The Ultimate Summer Bucket List

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There are lots of fun activities to enjoy with your kids this summer in the Middle Tennessee area and beyond. Here are our editors' picks to put on your family's things-to-do list this year! (pictured: River Rush at Dollywood's Splash Country)

Making plans for a memorable summer? Our handy Ultimate Summer Bucket List features our top picks of great family fun for you to enjoy this June, July and August. Have fun with us all year long with our internationally award-winning THINGS TO DO!

 

INDOOR FUN

Free Kids Bowling
Through the Kids Bowl Free program, children can enjoy two free games of bowling every day this summer at the following participating alleys: Thunder Alley in Dickson (through Sept. 1); Hendersonville Strike & Spare (through Sept. 30); Lanes, Trains & Automobiles in Murfreesboro (through Aug. 15); Murfreesboro Strike and Spare (through Sept. 30); Donelson Plaza Strike & Spare in Nashville (through Sept. 1); Oak Valley Lanes in Nashville (through Aug. 15); and Tusculum Strike and Spare in Nashville (through Aug. 31). Register for the program at the website.

Summer Movies for Kids
Carmike, Malco and Regal all offer cheap family flicks in June and July — a great way to beat the heat!

Summer Laser Shows at Sudekum
Every Saturday, June through August, get out of the summer heat and into the cool atmosphere of Adventure Science Center’s Sudekum Planetarium where you can catch an after-hours laser show. Three different offerings take place at 8:30, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m., and the list of shows changes monthly. Admission is $8 per show or $20 for all three.

Escape Game Nashville
While you can have fun at Escape Game all year long, chances are you might have friends and/or family coming to visit Nashville during the summer. This is a must-do activity.

OUTDOOR FUN

Family Night Out at Cheekwood
On Thursdays in June and July, Cheekwood stays open late for family-friendly live entertainment. The lineup (partial list) includes The Happy Racers, Coal Train Railroad, Cowboy Dan, Trout Fishing in America and more.

A Drive-In Movie
Enjoy an old-school movie-watching experience with your kids at one of three drive-in movie theaters in the Middle Tennessee area: Stardust Drive-In in Watertown, Moonlite Drive-In in Woodbury and Pink Cadillac Drive-In in Centreville.

Symphony Under the Stars
The Nashville Symphony presents free community concerts at various locations in June: Centennial Park (June 4), Bicentennial Mall State Park (June 5), Crockett Park (June 7), Lipscomb University (June 16), Two Rivers Mansion (June 18), Shelby Park (June 23) and Key Park in Lafayette (June 27).

Free Kids Fishing Rodeos
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency hosts free fishing events for kids June 5, 6 and 9 at local water holes.

Go Zip Lining
Soaring through the air high above the ground is a thrill for young and old alike. Adventureworks has two local zip line tours; one at its main location in Kingston Springs and another at Fontanel in Nashville (country star Barbara Mandrell’s former homestead). Tours take place daily and run $56 adults ($59 at Fontanel), $48 ages 17 and younger.

Discover Nashville on a Segway
Segway of Nashville offers a spectacular tour of downtown Nashville for ages 14 and older. Riding a Segway is an absolute blast, and you’ll have fun getting some inside scoop on area sites. Tours available daily at $75 a pop.

Float on a River
Canoe or kayak the Harpeth River, Buffalo River or Duck River in Middle Tennessee. The following outfitters will get you going: Buffalo Canoeing in Waynesboro; Canoe Music City in Kingston Springs; Crazy Horse Canoe Rental in Waynesboro; Duck River Canoe and Kayak Rental in Chapel Hill; Foggy Bottom Canoe and Kayak Rentals in Kingston Springs; The River Rat’s Canoe Rental in Columbia; and Tip-A-Canoe in Kingston Springs. Prices vary by location and duration of your trip.

Hendersonville Cruise-In
Every Friday through October from 6 – 9 p.m., your family can check out a variety of hot rods, muscle cars and classic autos at the Streets of Indian Lake in Hendersonville. Children’s activities are also on tap during the free outing.

