In the midst of the barbecue and the booze and all the over-the-top honky tonk, Music City’s Cumberland River offers a little respite— kayaking in Nashville. When I was looking for a place to catch some of the best views of the city skyline, one place in particular stood out to me. And it wasn’t another rooftop bar offering all the usual big city hype. It was the banks of the Cumberland River, calmly snaking its way through the middle of downtown. And Big Willie’s was right there to guide us on this next little adventure of ours.
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How Did You End Up Kayaking in Nashville?
I honestly can’t say why, but—when I get a travel idea in my head—it sticks. And it stays there until that place or adventure or experience has been checked off the never ending list that’s always building in my brain. Such was the case with kayaking in Nashville on our road trip to Franklin, Tennessee.
Though I’d never been to Nashville, I’ve been kayaking any number of times before. So I can’t say what specifically drew me to this particular activity… here. I wanted a great view of the city skyline and, when I started Googling, I came across Big Willie’s Action Sports. A lazy float down a city river on a hot day? Count me in.
Initial Logistics & Prep
We’d meet the larger tour group in a specific lot at Nissan Stadium and shuttle a ways down the river. The lot was empty, parking was free, and it was easy enough to spot our guides. We had a small group, which made things quick and laidback, and the few rules and regulations we needed to abide by were outlined on the short ride.
We had our choice of single kayak, tandem kayak, or stand-up paddle, and were required to wear the standard life vests. Big Willie’s offered sunscreen and water and the option to put our phones and wallets in dry bags.
The #AdventurePartnerForLife and I opted for the tandem kayak—which I actually didn’t know was more difficult than the single kayaks—and took the chance of keeping our phones on us for pics. (No, I do not have a waterproof iPhone case yet and my sad, sorry blogging ass desperately needs one!) And, for the record, stand-up paddles are supposed to be the most stable of all. …So I’m told. I’ve never done a stand-up paddle before.
Successfully Kayaking In Nashville
Our guides, Mel and Dan, admonished how the water was like glass and how, really, it was the perfect day for a peaceful float. Jeff and I climbed into our kayak and, although we were supposed to try and hang out in the water near the push-off point, we found ourselves unwillingly floating away and, ready or not, we were kayaking in Nashville! (At the very least, we successfully avoided the fallen tree on the bank of the river. And everyone would eventually catch up to us, of course, so… no harm, no foul.)
We also managed not to topple over in the kayak for the duration of the float. Tandem kayaking is a bit like a really intense marital test, requiring constant communication and a lot of trust. When one person shifts their weight or adjusts something, it’s very easy for the other individual to correct (or overcorrect) it and… over you both go. I later found out I did most of the paddling and Jeff just tried to stay as still as possible in the back. The simple fact that we managed not to capsize just tells me that we’ll be married forever (and ever).
We learned that kayaking in Nashville is actually a really popular sort of drunken, midday activity for locals and tourists alike, and that a lot of bachelor and bachelorette parties sign up to get some fresh air and cool off on the river. Makes sense, though we were going early in the season and traffic hadn’t quite picked up just yet.
About Nashville & The Cumberland River Itself…
For most of our kayaking in Nashville, the river was calm and the waterways had very little traffic. The current picks up around the couple of bridges you have to paddle by, but it was manageable, even for beginners. The whole group managed to stay on one side of the river and in a small pack for the majority of the tour, and our guides stayed comfortably close the whole time.
We got a little background on the riverfront in downtown Nashville. Parts of the river, while not the most picturesque, are sort of part of the industrial heart of the city and provide a bit of interest on the way down. The whole excursion lasted approximately an hour and a half, which—if you ask me—is perfect.
The only time I panicked (ever so slightly, and aside from when we were first adjusting our balance) was towards the end, when we were almost out in the middle of the river, and I suddenly learned where we were supposed to pull onto the bank. We were just passing the second bridge and had picked up a little speed, and I wasn’t quite sure I’d make it over to the bank in time. All went well, of course.
A Recommendation for Big Willie’s Action Sports
I’d absolutely recommend kayaking in Nashville with Big Willie’s! Our guides, Mel and Dan, were responsible and knowledgeable and fun, and they completely put us at ease. Even during my couple of mini panic sessions. The views of the skyline at the end of the float were really incredible, and I can only imagine this would be a super fun activity in the dead of a hot Tennessee summer.
A side note that Big Willie’s also offers paddle board yoga and strength training, as well as community events like active recovery and puppy paddles. So, if you’re looking for something a little different to do—a break from boots and country and hot chicken—a peaceful float down the Cumberland is the way to go.