, our herd has been a bit of tourist attraction. At home year-round on a 50-acre pasture, visitors can do more than just watch them roam. They can donate to the buffalo program or even adopt one of our furry friends.


The folks who run Shelby Farms knew that when they set out to create a kids’ playground, they had an opportunity to do something different. So they did. They created the Woodland Discovery Playground. As much art installation as it is kids’ fun zone, the playground, certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, offers kids a creative experience, including six play “nests,” innovative play structures, open fields, and a steel tree planted with vines that continue to grow every year.


Shelby Farms, like nature itself, is a constantly evolving space, and in order to attract and serve more people, it’s committed to improving the experience. The Heart of the Park project will create a new, active center to the park, offering visitors amenities like a visitor center, The Kitchen restaurant (that focuses on promoting healthy eating habits through fresh food options), education space, event pavilion, boat kiosk, and new picnic center. Click here to read more about the improvements coming to Shelby Farms Park. 

As you can see, Shelby Farms is packed with fun things to do on your vacation. (I didn't even mention the disc golf, horse stables and places for your dog to roam free.)

The park and Greenline are open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Woodland Discovery Playground is open from 9 a.m. to one hour before sunset.

Follow Sara & Abbie on their Memphis cycling adventure