Vintage Baseball
Experience the thrill of an old-fashioned baseball game circa the 1860s. Vintage baseball games are free and take place at various historic sites and parks in Middle Tennessee throughout the summer.

Lawnchair Theater
Every Friday night June – August, Jailhouse Industrys hosts free family-friendly movies outside in Leiper’s Fork. Movies begin at dusk.

Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Middle Tennessee Hot Air Adventures in Franklin offers one-hour sunrise and sunset hot air balloon rides for ages 5 and older, starting at $200 per person. Summertime offers spectacular aerial views.

Murfreesboro’s Movies Under the Stars
Murfreesboro Parks & Rec hosts free family films June 1 – July 25 at the following outdoor spots: Cason Lane Trailhead (Mondays), Cannonsburgh Village (Tuesdays), Siegel Park (Thursdays), Mitchell-Neilson Primary (Fridays) and Hobgood Elementary (Saturdays). It’s the same movie at each location in the same week. Visit the website or stop by a parks facility for the list of movies.

Nurture Nature Enthusiasts
Connecting kids to nature is a snap at one of Middle Tennessee’s nature centers. The three big ones — Warner Parks Nature Center in Nashville, Shelby Bottoms Nature Center in Nashville and The Wilderness Station in Murfreesboro — offer a variety of programs (most are free) with a lot of additional programs in June, July and August. Find all area nature centers here.

Park It!
With the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it’s easy to overlook the simplicity that exists in having fun with our kids at an area park or playground. This list includes our favorite spots.

Skydiving, Anyone?
Yeah, that’s right! Adventure Skydiving Tennessee located west of Nashville near Waverly offers skydiving adventures for ages 18 and older daily. Are you brave enough?

Music in the Vines
Arrington Vineyards hosts free jazz concerts every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the fall. Summer’s a great time to relax on the lawn, enjoy a family picnic and experience live music.

2015 Water Park Picks

BeechBend-TikiIsland

Tiki Island at Beech Bend’s Splash Lagoon.

Beech Bend Park’s Splash Lagoon
798 Beech Bend Road
Bowling Green, KY 42101
270-781-7634
$31.99 for 54 inches and taller
$27.99 for 53 inches and shorter
Free ages 2 and younger
Located an hour-and-15-minutes north of Nashville via I-65, Beech Bend’s Splash Lagoon water park offers six specific aquatic attractions for fun and cooling off. Your littlest ones can have fun at Lotta Watta Island, an interactive splash pool featuring a four-level play structure with two slides. Tiki Island has seven slides, a giant tipping bucket and other features. You can also enjoy the Ragin’ Rapid Water Slides, take a gentle float on the Lazy River that passes through the Surf’s Up Wave Pool or chill in the giant leisure pool. Kids will also like the Lily Pad Challenge running across all 50 feet of the pool. Free sunscreen’s available. Admission also includes entry to the adjoining amusement park featuring nearly 40 classic and contemporary rides. New this year are the Bluegrass Breeze Swings, Air Race and Monster Trucks (for tots).

DollywoodSplash

Bear Mountain Fire Tower at Dollywood’s Splash Country.

Dollywood’s Splash Country
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
800-365-5996
$47 adults, $42 ages 4 – 11, free ages 3 and younger (does not include theme park admission)
Three-and-a-half hours east of Nashville in the Smoky Mountains sits Dollywood, including the robust Splash Country Water Park,  boasting more than 23 adventure slides and aquatic thrill rides from low-speed, little-kid-friendly options to aggressive high-speed thrills. Splash Country features the RiverRush, Tennessee’s first and only water coaster. This exhilarating ride races through the trees four stories in the air, and it has all the things you love about land coasters — climbs, drops, twists and turns — plus lots of splashes along the way. Small children can have fun exploring The Cascades. Here, an 8,000-square-foot pool invites your family to cool off under a waterfall while also enjoying water slides, a geyser, water jets and more than 20 interactive elements. Wee ones can squeal with delight as they discover hidden misters, bubblers and slides in secret coves.

HolidayWorld Mammoth

The Mammoth at Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari.

Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari
452 E. Christmas Blvd.
Santa Claus, IN 47579
812-937-4401
$44.99 for 54 inches and taller
$36.99 for 53 inches and shorter
(online discounts available)
After a hot day of riding coasters, cool off in the 40-acre water park, Splashin’ Safari, featuring loads of thrills and chills. Get there early to pick your locker as crowds amass quickly. Enjoy two of the longest water coasters — Mammoth and Wildebeest — both with seven drops that’ll drench you. There’s a lazy river, wave pool and lots of small water slides for the little kiddos over at Safari Sam’s Splashland. Splashland features eight different water slides and many different water play features for kids up to 54 inches tall. Other great things about this park are the free drink stations, free sunscreen and free parking. Admission also includes entry to the adjoining amusement park featuring a bevy of rides including the new Thunderbird coaster.

Boro Beach

Boro Beach at Sports*Com.

Boro Beach at Sports*Com
2310 Memorial Blvd.
Murfreesboro, TN 37130
615-895-5040
Premium pass required: $4 adults, $3 ages 4 – 17
Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation operates Murfreesboro’s affordable water park that features lap lanes, three water slides, a play structure with spray features and zero-depth entry, a rock wall, a splash pad area, diving boards and a floating bridge. The play structure is a favorite for the kids to crawl around on and it has its own mini slide and bucket at the top that dumps tons of water down on the swimmers below.

Hurrican Bay Castaway Creek

Castaway Creek at Kentucky Kingdom’s Hurricane Bay.

Kentucky Kingdom’s Hurricane Bay
937 Phillips Lane
Louisville, KY 40209
502-813-8200
$49.95 those 48 inches and taller (buy online and save $10)
$34.95 those 47 inches and shorter
Two-and-a-half hours north of Nashville, families can acquaint themselves with Kentucky Kingdom. Enjoy the family wave pool or get drenched at the Big Surf wave pool that boasts waves up to six feet high. Little kids can get soaked with jet sprays and the large tipping bucket in Splash Zone — an interactive, four-level water playground — or at Buccaneer Beach, featuring more than 10,000 square feet of interactive water play elements and pint-sized water slides. Admission includes entry to the amusement park side featuring the new 5D theatre and new rides like The Cyclos, Flutterfly, T3 and more.

Kowabunga Beach

Kowabunga Beach at Nashville Shores.

Nashville Shores
4001 Bell Road
Hermitage, TN 37076
615-889-7050
$36.99 those 52 inches and taller
$28.99 those 51 inches and shorter
free ages 2 and younger
Resting next to Percy Priest Lake, Nashville Shores has a large wave pool, lazy river, eight water slides and the Kowabunga Beach water play area for little kids. New this year is Big Kahuna, a family serpentine raft ride that takes off atop a 57-foot platform.

wavecountry

Wave Country.

Wave Country
2320 Two Rivers Pkwy.
Nashville, TN 37214
615-855-1052
$12 adults, $10 ages 3 – 12 (child admission is half price Mon – Thu from 3 – 5 p.m.)
Metro Parks operates Nashville’s affordable water park located in the Opryland area. Have a blast in the giant wave pool, experience three water flumes and zip down two speed slides. For small fries, there’s a kiddie pool with water-dropping features and a playground.

FAIRS, FESTIVALS, SPECIAL EVENTS, ETC.

CMA Music Festival
The big mainstage concerts at LP Field are sold out during this year’s festival running June 11 – 14, but there are lots of free performances on stages throughout downtown, and you can still get tickets for the Fan Fair X events at Music City Center featuring kids’ activities and meet-and-greet opportunities with country stars.

Big Band Dances
Every Saturday in June and July at Centennial Park, you and your kids can take a complimentary dance lesson then have fun dancing the night away to live big band music. Each week features a different dance style, and the fun starts at 7 p.m.

Red Caboose Concerts
Every Friday night in June from 7 – 9, enjoy a free family-friendly outdoor concert at the Amphitheater at Bellevue’s Red Caboose Park.

Tales at Twilight
This children’s performance series running Fridays, July 10 – 31 at Nashville’s Cumberland Park includes shows by Coal Train Railroad, Nashville Ballet, Farmer Jason and the Nashville Public Library’s Puppet Truck.

Ranch Rodeo
On Saturdays, June 13 and July 11, Tap Root Farm in Franklin hosts this fun event where your family can watch competitive rodeo-style events. You can also participate in activities like sack races, apple bobbing, mechanical bull rides and more. $5 ages 4 and older.

30th Annual Miss Martha’s Ice Cream Crankin’
Sample hundreds of homemade ice cream flavors on Sunday, June 14 during this annual benefit for the Martha O’Bryan Center. The event includes games, inflatables and more activities. $10 adults, $8 kids.

RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival
Two of the South’s greatest goodies come together for this annual celebration on Saturday, June 20 in Bell Buckle. Sample the world’s largest Moon Pie, participate in Moon Pie tossing and watermelon seed spitting contests, play games and more. Free admission!

Music City July 4: Let Freedom Sing!

Didn’t think we could surpass last year’s impressive fireworks display that ran 27 minutes and included more than 35,000 shells? Think again! This year’s fireworks show will be even more impressive, says Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. It’ll be the largest fireworks show in the United States, even topping the New York’s.

July4-rockwall

Kids can climb the giant rock wall, bounce on inflatables, cool off with water fun and more free activities in downtown Nashville during Music City July 4th: Let Freedom Sing.

On Saturday, July 4, a full day of festivities is on tap for your family from 12 – 5 p.m. Kids can have fun in the Family Fun Zone at Fifth and Broadway with rock climbing walls, inflatables, water fun and more. The evening features live music by Grammy nominated Mikky Ekko prior to headlining mega star Martina McBride. The Nashville Symphony performs patriotic music during the fireworks show.

In addition this year, Nashville’s free Let Freedom Sing celebration extends to two days with live music on Friday, July 3 by The Weeks, Gabe Dixon, Elise Davis and DJ DU starting at 4 p.m. at the Jack Daniels Main Stage at First Avenue and Broadway.

For more info, go to visitmusiccity.com/july4th.

Click HERE for a list of all Middle Tennessee community fireworks celebrations.

Summer Saturdays at Tennessee Ag Museum
Free family fun takes place every Saturday in July at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum in Nashville. Look forward to animal encounters, old-time demonstrations, lots of hands-on activities for kids and more.

Uncle Dave Macon Days
One of the country’s most renowned old-time music and dance competitions takes place at Murfreesboro’s Cannonsburgh Village July 10 – 12.

Bethlehem Fish Fry
Friday, July 17 marks this year’s event featuring all-you-can-eat farm-raised catfish. Your family can also enjoy live music and children’s activities.

Williamson County Fair
Aug. 7 – 15 at Williamson County Ag Expo Park in Franklin, the fair features rides, live performances and the Children’s Barnyard where little ones can learn about farming and enjoy live animal encounters. The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists are back this year!

Wilson County Fair
The biggest county fair in Middle Tennessee takes place Aug. 14 – 22 featuring a huge Midway, livestock shows, games, live entertainment, competitions and more at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon.

 Tomato Art Festival
It doesn’t matter whether you consider it a fruit or a veggie … It’s all-things tomato on Saturday, Aug. 9 during this annual festivity in East Nashville that features a parade, contests, live music, art and more. And, donning tomato-themed attire/costumes is highly encouraged!

Bluegrass Along the Harpeth
This 100+ year-old music festival in Franklin features bluegrass competitions in mandolin, flat-top guitar, dulcimer, banjo, junior fiddle, old time banjo, junior freestyle clog and buck-dancing, beginner musician, beginner freestyle clogging, old-time string band, old-time singing, bluegrass bands and more. It takes place downtown July 24 – 25, and it’s free.

Experience Human Landscape
Internationally acclaimed Spanish artist Jaume Plensa celebrates his biggest exhibit in the United States with his Human Landscape exhibit at Cheekwood, featuring outdoor sculptures as well as indoor installations. It runs through Nov. 1. In addition to Cheekwood, a portion of the exhibit can be seen at the Frist Center from June 5 – Sept. 7.

Family Day at Oz Arts
Mark your calendar for Saturday, Aug. 15 for this indoor/outdoor festival of arts activities for kids and families at OZ Nashville. The focal point of this year’s event is the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Sound Maze, an interactive experience of sound and mechanics featuring 15 newly invented musical instruments and sound sculptures. Admission is $25 adults, free ages 11 and younger.

Backstage Pass: Elephant Barn at Nashville Zoo
This is an amazing behind-the-scenes tour for ages 5 and older. Backstage Pass takes place on the first Saturday each month rotating between the elephant, giraffe and anteater barns. Saturday, July 4 is the next installment featuring the elephant barn, and it might be the last one with the elephants for a while as they will be temporarily relocating to the National Elephant Center in Florida while the zoo begins building their new habitat that will include a breeding program. The Backstage Pass requires advance registration.

Musicians Corner
Every Saturday in June (and Sunday, June 28), head to Centennial Park from 12 – 5:30 p.m. for an afternoon of free concerts with music from a broad range of genres. There’s a big kids’ activity area, too, and it’s FREE!

16th Annual Grape Stomp
Kids love getting their feet messy during this family festivity where they (and you) can participate in a stomping competition followed by an evening of live music at Sumner Crest Winery in Portland. It’s FREE!

Williamson Parent’s Back-to-School Fair
All good things must come to an end, including summer, and when the season winds down, you can get pumped for back-to-school time at our annual event that includes a fashion show, after-school enrichment programs and more at CoolSprings Galleria. As always, it’s FREE!

The centerpiece of this year’s Family Day is Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Sound Maze. Sound Maze is an interactive experience of sound and mechanics, consisting of fifteen newly invented musical instruments and sound sculptures that audience members are invited to interact with and improvise upon. 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and Obie Award-winner Rinde Eckert will perform on the myriad of instruments at 1pm. – See more at: http://www.ozartsnashville.org/programs/family-day/#sthash.1ORurdBj.dpuf
The centerpiece of this year’s Family Day is Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Sound Maze. Sound Maze is an interactive experience of sound and mechanics, consisting of fifteen newly invented musical instruments and sound sculptures that audience members are invited to interact with and improvise upon. 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and Obie Award-winner Rinde Eckert will perform on the myriad of instruments at 1pm. – See more at: http://www.ozartsnashville.org/programs/family-day/#sthash.1ORurdBj.dpuf
The centerpiece of this year’s Family Day is Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Sound Maze. Sound Maze is an interactive experience of sound and mechanics, consisting of fifteen newly invented musical instruments and sound sculptures that audience members are invited to interact with and improvise upon. 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and Obie Award-winner Rinde Eckert will perform on the myriad of instruments at 1pm. – See more at: http://www.ozartsnashville.org/programs/family-day/#sthash.1ORurdBj.dpuf

GREAT NEARBY FAMILY FUN DESTINATIONS

Visit Graceland
Elvis Presley’s former home is the big draw to Memphis, and fans of all ages love seeing the King of Rock’s abode. Aside from the mansion tour, other exhibit areas across the street on the complex include the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, Elvis’ Custom Jets, Elvis: Live From Vegas and Elvis’ Hawaii: Concerts, Movies and More!

A new feature for all ticket levels is an interactive iPad tour, narrated by actor and Elvis fan John Stamos. The fully immersive iPad experience gives you a multimedia tour of the mansion with content hotspots which take you on a deeper story of Presley’s life through archival video, audio and photos. Another new offering is available only to VIP and Platinum Tour ticket holders: The Graceland Archives Experience. Step inside the vault for a rare peek at a specific artifact from the collection that’s not seen on the regular tour; a curator gives a live presentation about the history of the artifact and what makes it special to the collection.

Ticket prices vary per package. For the mansion tour only, admission is $36 adults, $32.40 ages 13 – 18, $16 ages 7 – 12. The Platinum Tour (plus Airplanes Tour) is $45 adults, $40.50 ages 13 – 18, $21.50 ages 7 – 12. The Graceland Elvis Entourage VIP Tour (plus Airplanes Tour) is the full experience costing $77 adults, $76.50 ages 13 – 18, $74.50 ages 7 – 12.

Experience The Lost Sea Adventure
Located approximately halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville off of I-75, The Lost Sea Adventure is a cavern experience that features America’s largest underground lake. The guided tour of the cave (it stays a comfortable 58 degrees year round) takes you on a 3/4-mile round trip walk on sloping pathways while your docent talks about the environment’s colorful history and rare formations. The big thrill is at the bottom where you climb aboard a glass-bottom boat for a float around the lake. The water’s illuminated so you can see below, and kids love tossing food pellets overboard to the eagerly awaiting fish!

Outside, you can enjoy the environs of the Outdoor Nature Trail, a one-third mile self-guided trek through the hardwood forest of the Southern Appalachian mountains. You’ll see a diverse array of plants and perhaps a few critters along the way, too. Visit the Gem Mine, see a glassblower in action, shop the General Store and relax with a cool treat at the Ice Cream Parlor.

Admission is $18.95 adults, $9.95 ages 5 – 12.

Thrills and Chills at Dollywood
Nestled in the heart of Pigeon Forge, Dollywood continues to be a family favorite destination. The park features dozens of rides and attractions, including ones specific to the preschool crowd like the Amazing Flying Elephants and Busy Bees rides. Got thrill seekers? Dollywood’s got ya covered! Take a daring spin on the Barnstormer and experience the thrill of soaring high above the Smoky Mountains on the Wild Eagle, the country’s first wing coaster that opened last season. For an extra $39, your family can experience the SkyZip hour-long zip lining excursion. You’ll visit multiple stations and feel the thrill of flying through the air with lines ranging from 700 – 1,000 feet in length in addition to teetering above the treetops on a 100-foot-long swinging bridge.

The adjacent Dollywood’s Splash Country water park boasts more than 23 slides and rides for families to cool off and get soaked.

Dollywood admission is $62 ages 12 and older, $49 ages 4 – 11. Splash Country admission is $47 adults, $42 children. Multi-park/multi-day passes are available.

Chattanooga
At just a couple hours east of Nashville, “The Scenic City” is chock full of family fun. Our favorite spots include seeing all the aquatic critters at the Tennessee Aquarium, an enchanting stroll through Rock City, hands-on kids’ fun at the Creative Discovery Museum, the adventurous ropes/zip line course at Ruby Falls and hang gliding off of Lookout Mountain with Outdoor Chattanooga (they also have canoe/kayak trips on the Tennessee River. Of course, staying in one of the cool train cars at the Chattanooga Choo Choo is a must!

Beech Bend Park & Splash Lagoon
Head an hour and 15 minutes north of Nashville to Bowling Green, Ky., to enjoy theme park fun with dozens of amusement rides with three new ones this year — Air Race, Monster Trucks and Bluegrass Breeze Swings. In addition, there’s also water park fun, mini golf, go carts, skill games, live shows and more. Admission is $31.99 those 54 inches and taller, $27.99 those 53 inches and shorter, free ages 2 and younger.

Whitewater Rafting on the Ocoee
Whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River gives thrill seekers ages 12 and older the chance to experience class III and IV rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The Upper/Middle Ocoee adds the featured 1996 Olympic canoe and kayak course. Get hooked up with one of these outfitters (prices vary): Adventures Unlimited, Cascade Outdoors, High Country Adventures, Ocoee Adventure Center, Quest Expeditions.

Whitewater Rafting on Big Pigeon River
Big Pigeon also offers the thrill of rafting winding its way through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, Martha Sundquist State Forest and the Appalachian Trail. Upper Pigeon’s recommended for ages 8 and older while Lower Pigeon’s for ages 3 and older. The following outfitters will get you on your way (prices vary): Big Creek Expeditions, Rafting in the Smokies, Rip Roaring Adventures, Smoky Mountain Outdoors.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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